Urban to Rural Transect, Taos, Geoff Dyer. About 2005. Courtesy of Town of Taos and Placemakers.

 

 

 

 

 

Portales (established 1898)

__As the Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railway built across the arid Llano Estacado (the high plains of eastern New Mexico) in 1897, it established a cattle shipping station here. Local merchants and homesteaders worked tirelessly to develop a more permanent community. The Portales Townsite Company platted town additions with streets laid out on an east-west, north-south square grid.

__The community moved quickly to erect a county courthouse on its own city block, two blocks from the railroad depot, with Main Street running along its north side. This ensemble of a courthouse on the center of its own city block surrounded by commercial buildings—so popular across the South, Midwest and Great Plains—is known as a Shelbyville square for the Tennessee county seat where it was first employed in 1810.

__Following early success establishing dairies, county farmers found even greater success growing peanuts. The Dust Bowl hit Portales like the rest of the Great Plains, but construction of U.S. 70—a major east-west highway, which ran through the square—and the opening of Eastern New Mexico State University in 1934, fortified the local economy. New Deal funds also flowed into the construction of an Art Deco courthouse in 1937.

__In 1976, the county took down the seventy-year-old shade trees to eradicate roosting cowbirds, and to make way for double-loaded diagonal parking surrounding all four sides of the square. Today the post office and city hall face the courthouse on one side, with a mixture of small businesses lining the other three sides: insurance, title abstracts, and tax preparation; furniture, and carpets; music, sewing, and home medical supplies; jewelry, sporting goods and western wear.

 

Further Reading

(in addition to The Plazas of New Mexico)

  • Burroughs, Jean M., editor, Roosevelt County: History and Heritage, (Portales, N.M.: Bishop Printing Company, 1975).
  • Ihde, Ira C., “Washington Ellisworth Lindsey,” New Mexico Historical Review, July, 1951.
  • McAlavy, Don and Harold Kilmer, High Plains History of East-central New Mexico, (Clovis, N. M.: High Plains Historical Press, 1980).

 

External Links