History of the City of Artesia
Artesia’s history dates back to the 1880s when homesteaders came to the area attracted by the promise of plentiful water supplies provided by the artesian water system. Until then, the area was part of John Chisum’s vast cattle empire. The railroad came to Artesia in the 1890s, and along with it, the town’s first name, Miller, after a railroad employee. As the area developed, the name of the town changed briefly to Stegman, after the town’s first postmistress, Sallie Chisum Robert Stegman. The fledgling town was named Artesia in 1903, and officially incorporated in 1905 because of the promise of its plentiful water supply. In the 1920s shows of oil in water wells encouraged investors and drillers to drill for oil. In 1924 the first pay came, marking the beginning of Artesia’s story as an oil patch town. Since then, Artesia has suffered through the Great Depression, many oil industry downturns, and periods of drought. But, the city also has enjoyed many growth spurts and always a resolve to survive and thrive. Today, Artesia is supported primarily by the oil and gas industry, farming and ranching, the dairy industry, federal law enforcement training and a strong school system, all important parts of Artesia’s health.
Historic Train Depot & Visitors Center
The railroad came to Artesia in 1894, and a wooden-frame depot was built in 1897, making Artesia an official stop along the line. In 1912, the depot was converted to a freight depot and the structure that exists today was built as a passenger depot. Through the first half of the 1900s, the depot serviced passengers, local freight and potash trains daily. The original wooden-frame structure was lost to fire in the late 1940s. In 1976, passenger service was discontinued and by 1988 the depot was closed. In 1998, Burlington Northern donated the structure and land to the City of Artesia. The depot was restored in 2000 for use as a Visitors’ Center and new construction was added for Chamber of Commerce offices.
Navajo Refining Company, a subsidiary of Holly Corporation, is the state’s largest refiner, sitting on 130 acres of land. The high conversion petroleum refinery processes 100,000 barrels per day of crude oil to produce high value light products such as gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. Through new technologies and a commitment to safety and environmental initiatives, Navajo is able to serve the expanding energy needs of southwest markets while contributing to the New Mexico economy. The original refinery was built in 1939 by Joe Head of Clovis, New Mexico, and has since endured a history of change in ownership and vast development.
Built in 1905, this building housed a mercantile store owned by the Joyce-Pruit Company. The stock market crash of 1929 was a heavy blow to the company, but the Artesia store managed to survive until circa 1940. The Artesia store was considered THE place to shop in early Artesia, employing as many as 31 people at one time. The building is privately owned. While the second floor remains vacant, the ground floor is rented to a locally owned retail business.
Ezra Higgins and Joe Schrock opened a dry goods store in the first floor of this building in APril 1906. Over they years the building has been home to doctors’ offices, a real estate office, Artesia Commercial Club, mercantile, furniture stores and department stores, including J. C. Penny & Co. (1939-1949). In 1955, the second floor became the Clayton Apartments. In 1968 the building was purchased by James and Wanda Maupin, who operated a hardware store and a Radio Shack. In 1993, the Maupins opened a nine-room bed & breakfast. The business has since changed hands and the current owners continue to operate he Heritage Inn Bed & Breakfast on the second floor. The first floor is retail space.
First Lady of Artesia
The niece of famed cattleman John Chisum, Sallie Chisum settled in Artesia in 1890, where her ambition and fierce independence led her into many endeavors. She was one of the fist traders in the real estate market in Artesia, established and operated Artesia’s first post office with her second husband, and – after a second divorce – ran a boarding house for railroad immigrants and travelers. She was a business woman, a caregiver to the sick and a companion to children, although her own children were taken by their father to live in Europe. Her accomplishments as an entrepreneur, developer and business woman led her to be known posthumously as the First Lady of Artesia. She left Artesia in 1919 and died in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1934. The monument, created by Robert Summers, was unveiled and dedicated to the spirit of the pioneer woman in July 2003.
