"WE ARE NOT MAKERS OF HISTORY. WE ARE MADE BY HISTORY" - MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
HISTORY OF MOUNTAINAIR
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad established the railroad line known as the Belen Cutoff shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. Mountainair was founded in 1903 along the route as the first incorporated town in Torrance County. The town soon grew and became a thriving, farming community and was known during its heyday as the Pinto Bean Capital of the World.
In 1901, Colonel E.C. Manning arrived in New Mexico Territory in order to locate towns along the proposed Belen Cutoff Railroad Route. Mountainair was founded in the summer of 1903. The incorporators of the town were E.C. Manning, John W. Corbett and former Governor Stober of Kansas.
Pitt Ross surveyed the original 120 acres making up the town site of Mountainair. The railroad would have work trains moving over the route by 1907 and passenger trains arrived a year later. G.V. Hanlon became the first depot agent. New settlers soon began arriving in the young railroad town. W.F. Bartell was the founder of the first business, a grocery store opened in 1903.
Dr. Black opened a drug store, J.P. Dunlavy and William McCoy had a general store, James Rhodes, a hardware store, Jim Payne a barbershop and Clam Shaffer a Blacksmith Shop. A hotel was owned by Jim Collins, while the first newspaper was published by P.H. Hosher, who later sold to Frank Trimble. In 1912, P.A. Speckman moved from Estancia to become the town editor. The town had a post office in place by February of 1903 with Mrs. G.V. Hanlon as postmistress. Josephine Corbett became her assistance in 1908.
The first water well for the town of Mountainair was drilled by S.H. Pickens in 1904. The water stood 100 feet deep in the 300 foot well. Since that time, several wells have been drilled in an effort to get an adequate water supply. As early as 1907, a Ladies Aid Society was formed. Mrs. G.V. Hanlon was the first president of the organization. The society gave supper and entertainments to help with the building of the first chapel in town and have continued to help the community throughout the years. It was later known as the Coronado Club.
Pop Shaffer was instrumental in the town of Mountainair surviving its early years. He gave free water and loans to homesteaders moving into the country. Most people stated that he would give the "shift off his back" to anyone who needed it. He was able to survive because he branched out into many different areas: blacksmith shop, water hauling, Ford Motor Dealership, and a Guest House at Rancho Bonito where tourists loved to stop and rest for a few days.
John Corbett was instrumental in the founding of Mountainair in 1903. He was a strong proponent for the growth and development of the town and wanted it to become a cultural center. He persuaded the Chautauque Assembly to come to New Mexico, and Mountainair would hold the first Chautauqua Assembly in the state in August of 1908. The Chautauqua was extremely popular and by 1910, the town had cleared forty acres on its west side and named it Chautauqua Park.
John Corbett wrote about the Chautauqua in a 1912 article, "New Mexico owns and maintains a regular Chautauqua Assembly, the only one in the great Southwest and this is no mean asset. It is located at Mountainair, near the center of the state, where it holds its annual session in a beautiful park at an altitude of 6500 feet above sea level and where climatic conditions are ideal. Mountainair is a new town in a new country. Although we have several good hotels, Chautauqua is here, as elsewhere with Chautauqua people, largely a camping proposition and there is probably no place where the attraction of camp life is more appealing."
The Chautauqua Assembly often sponsored excursions to the Pueblo ruins at both Abo and Quarai. Those on the tour either went by train to Mountainair where horses were provided for them, or they drove together to the site. One advertisement describes how several groups would meet at the junction of the Socorro and Mountainair roads between the stations of Sais and Scholle. They would then proceed to the ruins together where thirty minutes of sightseeing was enjoyed and from there the group motored to Mountainair for the remainder of the day's festivities.
Mrs. Eva Corbett, John Corbett's mother, opened the first school in Mountainair three years after the Town's founding in 1906 in the Veal Dugout with six students.
Mountainair is a picturesque community located in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains. The town remains the Gateway to Ancient Cities, as well as, to the Manzano Mountains where camping and hiking activities can be pursued. The railroad depot constructed by the Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Company is still located on the town's east end serving as a reminder of its railroad roots. Mountainair has fared better than other railroad towns along Highway 60 although the town has lost population since its heyday years in the 1920s and 1930s.
- Taken from "A Pictorial History of Mountainair, New Mexico" by Dixie Boyle.
Copyright 2017 Dixie Boyle All Rights Reserved. Used with permission from Dixie Boyle 2021.