The History of Roswell
Article contributed by:
Director - Mainstreet Roswell
Like most of the small cities in New Mexico, Roswell has encountered many challenges over the past 125 years. Billy the Kid, the Lincoln county War, and raids on the Chisum Ranch by the Mescalero Apaches in the 1880s colored our early history. The alien invasion of 1947, the closing of Walker Air Force Base in the early 1970s, and the influx of the big box stores in the 1980s have also played a large part in our more recent economic past.
In the early years of Roswell history, the 1880s and the 1890s, it was not uncommon to hear of locals going for afternoon buggy rides and never returning home. It is said they fell victim to the Apache Indians who were raiding the Pecos Valley. Cattle Baron John Chisum lost several ranch hands, many horses, and quite a few cattle, until he had finally had enough. Right before one of his famous cattle trail rides he came up missing a number of horses, so he gathered several locals and they trailed the Apaches to Fort Stanton where they raided the camp, killing many and retrieving over 100 of his stolen saddle horses, which he needed for his livelihood. This curtailed many of the raids in Roswell which locals had come to fear so mush. Chisum and his cattle were, in large part, responsible for sustaining a good part of Roswells early economy.
Roswell has been the home to New Mexico Military Institute since 1891. This four year high school and two year junior college has been the breeding ground for many, many talented young men and women in our city, our state, and our nation. Among its most notable graduates are Conrad Hilton, Roger Staubach, and Sam Donaldson. Will Rogers, who once said that Roswell was the prettiest little town west of the Pecos, had a son who also went to NMMI. This school contributed to New Mexico becoming a state in 1912. It also holds a long history of appointing its graduates to West Point and other military academies, as well as important appointments in our nation's illustrious military forces.
Eastern New Mexico University, the Roswell campus, adds to the educational advantages in the Roswell area. What a great benefit this ever-growing campus has been. Providing many technical courses and two year degree programs, as well as a four year K-12 educational degree, this campus also offers Roswells many retirees a haven where they can take classes, earn a degree, and even begin new careers. Welfare recipients from the surrounding area are also drawn to this campus to educate themselves and begin the positive path toward new futures.
Roswell's more recent history has not been any less colorful. In addition to agriculture and education, tourism is a force to be reckoned with. In 1947 a mysterious crash occurred north of the city. Responsible local citizens who witnessed the crash remained hush-hush about the doings until they retired. When they came out with their story, Roswell got the attention of the world who immediately wanted to know more about the incident. With the help of the government and their denials about the Roswell Incident, by which it has become known, we have now become a mecca for people wanting to know more. The result has been thousands of people visiting annually and a new multi-million dollar tourism industry. Seven new hotels, with more on the way, and many new restaurants have sprung up to answer this burgeoning call. Even McDonald's has gotten into the mix by building their seventh worldwide theme park restaurant here, designed to look like a spaceship residing on Main Street.
The 1970s was a particularly difficult decade in Roswell's economic history. We lost 50 percent of our population when Walker Air Force Base closed. The citizens who remained tightened their belts and went to work to fill the void. Under good leadership, Roswell demonstrated its Can Do spirit and by the end of the decade we started to pull out of the downsizing and were on our way to growth once again. Through these recent years, we have attracted many senior citizens because of our clean air, near perfect climate, and our low cost of living. The old Walker Air Force Base is currently in use as and industrial area. It boasts the longest runways in the world and houses many aircraft operations, both military and private.
In the early 1990s Roswell was again facing a slight economic slump. The downtown area was 48 percent vacant and the buildings were in need of architectural and structural repairs. Several big box stores came in, as they have in so many small communities, towns, and cities, but Roswell refused to go under. We joined the national Mainstreet program and once again were competing for business. We invested millions of dollars in our abandoned downtown area and worked with local businesses to provide services after the sale, offer locally grown and made products and top notch customer service, all key points to having citizens shop locally and support each other. We now boast a less than 3 percent vacancy rate and downtown is thriving with a whole new look and a whole new attitude. It's been a decade of positive growth for downtown Roswell.
To bolster our booming tourism business, Roswell built the Roswell Convention and Civic Center on North Main Street in 1996. This wonderful facility hosts many civic functions, lots of conventions, and, more recently, even the President of the United States. Many visitors come to the convention center and are directed to one of our many museums. Part of the draw to Roswell for free museum fare is the International UFO Museum and Research Center. The city's other fine free museums include the Roswell Museum and Art Center, and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. Roswell also offers three beautiful golf courses, numerous miles of hike and bike trails, many green parks, Bitter lakes National Wildlife Refuge, and the Bottomless Lakes State Park. When visitors come, they are usually surprised at what we have to offer, and we treat them right so they can return with family and other friends.
We've got tourism down with our Can Do attitude. We can do anything we set our minds to. Come and experience Roswell's state of mind and you just might become one of us.
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