By Claudia Smith
Farmington is located sixty-one miles southeast of the point where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah meet, known as the Four Corners region. Long before the first Anglo-American settler arrived in the region, the San Juan Valley was occupied by groups of hunters and seed gatherers. Paleo-Indian sites, although rare in the Four Corners area, indicate short-term encampments as early as 3000 BC. The first permanent shelters in the area were pit houses erected around 350 AD by the Anasazi. The apogee of the Anasazi culture extended from 1050 to 1300 and concentrated in the Four Corners area where Chaco Canyon and Aztec Ruins in New Mexico and Colorado's Mesa Verde National Historic Parks and Monuments are located.
Following the Anasazi occupation, Athabaskan-speakers, ancestors of the present-day Dine or Navajo, inhabited the Four Corners region. Archeological excavations northwest of Farmington have unearthed shallow forked stick hogans dating to the initial arrival or Dinetah phase of migration (AD 1500 to 1700).
Spanish explorers mounted mineral expeditions in the Four Corners region in the 1760's. Fray de Posada and Don Juan Maria de Rivera traveled up the San Juan River into the La Plata Mountains of Colorado in search of gold and silver, where they encountered nomadic Apache, Piute, Ute, and Navajo Indians. Anglo-American mineral exploration followed in the 1850's, pushing down from the Colorado Mountains into the San Juan region by the early 1860's.
In 1868, the 3.5 million-acre Navajo Reservation was established, covering half of San Juan County's 5,560-square-mile area and extending west and southwest of Farmington's present city limits into Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. In 1874, a portion of northern San Juan County was offered as reservation land to the Jicarilla Apaches who refused the offer. As a result, on July 4, 1876, the United States government opened the area for settlement.
Early Settlement 1879-1905
Anglo-American settlement, moving south from Colorado's mines and ranches, first located on the Farmington Peninsula formed by the Animas and San Juan rivers where Billy Boran established a home site in 1875. This town site was later abandoned. In 1879, A. F. Stump, F. M. Pierce, A. F. Miller, and William Markely established homesites on higher ground in the area called "Totah,” Navajo meaning "three waters” as the Juan, La Plata and Animas rivers converge to the northwest and southwest of Farmington's town center.
Agriculture and livestock were the principal livelihoods for most settlers who constructed four irrigation ditches between 1876 and 1892. The Wright Leggett and North Farmington ditches, now underground, run to the south and north of the district with portions still visible from East Main Street. William Locke planted the first orchard in 1879, and by 1891, approximately 23,000 trees had been planted, with the number increasing to 50,000 by the next year. The first county fair was held on Main Street, September 20, 1880. Just ten years later, the San Juan Times newspaper described an agricultural bounty: "The corn grows ten-feet tall, loaded with thirteen ears to the stalk, a pumpkin with a girth of six-feet, peaches ten-inches in circumference, and tons of fruit without a single worm."
In 1879, F. M. Pierce envisioned a township of considerable importance, platting his twenty-five-acre ranch into 25 by 100-foot and 50 by 200-foot commercial and residential lots. Commercial development centered on the one and two-hundred-blocks of East Main Street with approximate plat boundaries at Cedar Street on the north, Pinon Street on the south, Court Street on the east, and Lorena Street on the west. Cross streets do not meet as they intersect the first three blocks of East Main. Local tradition holds that when A. F. and Julia Miller divorced, Julia retained their property on the north side of East Main Street, while A.F. kept the south side lots. Julia vowed her property would never meet his and the street grid remains jogged to this day. In 1895, the San Juan Times heralded Farmington as,"One of the Garden Spots of the World.” The town incorporated in 1901, and by 1905, Farmington's commercial development pattern along Main Street was established.
