Roswell, New Mexico – UFO Capital of the World!
A cluster of buildings in today’s Downtown Historic District, north and west of the original settlement of Rio Hondo (today, Chihuahuita), became Roswell in 1872.
Downtown Historic District, Roswell, New Mexico
Original houses in the Roswell area were made of adobe or even sod. Log cabins were rare as the closest trees grew in the mountains 75 miles to the west—until settlers began planting them around their new homes. The arrival of the railroad in 1894 allowed “exotic” building materials like brick, glass, and lumber to be brought in more easily, and newly arriving Roswell residents then began to build with these new materials in the familiar styles of their hometowns farther east: Georgian, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, California Mission, Hipped Box, Mediterranean, Prairie, and Greek Revival among others.
As Roswell grew during the late 1800s and early 1900s, patterns of settlement emerged. Hispanics generally lived south of the Hondo River on the east side of town. The small number of African-Americans tended to cluster along the Hondo River east of Main Street, but some lived interspersed in mainly Hispanic or Anglo areas. Working-class Anglos lived close to the business district, while wealthy Anglo merchants, bankers, and cattlemen built their larger, more expensive homes along wide avenues farther west. As the business district expanded in the second half of the Twentieth Century, homes in some of these residential areas, such as the 300 and 400 blocks of North Pennsylvania and North Kentucky Avenues, were replaced by businesses, but most of the area remains residential: today’s Downtown Historic District.
Broad lawns and stately cottonwood, elm, poplar, mulberry, and pecan trees give the Downtown Historic District a Midwest feel and create a friendly habitat for birds and the squirrels whose ancestors early Pecos Valley developer J.J. Hagerman reportedly imported from “back east.” White-winged, Mourning, and Inca Doves are common here. In March and October Turkey Vultures gather for migrations in large numbers, often roosting in trees in the Downtown Historic District or riding thermals over the pecan orchards, creating a sometimes eerie atmosphere.
Sidewalks in the Downtown Historic District stamped with dates like 1909, 1910, and 1914 are in pretty fair condition for something that has been walked on for almost 100 years. The older ones have a brownish cast. Is it from age, or just different materials? A walk along the alleys as well as the sidewalks gives a different perspective on some of the houses and uncovers a few hidden gems.
Some of Our Attractions:
City Hall (415 N. Richardson). WPA workers constructed this solid, no-nonsense building with Art Deco cement panels on the façade. As one of the many plaques in-side the structure emphatically states, it was “Built and paid for in 1938-39.” From 1939 to 1962 the Roswell Police Department operated from here, along with other City officials. Today it only houses City government offices, including that of the Mayor—the ceremonial head of the City—and the City Manager who actually runs things. “In recognition of his achievements and pioneering spirit” the City dedicated this building to James W. Stockard (1859-1924), mayor of Roswell from 1906 to 1908, who founded the first motorized mail delivery route in the world in 1905, the same year he opened Roswell’s first auto dealership. In 1915 he donated this land where City Hall was eventually built to the City. 624-6700. Open M-F 8-12 and 1-5, SS closed, holidays variable.
Cobean Stationery Company (320 N. Richardson). The Cobean family founded this store in 1916 at 208 North Main Street. Today, third-generation family members operate this office supply business with a small but worthwhile bookstore—the oldest continuously operating bookstore in New Mexico—in the back. They stock many local authors and a good selection of books about New Mexico, including such gems as UFOs and the Murder of Marilyn Monroe. You won’t find that one on Amazon! 622-1541. Open M-F 8-5, closed SS, holidays variable.
Copy Rite Building (210 N. Richardson). Hall-Poorbaugh Press opened its doors at 127 North Main Street in 1914, moved its printing operation to this location in 1924, and finally went out of business here 76 years later in 2001. Today a more “up to date” printing company occupies the building. Former Artist-In-Residence Matt Barinholtz and Roswell High School art teacher Robin Einhorn organized artists from the Unity Center Teen Program to paint the Printing Aliens mural outside on the building’s north wall in 1997.
