La Villa de San Agustín de Laredo was founded in 1755 by Don Tomás Sánchez de la Barrera y Garza during the colonizing campaign of Don José de Escandón begun in 1746. More a ranching outpost than a town in its first decades, Laredo was the only community founded on the north bank of the Rio Grande to achieve the status of villa,or town. The Spanish and later Mexican tenure over Laredo totaled nearly a century, and left an indelible imprint, affecting the town's social, economic, and cultural development.
Located at a northward bend of the Rio Grande, one mile south of the Paso de los Indios, a Native American river ford, Laredo was at the military and commercial crossroads linking Texas and Mexico. Its location on the shortest route from Texas to Mexico City guaranteed that railroads, and later highways, converged upon the city with their related social and economic changes.
The founding families of Laredo, unlike their counterparts in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, held on to their landholdings of the Spanish colonial and Mexican periods, ensuring their political and economic survival beyond the end of the Mexican War. Power sharing between the established colonial social order and the new North American immigrants thus guaranteed a socio-political context inclusive of Hispanic residents.
The colonial legacy of Laredo was spatially preserved in its street grid dating to 1767. It was respected at slightly larger dimensions as the city grew in the 1890s with an expanded number of plazas based on the colonial urban scheme. Spatial continuity continued into Nuevo Laredo, the Mexican twin city created across the Rio Grande in 1848, which was planned in the same grid pattern and thereby created a binational unit, as illustrated in the 1881 Plan for the Two Laredos.
Architecturally, Hispanic building traditions continued in Laredo into the twentieth century. As in other Escandón communities downriver, sandstone, and later brick, was used to create flat-roofed, courtyard structures entered through a gated zaguán,or carriageway. These building types continued to define Laredoan urban space until the railroad connection with Anglo-American influences transformed the city with detached houses, front yards, streetcars, wood-framed construction, and new styles.
Today, construction in Laredo is directed to the northeast with a series of new suburbs extending their irregular street patterns into the dry chaparral. As in the past, growth is propelled by the continued expansion of trade between the United States and Mexico.
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