Torrance County New Mexico
Torrance County administrative offices are located at 205 9th Street, Estancia, NM 87016; phone: 505-544-4700.
The Southern Pacific was the first railroad to arrive as it ran through the southeast corner of what was to become Torrance County. In 1902, the New Mexico Central (later the Santa Fe Central) was built south from the Santa Fe Railroad terminal in Lamy through what became the towns of Moriarty, Estancia, Willard, Progresso and Torrance to connect with the Southern Pacific. In 1908, the Belen Cutoff of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad was completed through the Abo Pass south of the Manzano Mountains, through Scholle, Abo, Mountainair, Willard, Encino and points east to Texas.
Willard, "the hub city," was established in 1902 at the juncture of two railroads. It was the first to thrive, but a few relative drought years and disappointing traffic on the New Mexico Central turned it into a relative ghost town by the mid-1920s. Mountainair was incorporated in 1903, in anticipation of the Belen Cutoff. It was located on the summit of Abo pass, where the railroad would need to put a terminal. Sawmills appeared along the south and east face of the Manzano Mountains, providing lumber for the new towns and ties for the railroads. Upon the decline of Willard, commerce moved to Mountainair, which became the shopping area and warehousing center for bean farmers as much as 30 miles to the west, south and east.
Torrance County was carved from portions of Valencia, Lincoln, Socorro, and Bernalillo counties in 1903, by action of the territorial legislature, and was one of the last counties to be created in the Territory of New Mexico. Original county officials were appointed by the Governor of the Territory. The county seat was located at Progresso, a train stop south of Willard and the sheep ranch of Col. J. Francisco Chavez, a state legislator. The offices were a passenger car supplied by the New Mexico Central Railroad. The county was named after the prime financial backer of the railroad, Francis J. Torrance of Pennsylvania. On January 1, 1905, the first elected county officials took their oath. The new legislature, meeting a few days later, made a number of changes and relocated the county seat to Estancia. Estancia was incorporated in 1909 and thrived in the early years because of the county government business and the railroad.
By the 1920s, thousands of homesteaders had migrated to Torrance County by train, covered wagon and by horseback. While there was some ranching and gardening, the major industry was the dryland farming of pinto beans. And the bean farmers mostly did very well through the 1920s.
While bean farmers had a great year in 1929, the Depression did hit Torrance County and times were hard, as in most of the country. The WPA and CCC had locations here and many significant public buildings were built in the county at that time. Okies from the dust bowl traveled through Mountainair on Route 60 (the major east-west highway) on their way to California.
Dryland bean farming had its ups and downs but held up pretty well until World War II when a stretch of dry years turned Torrance County into another dust bowl. The beans wouldn't grow and the top soil blew away with the wind. In the drought years between 1943 and 1955, thousands of families left Torrance County seeking a new life elsewhere. Much of the land was bought up by the government land bank and later sold to ranchers. Through the following years, the County became mostly ranch land and the towns tended to lose population as high school graduates emigrated to Albuquerque and other areas where they could find work. The Santa Fe Central Railroad did not prove to be profitable. By 1974, the Santa Fe Central had completely ceased operation and the entire 116 miles of track had been pulled up.
When U.S. Route 66 was built from Tijeras Canyon east to Texas, it ran through the Village of Buford, north of Moriarty, which grew to become a major service area to travelers on the highway. Buford eventually merged with and became part of Moriarty. Interstate Highway 40, paralleling and for the most part replacing Route 66, brought Moriarty into easy commuting distance to Albuquerque. By the year 2000, commuters from Albuquerque and growing commerce along the interstate corridor have brought significant new population and development to the northwestern portion of the County.