Roswell Petroleum Building (Prager house site)(200 W. 1st). Beginning in the late 1920s small wildcat oil companies drilled everywhere in Southeastern New Mexico. Some drilling produced gushers and instant millionaires; some produced dry holes and failed businesses. At first, drilling was random and wells were shallow—only a few thousand feet deep at most. As the science developed throughout the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, site selection came to depend on sophisticated technology. Wells went down as much as 20,000’ (6000 m) and geologists, engineers, and bankers replaced seat-of-the-pants wildcatters.
The first four floors of the Petroleum Building, Roswell’s first sky-scraper, were completed in 1952 to provide much needed office space for Southeastern New Mexico’s growing oil and gas industry. Four more floors were added two years later and the eight-story tan brick Petroleum Building is currently the third tallest in town. Although larger oil companies have moved their offices out of Roswell, many geologists, land men, and other smaller oil-related companies continue to operate here.
The house of Roswell pioneers William and Anna Sidney Prager that originally stood on this site was moved to 1706 West Juniper Street in 1952 to make room for the new building. Will Prager was a successful Roswell merchant: a partner in the Jaffa-Prager Mercantile Company at 114 North Main Street and later owner of Price and Company, a general merchandise business that operated successfully at 306 North Main Street for over fifty years. Anna Prager was always prominent in Roswell women’s civic activities and the Pragers hosted frequent social gatherings. The oldest active Jewish congregation in New Mexico, B’nai Israel—currently meeting at 712 North Washington Avenue—which was organized by Prager’s partner, Nathan Jaffa, began meeting here in the Prager home in 1903.
The Petroleum Building’s eighth floor balcony provides a wonderful overview of Roswell’s downtown area with NMMI in the distance—the best view in town unless you have your own hot air balloon or UFO.
Wilson-Cobb History and Genealogy Research Library (301 S. Richardson). Although it is open only limited hours, this library’s collection of materials about families from all areas of the country, but especially the East and South, free computer access to Ancestry.com, and occasional genealogical “mini-seminars” make it an important resource for those interested in genealogy and family history. 622-3322. Open MWF 1-4, closed holiday
Roswell Public Library (301 N. Pennsylvania). This attractive 1975 building, remodeled in 2002, with authors’ names in metal lettering around the roofline, has a comfortable reading lounge with magazines and newspapers, free Internet access, a fun children’s area with papier-mâché sculptures, and a Southwest Section containing interesting books about Roswell. It also maintains materials devoted to local genealogy and family history. The pendulum clock on the wall across from the circulation desk came from the original Carnegie Library at 127 West 3rd Street. Interesting historic photos of Roswell hang in the lobby, which also contains restrooms and water fountains.
Ceramic tiles for Susan Wink’s Tree of Knowledge on the southwest lawn were made by the Roswell community. The 2008 sculpture celebrating the library’s 2006 Centennial represents its deep roots in Roswell and its significant contribution to growth and knowledge in the community.
The white marble pedestal, topped with remains of a sundial marking “the bright hours only,” on the northeast edge of the northeast plaza was originally erected by the Woman’s Club in 1909 at the Carnegie Library. Puzzle: Can you figure out why this sundial would not tell accurate time, even if its shadow-casting gnomon were still present? Hint: hold a pencil or stick in place and read the time. 622-7101. www.roswellpubliclibrary.org. Open M-T 9-9, W-Sat 9-6, Sun 2-6, closed holidays.
First United Methodist Church (200 N. Pennsylvania). The first Methodist Episcopal Church, South congregation in Roswell was established in 1887 as the town’s first organized religious group. In 1888 they constructed the first church in the Pecos Valley, an adobe building at 311 North Pennsylvania Avenue where the Roswell Public Library now stands. A photo of it is on view in the Library lobby.
