Del Rio is a border city in and the county seat of Val Verde County, Texas, United States. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 35,591. Del Rio is connected with Ciudad Acuña via the Lake Amistad Dam International Crossing and Del Río – Ciudad Acuña International Bridge. Del Rio is also home to Laughlin Air Force Base, the busiest pilot training base in the United States Air Force.
The Spanish established a small settlement south of the Rio Grande in present-day Mexico, and some Spaniards settled on what became the United States side of the Rio Grande as early as the 18th century. However, true development of the U.S. side of the Rio Grande did not begin until after the American Civil War.
The San Felipe Springs, about east of the Rio Grande on the U.S. side of the border, produces of water a day. Developers acquired several thousand acres of land adjacent to the springs, and to San Felipe Creek formed by the springs, from the State of Texas in exchange for building a canal system to irrigate the area. The developers sold tracts of land surrounding the canals to recover their investment and show a profit. These investors formed the San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Irrigation Company in 1868. The organization completed construction of a network of irrigation canals in 1871. Residents referred to the slowly developing town as San Felipe Del Rio because local lore said the name came from early Spanish explorers who offered a Mass at the site on St. Philip's Day, 1635.
In 1883 local residents requested a post office be established. The United States Postal Department shortened "San Felipe del Rio" to "Del Rio" to avoid confusion with San Felipe de Austin. In 1885 Val Verde County was organized and Del Rio became the county seat. The City of Del Rio was incorporated on November 15, 1911.
The San Felipe community was started by the Arteaga family. Arteaga Street and Arteaga Park are named after them.
The history of Del Rio, particularly from the 19th century, is preserved at the Whitehead Memorial Museum downtown.
Del Rio is known as the American address of legendary Mexican radio stations XERA and XERF just over the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Acuña; their 500,000-watt signals could be heard at night as far away as Canada. Legendary deejay Wolfman Jack operated XERF in the 1960s, using a Del Rio address to sell various products advertised on the station.
Laughlin Air Force Base
In 1942, the Army Air Corps opened Laughlin Field east of Del Rio as a training base for the Martin B-26, but it was deactivated in 1945. As the Cold War pressures built, Laughlin Field was rebuilt and renamed Laughlin Air Force Base. It was again used as a home for flight training. In the mid-1950s, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) noted Laughlin's remoteness that allowed for secret operations, and opened its strategic reconnaissance program there with the RB-57, a bomber modified for high-altitude reconnaissance. SAC soon transitioned to the high-altitude U-2 Dragonlady and based all of them in Laughlin AFB. In 1962, it was Laughlin-based U-2s that took the first photographs of land-based medium-range ballistic missile sites being constructed in Cuba. This was the photo intelligence that started the Cuban Missile Crisis. The U-2s were relocated to Davis–Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona, in July 1963, and Laughlin's mission transitioned to the Undergraduate Pilot Training mission in the T-37 and T-38 aircraft. Laughlin AFB also provides training in the T-1A Jayhawk and the T-6A Texan II.
Laughlin plays a large part in the Del Rio community as the area's largest employer. The Border Patrol is the city's second largest employer (with two large stations along with the Sector Headquarters). At one time Del Rio was in the running to become the home of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center for agents of the U.S. Border Patrol and Federal Air Marshal Service but lost to the current site in Artesia, New Mexico. The proposed site was located on property belonging to Laughlin AFB. Since the base has unused land, the Air Force is able to lease it to other federal law enforcement agencies for such projects. This benefits Laughlin AFB and the city of Del Rio both financially and economically. Del Rio was one of five cities in the United States selected for an FBI regional headquarters office; the building is adjacent to the six story Roswell Hotel in downtown Del Rio.