A mixture of wooden and adobe false-front buildings shared common walls defining East Main Street's edge from Wall Avenue west to Orchard Avenue. The single story buildings with covered boardwalks shared trade with two-story Business Block brick stores. In 1901 the Hyde Exploration Company located its offices for the Chaco Canyon excavation in a two-story brick building on East Main Street. Hyde's expansion included a bank, dry goods store, grocery, and fruit evaporation plant making it the area’s largest employer at the turn of the century. On the south side of Main Street, the second floor of the 1903 City Hall housed the telephone company, with the fire department and jail at the rear. In 1902, William Hunter donated a park at Orchard Avenue and East Main Street with a one hundred-foot well at its center. Hunter Park became a center for civic and social functions with parades starting or ending there.
Main Street trade supported three general merchandise stores, the First National Bank, a post office, a newspaper, one drug store, two saloons, and ten specialty stores, all with electric lights. Professionals included two lawyers, one physician, one dentist, and two insurance sales offices. In addition, the 1903-1904 business directory lists the new Allen Grand Hotel located north of Main Street on Allen Avenue with a livery on West Main. Local sawmills and brick manufacturing dating from 1888 provided building materials. By 1900, Farmington's population of 548 was the largest in the San Juan Valley. Speculators, advertising eighty acres in town lots, "just two blocks from the principal business street"  counted on continued growth as the long awaited arrival of railroad service neared.
Railroad Commercial 1905-1923
Farmington remained isolated, with train service and supplies located north in Durango, Colorado, a full day by stage and two by dray. On September 19, 1905, the long awaited Denver and Rio Grande Railroad arrived making its 49.5-mile trip from Durango to the San Juan County Seat in Aztec and terminating in Farmington. Called the "Red Apple Flyer", the wide gauge train ran six days a week through 1923, transporting fruit and hay to an expanded market via Durango.
Farmington quickly emerged as the county trade center. By 1911, a substantial two-story Business Block rose around Hunter Park with the Italianate Farmington Drug, Neo-Classical San Juan Bank, and the First National Bank. The 1911 Hunter Mercantile that wrapped around the bank was constructed by Elmer Franklin Taylor, a Mormon brick maker and stone mason who strongly influenced area architecture. Today these buildings form the heart of the District. Mormon farm settlements had been established fifteen miles northwest of Farmington, in 1883 at Fruitland and 1899, at Kirkland. Lime kilns operated in the valley in 1915 to the 1940’s. Concrete formed walls, lintels and sills and block made on site appeared in smaller one-story retail construction.
Fires in 1910 and 1914, in the one-hundred and two-hundred blocks of East Main destroyed many of the buildings including the Hyde Exploration offices. Notably the 1908 Farmington Billiards and the 1911 Colonial Hotel survived both blazes. Merchants replaced the earlier wooden structures with more substantial masonry buildings and contiguous commercial storefronts expanded westward on Main Street. In 1915, the Ford Motor Company showroom opened its Mission Revival style building at 122 East Main and Allen's livery became a garage by 1920, as autos competed with Navajo wagons along Main Street.
Population in San Juan County reached 8,504, which included an estimated 2,500 Navajos in 1910. Navajo families camped out of wagons on Broadway to trade in Farmington, now the largest town in the county with a population of 785. Downtown served as a banking center with three banks and numerous specialty and service stores, including laundries, furniture stores, and drug stores along with land sales offices, engineer offices, and realtors. By 1911, Farmington supported an opera house, two restaurants, and two pool halls; in total more than twice the number of business listings then in nearby Aztec, the county seat.
The railroad served to reinforce the county's strong ties to Colorado, as many of Farmington residents had lived in Durango. Transportation and markets, since the homesteading era, were reached from Durango. In 1907, a campaign for annexation to Colorado gathered 600 signatures in Aztec and Farmington. While the annexation was never approved, ties to Colorado remained strong and transportation linkage to population centers in New Mexico remained weak. In 1910, a postal road was completed south to Gallup that reduced the travel time to Albuquerque from sixty to eleven-hours. Plans for connecting wide gauge rail service to the Southern Pacific line through Gallup and on south were never realized and the Farmington Branch to Durango was converted in 1923 to narrow gauge to conform with the system in Durango.