The Cowboy Bell—the first bell in the first church in Southeastern New Mexico—currently mounted inconspicuously in a wall niche inside the secluded courtyard on the east side of the church, was a gift from cowboys profoundly moved by a Sunday revival meeting in Roswell in 1894 held by famous Texas evangelist Abe Mulkey. Some say the cowboys’ generosity was meant to assuage guilty consciences after a Saturday night in Roswell’s bars, dance halls, and other establishments of entertainment. The bell called parishioners to services for 88 years until the current sanctuary was completed in 1982.
Cahoon house (612 N. Kentucky). As President of the First National Bank (p 54), Edward A. Cahoon (1862-1934) completed this impressive Tudor style half-timbered stucco and brick house with a steeply pitched roof for his family in 1929. Cahoon was ambidextrous and enjoyed producing two different “authentic” signatures, always signing personal papers with his right hand and business papers with his left. Cahoon Park, Cahoon Armory at NMMI, and Cahoon Avenue in the southeastern part of town were all named in his honor.
Oilman, rancher, environmentalist, and philanthropist Robert O. Anderson (1917-2007), former President of Atlantic Richfield Oil Company who presided over the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay Oilfield and the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, lived here in the 1950s and ‘60s with his wife and six children. In an attempt to keep the house cool during Roswell’s sweltering pre-air conditioned summers, Anderson would open all twenty win-dows each night to let in cool air. Then the millionaire oilman would rouse himself at 4:30 each morning to close all twenty windows trapping the cool air inside.
Roswell Independent School District Administrative and Educational Services Center (300 N. Kentuckty). Built as Roswell Junior High School in 1929, this building’s sturdy red brick construction, numerous tall windows, and Art Deco touches would identify it as a school in any neighborhood in America. Inside, hardwood floors, high ceilings, and transomed doors raise images of no-nonsense education. Today this older building and the 2000 addition on the northwest corner—where the only public entrance is located—house the administrative offices of the Roswell Independent School District (three high schools, four middle schools, twelve elementary schools, and several special programs).
Inside the current building, Pueblo Auditorium . . . was completed in time for 1929 high school graduation ceremonies. As the largest auditorium in town it hosted plays, concerts, and public meetings—and still does. Some consider the most important event ever scheduled in Pueblo Auditorium to have taken place on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1955, when a yet-unknown Elvis Presley performed onstage as a part of the Hank Snow tour. . . The ghost of a little boy supposedly haunts the balcony. He is sometimes visible from below but disappears when any living person enters the balcony. (This is a pretty tame ghost story, but we’ll take what we can get. Ghosts seem to be few and far between in most of Roswell—unlike some other parts of the state.)
Basketball made its debut in Roswell on this spot in 1902 when a group of energetic young ladies attending Central School ordered a rulebook for the sport that had been invented only eleven years earlier. After giving a tea to raise money to purchase a ball, they enlisted the boys to build backboards and a local blacksmith to forge hoops. Never having seen an actual game, they nevertheless organized themselves into several intramural teams, laid out a basketball court behind the school, and began playing in the afternoons. 627-2500. Open M-F 8-5, closed SS and school holidays (but open during the summer).
West on 2nd Street
412 Tinnie Mercantile Store and Deli. The deli portion of this business serves interesting and delicious sandwiches and salads along with gourmet snacks and desserts. Travelocity has identified Tinnie’s as a “hidden gem.” In the 1980s Walter Haut, the RAAF Information Officer who wrote the press release about the 1947 UFO Crash, was operating an art gallery and framing shop in this building when publication of the first book about the Crash, called The Roswell Incident, made him a sudden, and initially a somewhat reluctant and embarrassed, celebrity. 622-2031. Open Tu-Sat 10-5, closed Sun and M, holidays variable.
Historical Center for Southeast New Mexico (former White house) (200 N. Lea). Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style that emphasizes broad horizontal lines reflective of wide-open spaces, Roswell building con-tractor David Tomlinson constructed this fourteen-room “mansion” for his son-in-law J.P. White in 1910. White had commissioned the house for his bride who was Tomlinson’s daughter.
