On April 19, 1970, the Hidalgo County Historical Museum officially opened to the public with a grand ceremony. The following year, President of the Board Margaret H. McAllen organized a group of women volunteers to form the HCHM Guild which played an essential role in raising funds and assisting in day-to-day operations. The museum partnered with local school districts to bring students on tours and hosted early exhibits on the Hidalgo County cities of Weslaco, Mercedes, Hidalgo, and Mission.

In 1975, as its American Revolution Bicentennial project, the growing museum made plans to add a wing to the 1910 Jail’s north side. Construction started the following year and completed in 1977. That same year, the museum hired new Executive Director Xenia Francesca “Fran” Alger, bookkeeper Maria Luisa Garza, and Curator of Exhibits Tom A. Fort. Taking an original drawing of the Jail, the museum designed a new logo and looked for ways to broaden its impact on the community.

Presidents of the Board:

1971-1978: Margaret H. McAllen

1979: Margaret M. Looney

April 19, 1970. Incoming President of the Board Margaret H. McAllen and outgoing President of the Board Darrell Brumley unlock the front gate of the Hidalgo County Historical Museum, thus officially opening the “doorway to the past” to the general public.
Opening day ceremony with the Texas and United States flags raised in front of the new Hidalgo County Historical Museum.
Museum founders Mamie Closner Griffin (daughter of John Closner, who was sheriff when the building was the jail) and Laurier McDonald hang the official Texas State Historical Survey Committee marker and medallion on the wall of the 1910 Jail.
The Hidalgo County Historical Museum.
Photo taken February 2, 1975.
In the mid-1970s, the firm of Ashley, Humphries & Associates was hired to expand the museum. A north wing was added to the 1910 Jail to house exhibits, collections, and a meeting room. These are sketches and floor plans for the new wing.
Museum Director Anne Jorgensen in 1976 in one of the museum exhibits. Jorgensen previously worked in education and for the FBI in Washington, D.C. before retiring and moving to Weslaco with her husband. Later, she was director of the Weslaco Bicultural Museum.
Originally from La Coma Ranch in Hidalgo County, Benjamar (Bennie) Calvillo was hired in the early 1970s as a part-time custodian. He was the museum’s first paid employee.
The third director of the Hidalgo County Historical Museum was Fran Alger, who was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Studying anthropology and museum studies, Alger had lived in Mexico City, New York and in Cairo, Egypt before returning to live in McAllen. She was education officer at the McAllen International Museum in the early 1970s. Her travels and experiences coupled with an appreciation of South Texas history enabled Alger to develop a vision for what the Hidalgo County Historical Museum could become.
Staff photo taken in October 1978. From left to right: Douglas Jasso, Bennie Calvillo, Zela Wood, Maria Garza, Fran Alger, and Tom Fort.
An early program started under Fran Alger, a puppet show was put on by volunteers from the Edinburg Junior Service League. Back row from left to right: Linda Henrichson, Barbara Dube, Susan Land, and Peggy Garcia. Front row: Carol Hudsonpillar, Gloria Zamora.
Young visitor enjoys the newly added exhibit inside the 1910 Jail.
One of the museum’s very first exhibits.
To view more “Golden Memories,” please visit here.

Photographs: Margaret H. McAllen Memorial Archives

Exhibit: Archivist Kelly Francis-Love; Archival Assistant Luna Galván; Archival Assistant Susie Mathews; Associate Education Officer Joseph Fox; Senior Historian Tom Fort; Development Officer Lynne Beeching; Chief Executive Officer Francisco Guajardo, Ph. D.; Programs and Events Officer René Ballesteros; Programs and Events Assistant Anna Garrigos-Hervert

Contributors: Communications Officer Pamela Morales de Hendricks, Communications Assistant Santiago Alanís, Communications Assistant José Antonio Peña, Cindy Us, Rachel Amaya, Adel Hussein, and Mark Trejo

Thanks to our Golden Partner, and first Corporate Donor, for generously supporting our 50th anniversary.