Gas and Oil Development 1923-1956
At first the area's relative isolation presented a barrier to oil and gas exploration in the San Juan Basin. Prospector E. L. Goodridge had discovered oil seeps as early as 1879 in the area. Early residents inadvertently hit natural gas while digging water wells. Seeps became commonplace and were ignited for entertainment. There was as yet no national commercial market for natural gas, and the oil industry was still in its infancy.
Commercial production did not begin in earnest until the 1920’s. In 1921 the Aztec Oil Syndicate struck gas and began primitive distribution to Aztec. The West Texas Refiners Company inadvertently discovered the largest natural gas well in America at the time while searching for oil. The Farmington Times Hustler reported that, “The gas blew tools weighing nearly ten tons right out of the hole when it came in; the roar of the gas could be heard for ten miles."  Without larger markets the discovery of natural gas remained an unwanted by-product in the search for oil.
L. E. Teague, a Farmington engineer under contract to drill for the Midwest Refining Company of Texas, struck oil twenty miles west of Farmington, and began operating the first commercial oil well in New Mexico in 1923. A flurry of oil exploration followed leading to the sale of oil leases on the Navajo Reservation that same year. Area wells soon boasted the world's largest reserves, pumping seventy million gallons per hour. Major oil and gas discoveries continued throughout the 1920’s. In 1925, Continental Oil laid pipeline to its new refinery in Farmington. By 1927, Texas businessmen organized the Southern Union Gas Company with pipelines to Farmington extending to Albuquerque and Santa Fe in 1930. There were five oil refineries in the region: Conoco at Farmington, Basin at Aztec, and Hare, Aerex and Cross at Bloomfield. Economic setbacks occurred during the Great Depression and the areas transportation barriers limited energy resource development. The oil industry remained speculative as local businessmen invested in oil leases, betting on a future market. Farmington's economy continued to rely on agricultural production through the 1940’s, and the district was little changed.
Population slowly grew from 1,350 in 1930, to 2,162 in 1940, while the commercial district gradually expanded along Main Street. In 1933, U.S. Highway 550 was constructed into Durango. Chain stores arrived in 1929, when Piggly Wiggly Grocery and J. C. Penny’s were built, followed by the five-and-dime stores F.S. Rascos, and Sprouse Reitz in the 1940’s. The 1924 Avery Hotel on West Main Street advertised its new and improved, modern forty rooms with fourteen private baths throughout the 1930’s. The 1923 Allen Movie Theater was replaced with a modern cinema in 1942.
The years following WWII would set the stage for new oil and gas extraction throughout the Southwest. The United States moved into an era of unparalleled industrial expansion coupled with a population shift west. Veterans entering the work force transported their young families west in their new automobiles to suburbia. Between 1945 and 1960, the number of people living west of the Mississippi River rose from thirty-two million to forty-five million. Developing energy resources became a national priority tied to defense initiatives and the expansion of military complexes in the West. Military demand for energy was quickly outstripped by new demand for domestic heating fuels and automobile consumption. As California's population tripled the modern suburban lifestyle demanded new energy resources. The estimated three trillion cubic feet of natural gas in reserve in the Four Corners region was primed to meet the demand.
In the mid-1940’s, improvements to Route 66 and the impetus to link the San Juan Basin by highways to Albuquerque was driven by interest in the state's oil and gas reserves. When 185 miles of highway connecting Farmington to Albuquerque opened on November 29, 1946, it didn't bring tourists, but gas and oil industry scouts who filtered into the county with renewed interest in the area's resources. As a result, an energy boom hit between 1949-1956.
In 1946 Farmington city limits covered only 630 acres; by 1950, it expanded to 2,240-acres as the city stretched north encompassing the new forty-one house subdivision built by El Paso Natural Gas Company for workers at their San Juan River plant. Population burst from 3,637 in 1950 to the local estimate of 35,000 in 1953, as oil and gas workers flooded into Farmington. The town was ill prepared for the influx. Lois Bryant recalls when her family arrived in 1956:
There was absolutely nothing to rent in this town. People lived in cars, they lived with friends. It was nothing to see a little bitsy house with ten or fifteen people living in it… The people who lived here, the natives, were overwhelmed by all these people coming in.
