It was the first large public school in the Rio Grande Valley.
It was a time when classrooms were in private homes, courthouses, and churches. Although it’s been over 100 years, a big part of it remains. Let’s go back in time to Brownsville’s 1889 grammar school.
It was an exciting time for Brownsville. The city had been founded in 1853, and Cameron County began public education a year later. In 1875 the city decided it was time for it to have its own system.
Eugene Fernandez, Cameron County Historical Commission says, “The public education really took a low level in terms of priorities for the city. Even state wide we only had a population of about 8,000 people at the time.”
In 1887, former U.S. Army Captain, William Kelly began his involvement in shipping, banking, mining, and landholding. He started reorganizing the school system with the help of Frank Cummings, who would later have a school named after him. In 1889 the school was built, which housed the grammar, junior, and senior high classes. It had 12 rooms on two floors with Victorian style architecture, large clock, and the bell hung at the top.
“It housed enough rooms in there in order to school the children of Brownsville.” says Fernandez.
The original building was demolished in 1929. The current school, Putegnat Elementary, was built with some of the bricks from the old school. It is named after a first-grade teacher and principal from the grammar school, Annie S. Putegnat. The bell is now at the Brownsville Independent School District Museum.
Fernandez adds, “This museum captures all of the path of the life story of Brownsville’s educational programs.”
The museum is a place where students, alumni, teachers, and staff can remember where their schools came from.