Our visit to Zapata took us to the new Zapata County Museum of History located on Highway 83 a block or so north of the Zapata County Courthouse and to The Seedeater Inn Bed & Breakfast. When Falcon Lake Dam and the 35-mile long lake behind it were created in 1954, several communities along both sides of the Rio Grande River were submerged including the original town site of Zapata.
Many of the buildings escaped destruction and were moved to the present day town site. The Seedeater Inn, originally the Volpe family home built in the late 19th century, was the last building to be moved out of old Zapata before it was flooded by the waters of Falcon Lake.
During our after-lunch educational programs, we learned more about the displacement of homes and families when the original town site was flooded and also about today’s tourism industry, Falcon Lake and the important role it plays
Zapata County History
The day began at the new, state-of-the-art Zapata County Museum of History, located at 805 Main Street/N US Highway 83. Museum Director and former Texas Tropical Trail board member Hildegardo Flores were on hand to greet us.
In 1746, Don Jose de Escandon, Count of Sierra Gorda, was commissioned by the Viceroy of New Spain to command the exploration and settlement of a large land area known as Nuevo Santander. Present day Zapata County was a small part of that province. Escandon requested a fellow explorer, Captain Miguel de la Garza Falcon, to accompany him on this mission.
To attract settlers to this area, tracts of land (porciones) were granted to men and their families in order to form colonies. After many name changes, in 1898 the name of the largest community was permanently changed to Zapata in honor of Colonel Antonio Zapata, a local rancher and military man who became one of the leaders of the federalist movement to found the Republic of the Rio Grande, which began in 1839. The first headquarters of this movement was in Zapata County. Two military posts, Camp Drum and Camp Harney, were located at Zapata in the early 1850s to combat border disturbances and Indian attacks.
Texas proudly relates its history of having been under six flags – France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy and the United States. Zapata County and the surrounding area can add a seventh flag – that of the Republic of the Rio Grande.
Zapata boasts of being the “Home of Falcon Lake”, the largest fresh water lake in Texas. Falcon Lake was voted the number one fishing spot in Texas by the Bass Fishing Clubs. Falcon Lake’s 87,300 acres along the Rio Grande River entice men and women around the country to take part in the year-round fishing of black bass, white bass, crappie, stripers and monster-size catfish.
The Seedeater Inn
The Seedeater Inn is owned by Dr. Leticia M. Volpe and her husband John Williams of Weslaco. The Volpe family moved from Italy to the area around Mexico’s Guerrero Viejo in the late 1800s and became cattle ranchers. Eventually the family purchased additional lands across the Rio Grande and some of the family settled in Zapata County following the Mexican revolution of 1910.
The Seedeater Inn gets its name from a small, rare finch-like bird, the white-collared Seedeater that makes its home in and around Zapata County.
The home was originally built for Leticia’s grandmother near the end of the 19th century. With the creation of Falcon Lake in 1954, this historic family home was moved from the original town site to what is now modern Zapata. Today the completely renovated historic home is operated as a bed & breakfast. In keeping with the family’s continuing desire to create and preserve native habitat, the grounds have been planted with species indigenous to the area. Local birds and other native animals frequent the yard and use the various feeding stations.
Sponsors and hosts: Zapata County Museum of History, the Seedeater Inn, the Zapata County Chamber of Commerce and the Steakhouse Restaurant.