According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 784 square miles (2,031 km²), of which 597 square miles (1,545 km²) is land and 188 square miles (486 km²) (23.92%) is water.
- U.S. Highway 77
- State Highway 186
National protected areas
Willacy County was formed in 1911 from parts of Cameron and Hidalgo counties and originally included what is now Kenedy County; it was named for state senator John G. Willacy. Kenedy was split from Willacy in 1921, when the long-settled ranchers of the northern (Kenedy) part of the county sought to separate from the newly arrived farmers of the southern part.
The Bermuda onion was introduced to Willacy County in 1912. It grew well and slowly displaced ranch land in the southern part of the county, becoming the most important crop. For many years the town of Raymondville held an annual Onion Festival, using the tag line, “The Breath of a Nation.” In 1940, the first oil wells were sunk in the county’s Willamar Oil Field; today oil production is a major part of the local economy, although increasingly eclipsed by natural gas. Also in the 1940s, sorghum was introduced to the county, gradually displacing cotton and other crops. Cattle ranching remains a substantial economic activity as well.
Willacy County has three entries on the National Register of Historic Places:
- Old Lyford High School in Lyford
- King Ranch in Kingsville
- Mansfield Cut Underwater Archeological District in Port Isabel
Texas Almanac: 1850-2010
As of the census of 2000, there were 20,082 people, 5,584 households, and 4,584 families residing in the county. The population density was 34 people per square mile (13/km²). There were 6,727 housing units at an average density of 11 per square mile (4/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 70.37% White, 2.19% Black or African American, 0.50% Native American, 0.11% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 24.46% from other races, and 2.34% from two or more races. 85.69% of the population were Hispanicor Latino of any race.
There were 5,584 households out of which 42.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 62.10% were married couples living together, 16.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 17.90% were non-families. 16.50% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.70% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.40 and the average family size was 3.85.
In the county, the population was spread out with 31.60% under the age of 18, 11.90% from 18 to 24, 26.60% from 25 to 44, 18.30% from 45 to 64, and 11.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 105.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 104.90 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $22,114, and the median income for a family was $25,076. Males had a median income of $19,706 versus $15,514 for females. The per capita income for the county was $9,421. About 29.20% of families and 33.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 42.00% of those under age 18 and 29.90% of those age 65 or over. The county’s per-capita income makes it one of the poorest counties in the United States.
- San Perlita
School districts that serve Willacy County include:
- Lasara Independent School District (K-8)
- Lyford Consolidated Independent School District
- Raymondville Independent School District
- San Perlita Independent School District
In addition, residents are allowed to apply for magnet schools operated by the South Texas Independent School District.
- KFRQ 94.5FM – Official Site
- KKPS 99.5FM – Official Site
- KNVO 101.1FM – Official Site
- KVLY 107.9FM – Official Site
Willacy Detention Center
Willacy Detention Center is located just east of Raymondville, on the east side of Route 77. It is operated by the The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The center is a federal holding facility for illegal immigrants.