Laredo in 1892
The railroads brought prosperity and new settlers to Laredo when they arrived in 1881, and the city grew from an 1880 population of 3,521 to 11,319 in 1890. But instead of focusing on the railroads, as many other bird’s-eye-view artists had done, Henry Wellge emphasized the results of the railroads, which had turned Laredo into a growing city and the gateway to Mexico. The Texas Mexican Railway linked Laredo with Corpus Christi, and the International and Great Northern linked it with San Antonio. The Mexican National, which established shops and a roundhouse in Laredo, linked the city and the rest of the country, via the first international bridge, to Mexico City and made Laredo the gateway to Mexico.
Wellge documented the city’s expansion from the southeast, especially in terms of downtown buildings such as the new Webb County Courthouse and the combination city hall and market house. Most of the structures in the city were modest one-story buildings, but the new prosperity had spurred a building boom. This growth was reflected in increased property values, scarce hotel rooms, and high demand for building materials, such as lumber and bricks. The arrival of the railroads also provided a market for the local coal, found near the upriver village of Minera, which had been known for decades but now could be profitably mined. As Wellge showed, miners floated the coal down the river on barges when possible, but developers built the Rio Grande and Pecos Railway in 1882–83 to link the mines with the city. When the RG&P collapsed, the Rio Grande and Eagle Pass Railway took it over. Wellge suggested the location of the mines on the horizon, in the upper left-hand corner of the print.
The community itself had also undergone dramatic change in the decade since the railroads arrived. Steamboat traffic on the Rio Grande had begun to diminish as irrigation took so much water from the river that boats often ran aground. The railroads were more reliable, bringing thousands of newcomers into the community. Laredo remained a predominantly Mexican city, but the arrival of large numbers of Anglo-Americans led to the development of a separate Anglo culture and society, and the change was apparent by the turn of the century.