By Tom Udall
Editor’s note: The following is a speech delivered Thursday by U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., before the House of Representatives.
I rise today to commemorate the kickoff of centennial festivities in the town of Melrose, New Mexico. The annual Old Timer’s Festival on Aug. 11th marks the beginning of an entire year devoted to celebrating the founding of this high-plains hamlet. In Melrose, the past will be comingled with the future as young and old stand together in tribute to 100 years of perseverance and determination.
The town was originally called BrownHorn, after two local cattle ranchers. The Santa Fe Railway earmarked the area for its division switching point and requested the name be changed to Melrose, purportedly after a town in Ohio. Soon after construction had started, the Melrose location was abandoned and the division switch was moved to a larger town nearby.
J.L. Downing, an early settler in the area, has been called the father of Melrose by some and is given much credit for the survival of this rural village. Downing is noted for encouraging early settlers by offering free water to residents until they could dig wells of their own; a feat of generosity that remains unrivalled to this date. The settlers stayed and the town continued despite the many challenges faced by early settlers.
Widespread availability of water led to agriculture, which became a mainstay for Melrose residents who were now able to irrigate the arid land and produce life-sustaining crops. Once known as the broom-corn capital of New Mexico, Melrose stayed alive as enterprising folks opened businesses to service the area. The struggle for survival was exacerbated by severe winters, drought and fire but hard work and dedication prevailed as Melrose residents toughed it out and stayed.
In 1914, Melrose was reported to have had an Opera House, several businesses, a legendary girls’ basketball team and a growing population. Some years later, however, World War I and the flu epidemic greatly depleted the town’s population. Once again, residents of Melrose plowed through the hard times and in the 1930s organized a Chamber of Commerce for the betterment of the town and its people.
In the World War II era, the population swelled to over 1,500 from just a few hundred in 1940.
Today, the town encompasses 1.72 miles and averages 750 residents from all walks of life who engage in many career activities although ranching and farming remain at the heart of the Melrose economy.
Located just 21 miles west of Cannon Air Force Base, the Melrose Bombing Range has been an integral part of testing and training operations. Many citizens of Melrose are employed by Cannon Air Force Base and local businesses benefit economically from it as well.
Melrose is also the birthplace of William Hanna, one-half of the legendary Hanna-Barbera, whose credits include cartoons such as, Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound. And the largest collection of Depression-era art in New Mexico can be viewed at the Melrose library.
… I salute the citizens of Melrose … as they reflect on the past and look toward the future of this unique rural community. The town of Melrose has endured despite many challenges and setbacks over the year through the determination of residents through the ages. In the coming year, townspeople will pay tribute to 100 years on the high plains of New Mexico and honor their forefathers whose actions by many accounts led to the successful town we see today.
It is places such as Melrose that shaped this country into what it is today, which is why this fine community deserves our recognition.
Melrose has a proud past and a bright future.
Tom Udall has represented eastern New Mexico since 1999. Contact his Clovis office at 763-7616