RIO GRANDE CITY — New life has been breathed into part of the historic Fort Ringgold in Rio Grande City, with the renovation of one of its buildings which opened last week just in time to host a traveling exhibition.
In just seven days, the west wing of the old post hospital in Fort Ringgold, which houses the administrative offices for the Rio Grande City school district, was completely redone with the help of school district employees, according to Ross Barrera, a member of the Fort Ringgold 175th Anniversary Commission, a volunteer group formerly known as Revive Fort Ringgold.
That hospital wing used to be the recovery area for the soldiers stationed at the fort, Barrera said, who added that when the committee viewed the building in December, they knew it was going to need a lot of work.
But with the help of school employees who worked on the building after regular school hours, they were able to get it done.
The stucco was fixed, walls were repainted, electric outlets were replaced, the hardwood floors were waxed, the bathroom was remodeled, and new a door and windows were installed, according to Barrera.
The hospital opened last week to host a traveling museum exhibit on Fort Brown by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
The exhibit was developed as a class at UTRGV in Brownsville in 2017, according to Roseann Bacha-Garza from the Community Historical Archeology Project with Schools, or CHAPS.
“Hopefully in the future it’s our wish to conduct a class of students who would like to do exactly the same project about Fort Ringgold,” Bacha-Garza said during the open house event, “So that by 2023, when you have your 175th anniversary, in this room could be standing the same type of exhibit but utilizing all the history and highlighting all of the history and wonderful information about this city and the fort.”
The Fort Brown exhibit will be on display at Fort Ringgold for a few months after which it will travel to other locations across the Rio Grande Valley.
Of Fort Ringgold, Barrera said the renovations there were a demonstration of what more their volunteer group could do for the site.
“We’ve been active since May 2015 and we really haven’t had any projects,” he said. “All we’ve done is replace street signs and put up historical markers — no real renovations until now. This is the one that we can show the community and show potential donors that we can get it done so this is one of many that we can do.”
To fund the renovations, Barrera said they relied on donations from local businesses and people from the community.
This project, he estimated, will likely end up costing them approximately $6,000 including overtime pay for the school district employees.
Next, they’re focusing on fixing up one of the barracks building, Barracks No. 3, where classes were formerly held.
“The fort is like our Central Park in New York,” Barrera said when asked about the significance of renovating these buildings. “The fort means a lot to the people that grew up in Rio because we went to school there; the barracks was our classrooms.”
But he added that the work was beneficial for economic tourism.
“The tourists that come to Rio, they don’t come to shop at the strip mall, they don’t come to dine at the Chili’s or the Denny’s,” Barrera said. “They want to come to the old stuff like New Braunfels, like the old country kind of stuff. That’s the vision that I have for my town.”
“McAllen might have the mall, Mercedes the outlets, but we’ve got something that nobody else has.”