James Phelps White (1856-1934) was born in Texas, the nephew of Major George Littlefield who was a hugely wealthy Texas cattleman. Twenty-five-year-old White came to New Mexico in 1881 to manage some of his uncle’s ranching operations, the LTF, that covered a good part of the state. J.P. White soon began acquiring his own land and cattle herds and quickly be-came the largest rancher in eastern New Mexico and western Texas. He was the first in this area to dig water wells out on the range and put up windmills to pump water to the surface for his cattle. By 1920, 64-year-old White was the wealthiest man in the Pecos Valley. When cattle drives proceeded down 2nd Street toward the railroad stockyards, J.P. White would stand in his second-floor window and count his “money” as it thundered by.
White and his family lived and breathed cattle. When he and his brother Tom traveled “back east” to do some sightseeing, they agreed that Niagara Falls “would make a mighty fine place to water a herd.”
Today White’s former home houses the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico. A tour of the house showcases White family antiques in the parlor and dining room and a well-stocked vintage kitchen including an icebox and range. Bronze-colored busts of the four people who “contributed most to the development and civic improvement of Roswell,” created for the Roswell Museum and Art Center in 1937 by WPA artist J.R. Terken, decorate the staircases: John Chisum and Joseph Lea stand near the top of the main stairway while Amelia Church and J.J. Hagerman guard the top of the back stairway. Exhibits featuring “King of the Cowboys” Bob Crosby, Roswell Army Air Field, the Bataan Death March, the history and culture of Mariachi music, Roswell’s 1956 Little League World Championship Team, and many other topics of local history fill the upstairs bedrooms.
Lou Tomlinson White was quite a socialite when she could get to “society.” The green brocade dress she wore to Governor Hinkle’s 1923 Inaugural Ball in Santa Fe is on display downstairs. She lived in this house until her death in 1972 at the age of 92, and some say she still does. When displays appear mysteriously rearranged, workers just assume that they didn’t please finicky Mrs. White’s sense of style.
Books about Roswell and New Mexico history and small inexpensive “Pecos Valley Diamonds” are available in the Museum Gift Shop. 622-8333. Office open M-F 10-4; Museum open 1-4 every day, holidays variable; Archives open MWF 1-4.
Elizabeth Garrett house (102 S. Lea). Ask any New Mexican—native or other-wise—to sing the New Mexico State Song, and you are likely to get some hemming and hawing and maybe some desultory humming. Some will actually know that it is called “O, Fair New Mexico,” and those who do can usually tell you that it was written by “Pat Garrett’s blind daughter.”
Elizabeth Garrett, the composer of this pleasant but forgettable song, was born in 1885 near Ruidoso, one of seven children of Apolinaria Gutierrez Garrett and Sheriff Pat Garrett, the man who shot Billy the Kid. Accidentally blinded as a very young child, Elizabeth grew up on the Garrett ranch just east of Roswell with no intention of living a handicapped life. She attended school in Austin, Texas, and then studied music in Chicago and New York.
Elizabeth Garrett toured the country, giving concerts in which she sang and accompanied herself on the piano. Traveling with a seeing-eye dog—quite a novelty at that time—she visited Helen Keller who dedicated one of her books to this serene but determined young lady. Garrett then returned to Roswell to teach piano and voice, and to defend the reputation of her often-maligned father. She lived here in “La Casita,” her five-room adobe Pueblo Revival style house which she called her “dream home,” with its flat roof, vigas, and roof drain spouts called “canales.” In later years she subsisted on a small pension resulting from her State Song, and died in 1947 after an injury sustained in a fall.
Schlotsky’s Deli (former Radio Station KSWS)(401 N. Richardson) . On July 8, 1947, RAAF Information Officer Lt. Walter Haut brought a copy of his press release about the crashed flying saucer here to Radio Station KSWS, on the air only a few months, after first delivering a copy to Radio Station KGFL down the street. Station manager George Walsh, an Associated Press stringer, immediately sent the information to the AP wire. Station owner John McBoyle called Lydia Sleppy at their sister radio station, KOAT in Albuquerque, asking her to put the story out to the ABC and Mutual radio networks. As Sleppy was typing the story onto the teletype a message from the FBI interrupted her transmission telling her to cease—which she did.
