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Clovis, New Mexico: Town on the High Plains

According to the High Plains Historical Foundation and the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, "Santa Fe Railway engineers in 1906 were ordered to locate a town site in the newly developing ranch and farm area of Eastern New Mexico. They chose a site just northwest of an existing rail switch known as Riley Switch. The story is that a railroad official's daughter chose the name Clovis because she had been studying French history and knew that Clovis ruled the Frankish Empire from 461 to 511 A. D."

Clovis was incorporated in May of 1909. In 1910 its population was 3,255 and it grew so quickly it was called "The Magic City of the Plains." The present population is 31,484. Deep well irrigation beginning in the early 1950s turned the southeast third of Curry County into one of the most productive areas in the state. Land use is equally divided between farming and grassland used for cattle grazing. Agriculture, retail trade, Cannon Air Force Base, and the Santa Fe Railway provide major sources of income.

What makes Clovis unique?
Residents agree: people who live in Clovis are friendly. In fact, there are an estimated 15-20 coffee clubs at which people discuss the news of the day. Many summer people from Texas liked Clovis so much they stayed.

Threads through history
Transportation. Clovis was one of the first transportation hubs in the country. Transcontinental Airlines flew to Clovis on the way across the country in the early days of aviation. Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart stopped in Clovis, and the city was on an airmail line for TWA. The Clovis Depot Model Train Museum showcases a model train collection in the old Santa Fe passenger depot. It features the history of the railroad in Clovis and along the Belen Cutoff.

Music recording. Norman and Vi Petty had a well-known recording studio on West 7 th Street that is now owned by the city. Celebrities such as Buddy Holly and Chuck Tharpe of the Fireballs recorded there in the 1950s and 1960s. Don McAlavy's book details music in Clovis since 1907 and discusses music of many styles, including classical, jazz, swing, and rock and roll. Hispanic family bands including the Mondragon Band and Ben Salazar traveled as far away as Willard to perform at community gatherings.

Historic buildings. The 9-story Hotel Clovis was built for airline passengers who stopped in Clovis. Once the tallest building in town, the hotel hosted illustrious guests. Ronald Reagan read a newspaper in the hotel lobby in 1958. Will Rogers spoke to the Ladies Club that met at the hotel when he was on his way by train to Roswell. In 1993, the city bought the building for three million dollars, which still needs at least six million more for restoration. A study by students from Clovis Community College recommended that a restaurant be built on the upper story. The building is on the National Historic Register.

The Downtown Revitalization Committee has plans for other historic buildings. They would like to turn the Mesa Theater into the Norman and Vi Petty Performing Arts Center. The historic Lyceum Theater is also owned by the city. With its wonderful acoustics, the building would be a great place for a Cultural Arts series (the original piano is still there). The marquee of the Lyceum had the first electric lights in the city. Many hope to turn the centrally located Harvey House Grand Quivera into a museum.

Archaeology. The Clovis Man Site south of town is where James Ridgley Whiteman found fluted points in association with mammoth bones in 1929. Clovis man hunted mammoths in Blackwater Draw in 13,500 BC; the Draw has provided some of the earliest evidence of human hunting. A bronze statue in front of Clovis Community College commemorates this discovery.

Influence of the Military. Cannon Air Force Base has drawn people of different ethnic backgrounds to Clovis; many stayed in the area after their military service was completed. Clovis has a chapter of the NAACP, and the Downtown Arts Festival and Ethnic Fair every September celebrates Japanese railroad workers, Laotian immigrants who settled in 1975 and have since moved on, and other cultures. Clovis also celebrates Pioneer Days and Rodeo in June and the County Fair in August.

Ranching. Clovis is the center for a larger agricultural community. One third of the land around Clovis is dedicated to dry land farming, one third is irrigated, and one third is grassland devoted to cattle. Curry County grows more wheat and sorghum that any other county in the state. Ranching is a viable way of life, and Clovis is becoming the cheese capital of New Mexico. An Irish company will build a cheese factory in 2005 that will use milk produced by Clovis cows.

Attending the Community Profile meeting in Clovis were M. Lemuel Perry, Don McAlavy, Raymond Mondragon, Becky Rowley, Charlyne Sisler and Philip Williams.


Copyright 2004, Regents of New Mexico State University
This file was last updated Monday August 23, 2004
Contact: RETA@nmsu.eduContact: RETA@nmsu.edu