Ocotillo Performing Arts Center
The Ocotillo was constructed in 1935 as a 588-seat movie theater owned and operated by the local Bartlett family. Two stores were located in the front of the building: a jewelry store and a popcorn and confectionery dispensary. The theater was converted to a cafeteria in 1965, which closed in 2001. The building was purchased by the non-profit Artesia Arts Council, which undertook a full-scale renovation of the building for use as a performing arts center. The building’s original architectural design was in Pueblo Indian style, including eight murals of Indian and mountain scenes, which were not able to be preserved. Today’s building was designed by New Mexico architect Devendra Contractor, and includes the most modern amenities n theatre design.
Heritage Walkway took shape after a building fire left the lot vacant circa 1962. In 1976, the Artesia Junior Women’s Club created two murals, with the assistance of a local art teacher, in celebration of our country’s bicentennial year. The Artesia Garden Club maintained the Walkway for years until work became too much for the volunteer club. In 1999, Artesia MainStreet began renovating the area, including installation of the water fountain series and thousands of hand-crafted tiles created by ceramics artist Shel Neymark of Embudo, New Mexico. The original murals were retouched with improved paints, and new gates were created and installed by welder and artist Debbie Rottman of Carlsbad, New Mexico. In 2004, a third mural was added on the north end of the Walkway by local muralist Noel Marquez. The murals and tiles within the Walkway represent our community’s heritage. Detailed descriptions are contained on plaques displayed along the Walkway walls.
This building was constructed in 1905 of concrete blocks made to look like artificial stone. The building originally housed a hotel and tavern – or “sample room” – and restaurant, with offices to let upstairs. Many businesses have occupied the building over the years: a used furniture store, Sanitary Grocery, Main Place, Russell Auto Parts, the post office, the National Guard and the Bank of Artesia, among others. After extensive interior remolding, the Wellhead Restaurant & Brewpub opened for business in the spring of 2000, thus bringing the building’s original use as a “sample room” full circle! This building was entered into the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties in 1987 and the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
Built in 1910, the original building had two separate business areas on the first floor. Tenants of the second floor varied over the years and included the post office, doctors, lawyers, the World War II Ration Office, and many petroleum industry related businesses. The J.S. Ward Insurance Co. occupied offices in the building from 1938 until the building burned down on Halloween 2000. The Ward family rebuilt downtown offices in 2002, in the spirit of the lost historical building. J.S. Ward & Son Insurance Co. continues to occupy the first floor while the second floor is occupied by Yates Drilling Co. The original building was entered into the New Mexico Cultural Properties Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
Yates Petroleum Corporation is a local, family-operated oil and gas company that occupies three buildings on one block of Fourth Street south of Main Street. The newest building on the west corner of Fourth and Main streets was constructed in 2001. Sky bridges connect the new buildings to other Yates offices in the Carper and Booker buildings, which were built in the 1940s. The company began with the discovery of oil in Southeast New Mexico by Martin Yates in 1924. THe life and achievements of Mr. Yates and his wife, Mary, are honored at the Derrick Floor Park at Sixth and Main streets.
Land of the Sun Theater
The Land of the Sun Theater – often called the Landsun – opened on August 14, 1947. The local Bartlett family built, owned and operated the theater until 1975. By the early 1980s, the theater was owned by nationwide theater owners and operators, Carmike Cinemas, and was renamed Cinema Twin. The theater’s condition eventually deteriorated and, in 2001, Carmike Cinemas agreed to renovate the interior while Artesia MainStreet restored the facade. By December of that year, work was complete, including a new neon sigh replicating the original. The theater continues to show first-run films and sell admission tickets for far less than the average movie ticket price.
Old Artesia City Hall
Construction of this building was completed in 1939 as a WPA (Works Progress Administration, a depression-era program) building project. It brought several City departments together under the same roof, including the City Clerk, City Manager, and the Public Library. The WPA Sewing Room also was there, as well as an assembly room for public meetings. In later years, the Police and Fire departments were housed in the building along with a United States Navy recruiting office, the municipal courts, and even the state meat inspector. The City outgrew the building in the early 1960s and moved to its current location on Texas Avenue. The building has been under private ownership since then, and is utilized as office space.