The restaurant currently in the building offers a variety of soups, sandwiches, and pizza. Munch a “Schlotsky” where George Walsh put the UFO Crash story on the AP wire to flash around the world. 623-4840. Open M-Sat for lunch and dinner, Sun for lunch, holidays variable.
La Posta Restaurant (former Elks Lodge)(201 W. 2nd). David Tomlinson, the same contractor that built the J.P. White house, now the Historical Center, completed the two-story portion of this building in 1908. He was Mrs. White’s father. Originally surrounded by lovely gardens until the one-story addition replaced the landscaped grounds, this building served as the Elks Lodge—organized in Roswell in 1906—until 2002 when the Elks moved to 1720 North Montana Avenue. The restaurant currently occupying the building serves a large and diverse Mexican buffet—something for everyone. 622-1147. Open M-Sat for breakfast, lunch and dinner; Sun for breakfast and lunch; holidays variable.
For more complete information about the Historic District . . .
BUY the paperbackor ebook edition of Lynn Michelsohn’s guidebook
Roswell, Your Travel Guide to the UFO Capital of the World!
Chihuahuita: Touring Roswell Along the Hondo River Recreation Trail
The popularity of the Spring River Recreation Trail—and the persistence of City Councilwoman Mary Anaya (who had her own connection to the Roswell Incident)—led the City to establish this recreational trail in southeastern Roswell beginning in 2003. It follows the Hondo River nearly one and one-half miles (2.5 km) from the Yucca Recreation Center on the west to the 900 block of East 2nd Street on the east, through the heart of the original settlement of Rio Hondo (today, Chihuahuita) that later became Roswell, past several locations associated with Roy Rogers, to a great source for our State Cookie, the biscochito.
Some of Our Attractions:
Roswell Headstart Center (George Washington Carver School site) (205 East Hendricks Street). The first public “Colored School” in Roswell opened in Smith Chapel on South Michigan Avenue in 1907, then moved across the street to the Colored Masonic Hall where students attended classes for the next 23 years.
The Roswell School Board let a contact to build a school for African-American students on this site in July 1930. The two-room building was completed shortly after the school year began and the students moved into their new George Washington Carver School for grades 1 through 12. Roswell’s African-American students attended school here until the fall of 1952 when the junior and senior high schools were integrated. Elementary students continued to attend Carver School until it closed in 1955.
Today the new building on this site serves as one of Roswell’s three Headstart Centers, preparing disadvantaged children for kindergarten.
Chihuahuita means “little Chihuahua,” and is named after the Mexican state just south of the New Mexico border, as well as its capital city, that was the birthplace of many of its original citizens. The oldest part of Roswell, originally called Rio Hondo, Chihuahuita hugs the south bank of the Hondo River on slightly higher ground than the rest of downtown Roswell, which protected it from the flooding that was once so common. Immigrants from Chihuahua and Hispanics from Northern New Mexico and Texas settled here before Anglo Roswell existed. This was one of the first of several small Hispanic communities of farmers and sheep ranchers that sprang up in eastern New Mexico after it became a part of the United States in 1850 because settlers found empty spaces, plentiful water for farming, and abundant grass for grazing livestock.
Little is known of Chihuahuita’s early history. In 1867 it appeared on a U.S. survey as Rio Hondo and contained several adobe buildings, as did the Hispanic settlements of La Plaza de Missouri 15 miles (25 km) to the west and El Berrendo, a few miles to the north.
After the Civil War a wave of Anglo cattlemen, then farmers taking advantage of the Homestead Act and later the discovery of artesian water and the arrival of the railroad, came to dominate the earlier Hispanic inhabitants. Other Hispanic settlements died out, but Chihuahuita persisted.
