History of Portales
Portales takes its name from a spring and natural landmark six miles to the southeast called Portales Springs, which were utilized by early Indians in the area. The springs, located at the mouth of one of a series of seven caves, were reportedly ice cold and supplied a shallow lake. The caliche rock outcroppings where the caves were located looked like porches (portales in Spanish) of a hacienda. Today, the lakebed is dry and the springs, located on private land, no longer flow.
By 1898 the railroad line between Roswell and Amarillo was completed. A tent city trade center sprang up along the tracks at the present site of Portales. The Portales train depot with service from the Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railroad arriving in 1898, was located at the end of Main Street (and still stands today, though inactive) bringing many travelers and rail cars carrying supplies and merchandise to and from the city. The formation of Roosevelt County in 1903 and the incorporation of the City of Portales in 1909 soon followed. According to the Portales Times, Portales’ first mayor and New Mexico’s third governor Washington Ellsworth Lindsey was due much credit for these occurrences. An influx of settlers came around this time period, most in covered wagons. Agriculture was and still is the leading industry in the county supporting such areas as dairy, peanuts, sweet potatoes, grain, and many other crops.
In 1903 numerous shops and eateries lined the dirt street as men and women in wagons and leading horses walked up and down the street socializing and shopping.
In 1908 a series of fires including the July 1, 1908 fire wiped out the east half of the business district, causing over $30,000 in damages. Later, on March 10, 1978, another devastating fire broke out in the sweet potato warehouse and spread severing electricity and phone service in the downtown area. Firefighters from Portales, Clovis, and Cannon Air Force Base responded and the entire downtown area was ordered to evacuate.
Another natural disaster that swept through downtown Portales occurred in 1941 during record rainfall in the area flooding many homes and creating a small river flowing down Main Street for a week in May. Eventually, Red Cross provided assistance to the 65 people left homeless from the 4 foot flooding that occurred throughout the city.
Eastern New Mexico University opened its doors in 1934 bringing new opportunity, not only the residents of Portales, but to the entire eastern side of the state of New Mexico. The school has brought both economic development and professional education through the thousands of students currently enrolled and the jobs provided through faculty and staff.
There is so much more to this rich history. Resources for additional material and information include the following:
- Eastern New Mexico University Special Collections (Golden Library)
- Portales Public Library
• Portales 1909-2009 published by Freedom Printing (2009) book
• Roosevelt County History and Heritage published by Bishop Printing Company (1975) book