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“A Slice of the Good Life”
Block party at City Hall, Nov. 18; Bands, games, cook-off at Lions Club, Nov. 19 & 20
The hundredth anniversary of the city of Dilley this year is being given the full South Texas festival treatment with a three-day celebration next week.
The schedule of activities includes a block party at City Hall beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, November 18, after which the festival moves to the Lions Club Civic Center grounds at the southern edge of town for two days of live entertainment, games, a barbecue cook-off, vendor booths and a variety of foods and refreshments Friday from 3 p.m. onwards and Saturday from noon.
Entertainers booked to perform include Siggno with Chris Perez, Kyle Park, Nacido, Elida Reyna, Lucky Joe, the David Farias Band, Santiago Garza, Da Krazy Pimpz, Ricky Naranjo y Los Gamblers, and Joe Vic Reyna y Los Kumbacheros. Also providing music during the block party at City Hall will be disc jockey Master B, Bobby Benavidez.
The Kountry Korner at the Lions Club will be set aside for local businesses, vendors, and those offering handmade goods and gifts. Vendor spots remain available by calling (830) 965-5246.
Games and contests scheduled for the Lions Club grounds include corn hole and washer pitching tournaments, softball, and a 5K run as well as the
Admission to the festival at the Lions Club is $5 per person. Children ages 12 and under are admitted free.
Originally settled in the 1890s at an agricultural crossroads in the Wintergarden area of South Texas, took its name either from railroad company official George M. Dilley, but was alternately known as Darlington, which was the name of its post office.
Although the town celebrates its centennial this year, records indicate the city of Dilley itself was incorporated in 1912, when it already had a school and several dozen residents. The area covered by the community today had been settled before 1885, by which time it had its own post office. Before 1921, the city recorded a population of over 1,000.
For much of its life, the community relied on nearby farms and ranches for its livelihood. A vital link for commerce was the International & Great Northern Railroad, which maintained a line south of San Antonio into Mexico and owned a depot near the Frio River crossing.
When irrigated, crops survived better in the rich red sand of Frio County than they did in the dry Brush Country only a few miles to the south. The railroad carried Dilley’s agricultural produce to market, and during the oil boom years the community’s economy was boosted by additional labor, infusions of money and infrastructure growth.
Highway construction across South Texas included several routes that passed through Dilley. These are marked today as Farm to Market 117, State Highway 85, and Interstate 35 (on the path of the former Hwy 81).
When IH-35 was built in the early 1970s, many of Dilley’s small businesses suffered from the traffic diversion, as commerce that had previously traveled on the Blue Star Highway through the middle of town moved to the bypass. Few businesses followed by relocating, and it would be over twenty years before the community’s economy would be boosted by sales at new gas stations and eateries beside the interstate. At the end of the 1980s, Dilley benefited from economic development brought by horizontal drilling for oil across South Texas and by the construction of the Dolph Briscoe Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 1990. Employment likewise rose, as did the city’s population.
Modern school construction took place between the 1960s and 1980s, when Dilley ISD built its new high school and Mary Harper Middle School, both of which have since been demolished. Additional school facilities were built in the mid-1990s and after 2005, and an entirely new high school campus was built four years ago.
Also built recently, the new municipal building and public library occupy a site close to Dilley’s former City Hall, the onetime Dilley State Bank in the historic Avant Building, which now serves as the police headquarters and administrative offices.
By the 1990s, most of Dilley’s residential streets had been paved, and with the new economic boom delivered by the hydraulic fracturing process for oil extraction in the Eagle Ford Shale after 2008, Dilley again saw new businesses established, traffic increase, and demand for housing multiply.
Today, the city boasts a population of nearly 4,000, although the number may rise again when demand for South Texas Crude revives, depending on prices per barrel over the cost of extracting the oil from the shale.
Elected earlier this year, Mayor Gilbert Eguia says he believes the community is overdue a full celebration in the aftermath of coronavirus-related lockdowns and restrictions, and the city’s centennial is a perfect opportunity.
“We have a lot to celebrate in Dilley this year,” the mayor said. “Our hundredth anniversary is one, but I think it’s important to recognize that those hundred years are more than just numbers. They represent generations of Dilley families toiling hard in the South Texas sun, raising and educating their children, aspiring for a better future and working together as a close-knit community to achieving a better place to live today, and an ever better one tomorrow, for the generations that come after us.
“I hope that the people of Dilley will celebrate all of these things when we come together at our centennial,” Eguia said. “We are marking the first hundred years of a beloved community that has withstood the test of time and change, has adapted to meet challenges with each generation, and is ready to continue growing in the modern age.”