SAN BENITO — For more than 100 years, Col. Sam Robertson has stood like a giant in the city’s history.
In 1907, the U.S. Army lieutenant colonel founded the city along the railroad before developing the irrigation canals that turned the Rio Grande Valley into one of the country’s major agricultural centers.
“He was a visionary and a renaissance man,” Sandra Tumberlinson, a member of the San Benito Historical Society, said yesterday. “He was the engineer who visualized the irrigation canals.”
Still, a memorial has never honored the man some called “the one-eyed visionary.”
Now, a long-standing San Benito family, which has requested anonymity, has donated money to fund the project.
“I was pleased but not surprised because this family is very generous,” Tumberlinson said. “They’re proud of being native to San Benito and this is one way in which they show it. This family believes in giving back to the community.”
On the recommendation of the Historical Society, artist Carolyn Huitt Gentry, a San Benito native based in Santa Fe, N.M., was selected to create a bronze sculpture of Robertson.
Tumberlinson said Gentry has been commissioned to create a 2-foot bronze bust of Robertson.
The bust will stand on a 6.5-foot granite pedestal.
The bust is expected to be displayed at the new San Benito Cultural Heritage Center.
“Sam Robertson is an important figure in San Benito and the entire Rio Grande Valley,” Tumberlinson said. “It’s very important to commemorate the man who founded the city and made such a big contribution of the irrigation and the agricultural business in San Benito.”
For three years, a group of residents worked on plans to memorialize the city’s icon.
In 2015, the group associated with the Facebook page Growing Up San Benito requested the city create a memorial to honor Robertson.
So, then-Mayor Celeste Sanchez formed a committee made up of Tumberlinson and other residents to develop plans for the memorial.
The committee recommended a statute be created to memorialize Robertson.
Born in San Benito, Gentry’s grandfather Stanley Dobbs worked with Robertson in construction, Tumberlinson said.
Gentry, a painter and sculptor, holds a master’s of fine arts degree.
- Founder of San Benito
- Developer of irrigation system
- Developer of Spiderwed Railroad