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The community of Santa Rosa has grown along the banks of the Pecos River near the territorial New Mexico village of Puerto de Luna. The railroad played a primary role in Guadalupe County's economic base in the early decades of this century. Later the area grew as a travel and lodging center around Historic Route 66, which passes through the community. Today transportation continues to be an important part of the economy with US 54 passing through the community as it runs from Chicago, Illinois to El Paso, Texas and Interstate 40 serving the community as one of the most important east/west ground transportation routes in the country.

Santa Rosa History

This community on the Pecos River was settled in 1865; the locality originally was called Agua Negra Chiquita, “little black water,” for the drainage 4 miles south.  It took its present name around 1880 from a small chapel, the Capilla de Santa Rosa, built by Don Celso Baca honoring Saint Rose of Lima, who was the first canonized saint of the New World.  Rosa also was the name of Don Celso’s mother, Dona Rosa Viviana Baca y Baca who is buried beneath the chapel that was dedicated at least in part to her. Don Celso Baca was a farmer, rancher, statesman, buffalo hunter, freighter, and businessman. He also operated an inn for hungry and tired travelers.  Remnants of the chapel along with the original Baca hacienda are still standing today. 

    The town of Santa Rosa was a minor community-Puerto de Luna was Guadalupe County’s first seat-until the coming of the railroad in 1901.  The original town site was established in 1901 by the Alamogordo Railroad Company as Charles B. Eddy’s ambitious plan to link southern New Mexico mines to the east/west railroad alignment was nearing completion. 

    Santa Rosa was incorporated as a village in 1914, and incorporated as a City in 1964.   Since then, the city has continued as an important transportation service center.  Billboards proclaim Santa Rosa to be “the City of Natural Lakes” because numerous artesian spring fed lakes are here.  Santa Rosa Creek, or El Rito de Agua Negra Chiquita, is energized in Santa Rosa and flows to the Pecos River.  

When Spanish explorer Coronado passed here in 1541, Santa Rosa’s natural springs were watering holes along ancient Indian hunting trails.  Espejo used the hunter-gatherer and game trails etched into the landscape over centuries as his route in 1583 as they kept near water for their horses, and herds that traveled with them.   The Comanche Trail was an old trade and hunting route. Santa Rosa welcomed the first cattle drive north.  The Chism Trail and the famed (Charles) Goodnight-Loving Trail (1867) followed the Pecos and water sources in and near Santa Rosa. 

Route 66

Passable roads were rare early this century.  US Route 66 was born in 1926 under the first proposal for a national highway system.  Existing roads were networked into “America’s Highway.”  Route 66 is best remembered for the way it fueled the United States in the 1920’s, ‘30’s, ’40’s, ‘50’s, & ‘60’s. 

Leaving Texas, westbound motorists passed Santa Rosa and turned northwest to Romero(ville) where it turned west, retracing the final 58 miles of the Santa Fe Trail.  State Highway 3 was a dirt road that entered into Santa Rosa from the east and connected the eastern part of the state to Las Vegas, NM which was then a major trade center and the largest city in New Mexico.  It followed a rural route, which is now the runway of the Santa Rosa/Route 66 Airport and headed down into Santa Rosa along present day Blue Hole Road.  Evidence of early Route 66 travel remains along the first alignment of Route 66 in Santa Rosa.  Concrete billboards attached to boulders are evident on this old entrance to Santa Rosa. 

The original Route 66 alignment snaked through Santa Rosa on local streets and dirt roads.  Early motorists paused in the business district for gas and food or rested overnight in the camps, motor courts, motels and hotels that sprung up with demand.   Railroad era Fourth Street has served as Santa Rosa’s Main Street since 1901.  It was Route 66 until the 1937 alignment switched over and still boasts turn of the century architecture. A movie theatre,
banks, barber shops, drugstores, pool halls, dance halls, bars, cafes, hotels, mercantile, grocery stores and cafes lined its blocks. 

When John Steinbeck’s epic novel of Dust Bowl migration was made into a classic film, director John Ford chose Santa Rosa for his evocative train scene.  In it, Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) hopped a freight train which steamed over the Pecos River Railroad Bridge at the West End of town.  Ironically, Ford used “Route 66” as his film’s working title to disguise its controversial subject. 

The earliest gasoline sales along Route 66 were made from curbside pumps.  Campgrounds joined cabins together to form motor courts.  After 1937, “66” went straight through town on the now familiar east-west alignment.  It roared past shiny new cafes, service stations and up-to-date motels.  
Roadside dining was an important Route 66 experience.  Santa Rosa’s. home-owned and home-operated roadside cafes were famous up and down the highway.  The “Fat Man” symbol of the Club CafĂ© was a familiar icon and appeared on the highway as early as 1937.  The Route 66 landmark is now closed but was operational from 1935 to 1992.  Joseph’s Bar & Grill, family operated since 1956 is now the home of the grinning “Fat Man.” Gloriously neon-lit roadside cafes include the Comet II (circa 1952) and the Sun n’ Sand Restaurant (1966) The Silver Moon has been in business here since 1959.    

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