Derrick Floor & Oilfield Pioneers
The Derrick Floor is a bronze artistic representation of a four-man crew on a drilling rig. The drilling rig is a 100 percent life-size sculpture cut off at approximately 34 feet in height. The importance of the piece lies not in the equipment, but in the men who built the oil patch; therefore the four men in the crew are 125 percent life size. The Derrick Floor was created by Vic Payne and dedicated in April 2004 “to the men and women who take the risks and do the work to find, produce and refine New Mexico oil and gas.”
Mack Chase and Johnny Gray are captured leaning on the hood of a pick-up, typical of the way in which they made many of their deals. After meeting up in the Artesia-area oil patch, the two decided to go into business together in 1972. Their oil and gas operating company was a growing success for 20 years. In 1992, Chase and Gray opted to dissolve the partnership to pursue individual business interests. In 2005, both companies, Mack Energy Corporation and Marbob Energy Corporation, were among the top 10 oil producers working in New Mexico. Johnny Gray died in 2001, and his children maintain his business. Mack Chase continues to operate his business.
Born in 1880, Van Stratton Welch was already considered a pioneer in oilfield drilling before he ventured to New Mexico in 1923. He became part of the partnership of Flynn-Welch-Yates that drilled the Illinois #3 oil well, making history and signaling the beginning of a very successful oilfield industry in southeaster New Mexico. Mr. Welch settled with his family in Artesia where he continued to explore in New Mexico and elsewhere until his death in 1969.
Martin Yates was part of the partnership that was responisble for the Illinois #3 oil well. The oil sand, or “pay,” was drilled into on April 9, 1924, after two unsuccessful attempts. Geologist V. H. McNutt, after the two failures, would not specify a third site. The decision was passed on to Martin, who, in turn, elected for a woman’s intuition, asking his wife, Mary, to select the site. She did, and the rest is history! Mr. and Mrs. Yates died in the late 1940s. Their children and grandchildren still run the company that grew out of the 1924 pay.
Built in 1935, this building originally was used as a Nazarene Church. The origin of the facade material is unknown, but clearly was inspired by the Moore-Ward House in which Artesia Historical Museum is located. The building currently is used as Cornerstone Fellowship.
Artesia Historical Museum & Art Center
The home was built for Charles and Anna Moore in 1904-1905 with cobblestones from the Penasco River. It is a decorate facade with a wooden frame underneath. The Moores sold the house to the S. S. Ward family in 1906. When Mrs. Ward passed away in 1967, her heirs gave the house to the City for use as a museum. Artesia Historical Museum opened in 1970 and the art annex next door opened in 1973. The house was listed on the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties in 1976 and the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The Artesia Improvement Company donated the land for a city park in 1906. In 1937, the corner pillars and stone walkways to the center of the park were added as a WPA project. Artesia MainStreet, a local downtown revitalization organization, has plans for a complete renovation of the park. Central Park continues to be used as a popular location for many downtown events and family outings.
The clock tower was donated to the City of Artesia by a local private businessman, Ralph Nix, in 2002. The chimes play dozens of tunes, including the local Bulldog fight song. The clock’s time s adjusted automatically several times throughout the day to ensure that the reading is always accurate. The clock features the year 1905, the date the City of Artesia was officially incorporated.
Artesia has been built on a public-private partnership and continues to pave the way for creative and exciting ways to get things done with government and residents working hand in hand.
Artesia MainStreet, Inc., a non-profit grassroots downtown revitalization organization, has worked vigorously since 1997 to improve downtown Artesia for its residents. In the first decade of its existence, Artesia MainStreet invested more than $6 million into renovation and public art projects that have injected a new life into the area. The City of Artesia and Artesia Chamber of Commerce have worked side by side with MainStreet to develop and support community revitalization and continue to do so well into the second decade of MainStreet’s existence.
The City and Chamber join Artesia MainStreet in its vision to develop Main Street as an economically active and energetic historic downtown where, because of its attractive, clean, shaded, pedestrian-friendly, small-town atmosphere, people will want to live, visit, shop and work.
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