However, before the permanent barracks could be occupied by troops, the First World War ended, Pancho Villa retired, and border hostilities effectively ceased. The new barracks and other buildings constructed for troops at Camp Saint Helena were abandoned. In the early 1920's, Wayne Cartledge, a rancher in the area who had actually leased the site to the Army in the first place, purchased the barracks and all the other buildings for his La Harmonia Company which included ranching, farming, cotton ginning and general store operations. He named his company La Harmonia because of his desire to encourage peaceful coexistence among residents on both sides of the border.
Cartledge immediately converted the barracks building into the La
Company's general store. The store supplied food, clothing and tools
just to local miners, ranchers, farmers but to Mexican citizens who
the river to shop for essentials. The store fulfills a similar need
providing visitors to Big Bend National Park and local Mexican citizens
from Santa Elena and other border villages a place to purchase
In 1926 Cartledge applied to open a post office at the store and chose the name Santa Helena. However, there was already a post office with that name so he chose "Castolon" perhaps after a family who ranched in the area or for the nearby mountain "Cerro Castellan". The post office was approved and remained open until 1954. Ask Clyde to show you the original furnishings of the post office, which remain inside the general store today.
There are several other buildings of interest that are worth a look while you're visiting Castolon. The officer's and non-commissioned officer's quarters stand across the compound from the Store on the edge of the bluff. The steam engine and boiler served to irrigate the La Harmonia Company's fields on the Rio Grande floodplain. Interesting photos of the extensive farming operations in the area can be seen in the small museum to the right of the store. These photos will also give you an idea of how the area you are about to paddle has changed since the days when the Rio Grande provided enough water to sustain large scale farming. Crops grown in this area included wheat, corn, alfalfa, oats, beans, squash, tomatoes, melons … and even cotton!
The Alvino House, which is the oldest adobe structure standing in
Bend National Park, was built in 1901 by Cipriano Hernandez, one of the
first Hispanic settlers to the area. It is called the Alvino House
Alvino Ybarra who moved into the house with his family in 1918. Ybarra
operated the pump that brought water from the Rio Grande to irrigate
cultivated fields in the floodplain. The Alvino house is a good example
of a recently stabilized adobe structure, a task carried out by adobe
from Santa Elena, Mexico, for the Big Bend National Park.
The Magdalena and Garlick Houses were occupied by members of the Cartledge family and also served as a U.S. customs office and a Texas Ranger station. They currently house the Castolon Ranger Station and a small museum of the area. The compound also includes the Granary and Tack Shed and the Recreation Hall that was built with funds donated by the Salvation Army for lonely soldiers stationed at Camp Saint Helena.
There's more to the Castolon community than just the immediate buildings in this historic compound. Pick up a brochure entitled "Castolon Historic District, Big Bend National Park, Texas" from Clyde before you leave the store so you can identify other sites as you drive along the road toward the Rio Grande.
And watch for more articles about the Great Unknown of the Rio Grande on this website.
1. Clyde Stephens and Linda Gorski at La Harmonia Store in Castolon.
2. Steam Engine and Boiler at Castolon.
3. Alvino House at Castolon with Santa Elena Canyon in the background.
All material printed on this
and this web site is copyrighted. All rights reserved.
Copyright by Louis F. Aulbach, 2001