Two separate societies, one Anglo and one Hispanic, developed in Roswell—and to some extent remain today. Chihuahuita had its own markets, laundries, barber shops, bars and restaurants, curanderas (healers), builders, churches, and schools. In 1902 twenty-four charter members organized La Sociedad Union y Fraternidad Mexicana de Roswell, a mutual aid society for social and financial support in the Hispanic community.
In the early 1900s the Chihuahuita area was platted as the Acequia Subdivision of Roswell and its street names were anglicized. Today Chihuahuita is bounded generally by Atkinson Avenue on the east, Poe Corn Park and 2nd Street on the north, Virginia Avenue on the west, and Bland Street on the south. Many of the oldest houses in this section are made of adobe. Generations have rebuilt, repaired, and added on to the original structures, usually without keeping any records. It is difficult to know just how old some of these houses are, but the oldest are probably at 105, 106, 107, 114, and 115 South Mulberry Avenue (originally called Calle Alamosa); 708, 712, 718, and 901 East Walnut Street; and 715, 717, 719, 721, 725, 729, and 733 East Alameda Street (originally called Calle Camino Real). These houses are all built in the New Mexico Vernacular Style: adobe walls but pitched roofs, often covered with tin, rather than the flat-roofed Pueblo Revival style adobe houses usually associated with New Mexico. Houses in Chihuahuita are generally small. Yards are often filled with ornaments and decorations—including a space ship at the corner of Alameda and Elm Streets.
Chihuahuita remains the traditional heart of Hispanic Roswell. Recent interest in renovating and revitalizing this neighborhood is leading to a resurgence of community spirit in the Chihuahuita area, a district that has long been one of the poorer sections of town.
St. John-the-Baptist Catholic Church (506 South Lincoln Avenue). Franciscan priests founded two Catholic churches in Roswell in 1903: St. Peter’s for Anglo Catholics and St. John’s for Hispanic Catholics. St. John’s, built here close to the early Hispanic settlement on the Rio Hondo, was originally named St. John-the-Baptist Mexican Catholic Church. The one hundred thirty families that made up the congregation by 1904 first met in a small building on East Hendricks Street, then moved into this current building in 1916. Brown adobe walls, colorful tiles, religious statues in niches along its bell towers, and a splashing fountain in a lovely courtyard give this church a Mexican flavor. As a part of its Centennial Celebration in 2003, St. John’s parish erected a Memorial Wall inscribed with the names of all deceased church members, along with all the priests who have served the parish over the years. Both of these interest visitors researching family history.
Priests say several masses in Spanish here each week, in addition to those in English. In the days leading up to Christmas the congregation participates in Las Posadas, an Hispanic tradition of traveling from house to house that commemorates Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging. The congregation also celebrates the Festival of St. John on June 24 and the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.
A recently demolished building next door to the church served as a school of eight grades taught by the Order of the Sisters of St. Cisinni from 1922 until the mid-1960s when it closed due to financial and staffing problems. In 2008 the parish broke ground for a new Community Center on this site.
Poe Corn Park (former Hondo Park, Greenhaven Tourist Court site) (606-618 East 2nd Street). Picnic tables, shade trees, and playground equipment make this an inviting rest stop along the Hondo River. The East Side Little League, one of three Little League organizations in Roswell, plays on the baseball fields here.
G. A. Greene opened Greenhaven Tourist Court here along 2nd Street in 1928. Operating until 1971, it also included a Texaco service station, a grocery, and a trailer park at various times. Greenhaven Tourist Court’s most famous guest was Roy Rogers, who stayed here with his singing group in 1933 while tour-ing the Southwest (p 65).
The land between Greenhaven Tourist Court and the river was originally called Hondo Park. In 1973, the year after Hondo Park was renamed in honor of Poe Corn, the City acquired the area that had been Greenhaven Tourist Court and added it to Poe Corn Park.
For more complete information about the Hondo River Recreation Trail and Chihuahuita . . .
BUY the paperback or ebook edition of Lynn Michelsohn’s guidebook
Roswell, Your Travel Guide to the UFO Capital of the World!
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