Probably nobody knows Harlingen’s history like Mike Bodenhamer, who was born and raised in the city and has earned a living on Jackson Street in one capacity or another since 1970.
Last year Bodenhamer, who today owns Java Café on Jackson Street, began leading walking tours of Harlingen’s historic heart on Saturday mornings during the fall and winter. The tours are back this year. Mainly geared toward Winter Texans, the tours also attract some locals who want to learn more about the Harlingen, he said.
Everyone is welcome to take the free, roughly hour-long tour, which starts at 9 a.m. at the Java Café, 204 E. Jackson, every Saturday except the first Saturday of each month, which is Market Days. The tours will run from Oct. 13 through March 30. It’s first come, first serve. Walkers should wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather.
“The idea is to kind of get people acquainted with what it is as far as how did we get here, what are we — just try to give them a little background on how come we’re here economically speaking,” Bodenhamer said.
Harlingen was founded by Lon C. Hill at the site of a westward spur, built around 1911, on the rail line running from the north down to Brownsville, he said. Until then, there was no other stop south of King Ranch other than Brownsville, Bodenhamer said.
“One of the reasons Harlingen was a success is not that it was the perfect place, it was just 30 miles closer than Brownsville,” he said. “If you were in Raymondville, before Harlingen if you needed something you had to go to Brownsville.”
As for the name “Harlingen,” Bodenhamer explains that one of Hill’s city secretaries had a relative from The Netherlands. Hill, meanwhile, built a canal system to carry water from the Rio Grande to the area around his budding community in order to develop farmland.
“Harlingen in The Netherlands basically meant ‘city of canals,’” Bodenhamer said. And that’s just the beginning.
Bodenhamer said he became an expert on the city’s history just by living and working there. His family used to own Ferguson Motors, established in 1937, at F and Jackson streets. Bodenhamer eventually took over the dealership, and then stayed on as general manager for nine years after the family sold the business in 1994.
Before opening the Java Café, Bodenhamer owned a gift and floral shop on Jackson Street. He clearly has a fondness for downtown Harlingen, the place he’s worked so much of his life, and it comes through in his passion for storytelling.
“I like people, and we try to make it kind of interesting if we can,” Bodenhamer said. “There are a lot of stories, because it’s 100 years of storytelling.”
Cheryl LaBerge, downtown manager, said she’s gotten “tons of positive feedback,” from those who’ve accompanied Bodenhamer on his strolls down memory lane.
“Mike loves to tell stories,” she said. “He’s very entertaining. He’s passionate about downtown.”
For more information, call 956- 216-4910.