Trailers were moved into orchards and makeshift camps rimmed the city. New shops jammed tightly together, hugging the only pavement in town along Main Street from Miller to Behrend Avenue. Oil drilling and exploration companies desperately needed offices and living quarters for their engineers and riggers. The demand was met by reviving the use of the earlier Business Block typology. Two-story modern office buildings extended the main-street development pattern into the three-and-four-hundred-blocks of West Main Street, reinvigorating the use of second floors as rooming houses.
The 1950’s James Building that fills half of the four-hundred-block of Main Street is typical of the development. The second floor offices for Sunray and Mid-Continental Oil companies from Texas were hastily divided into makeshift boarding houses. The second floor rooms above Foutz Indian Room were so cramped that some were only the width of a bed. Established businesses converted their upper floors as well. Totah Theater provided office space for San Juan Drilling Company and the Texas Company located above the bar at Harry's Place, where riggers and drillers gathered to find work and socialize.
Despite all the activity, oil and gas exploration remained in its nascent stage. In 1952, San Juan County petroleum production was less than 0.2% of the state’s total production. The situation for San Juan County farmers was little changed, as agriculture remained New Mexico's primary industry. The blacksmith on Broadway still serviced Navajo wagons and the feed store on East Main Street expanded its feed storage down Commercial Avenue. The Allen's had added the Totah Theater in 1949, as new business grew into the two-and three-hundred-blocks of West Main Street. In 1946, Allen Avenue extended south supplying access as business expanded to Broadway where small Utilitarian Commercial store fronts sold industrial and construction supplies.
Navajo trade had long been a source of income, however, merchants rarely catered to Navajo clientele. Tourist interest in "Indian Country" was not considered an economic resource. Trading posts remained on the Navajo Reservation and trade in traditional Navajo arts was rare on Main Street. A 1949 advertisement for the E. P. Woods Indian Room at 113 East Main describes the attitude of the handful of curio shops existing since the 1920’s. Woods describes his business of the "past 23 years (as) grown from a hobby to a sideline business."
A new economic shift for the region was reported in the 1953 New Mexico Business report:
Crude oil production is, of course, only part of the petroleum picture in New Mexico. When projected new pipelines to California are completed from both Hobbs and San Juan areas, production of natural gas should increase dramatically…continued oil exploration may lead to the discovery of entirely new producing wells.
It was pipelines, not highways that ended Farmington's isolation. Following WWII, engineers had perfected electrically welded and hydraulically bent, large diameter pipe, capably of long range expanses. By the 1950’s, California housed nearly 60% of the nations residential gas users. Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico supplied 80% of their consumption. Farmington was ready to compete for a bigger share.
Farmington entrepreneur, mayor, and later New Mexico governor, Tom Bolack voiced the local support for pipelines linking Farmington to the West Coast, insisting that the San Juan Basin held "plenty of gas for everybody." He argued that not only Farmington's economy, but also the livelihood of the entire Four Corners region was at stake. The Federal Power Commission (FPC) granted the El Paso Natural Gas Company permission to construct the San Juan Basin pipeline to California. Completed in 195 , the FPC allowed for the pipeline to double its deliveries in 1953 to 800 million cubic feet per day. In 1956, Phillips Petroleum completed the first transcontinental pipeline network carrying San Juan's natural gas to the West Coast and Pacific Northwest. At the same time, El Paso Natural Gas Company completed lines into Arizona. Oil production boomed as well when the Bisti reserves were discovered southeast of Farmington. County production swelled from 122.0 (000's bbls) to 624.3 in 1956 alone. Eighty-six oil wells, and six hundred thirty gas wells were completed that same year.
In 1952, one billion dollars had been invested in the county’s energy industries, which supplied 20% of the areas income. Between 1954 and 1959, the number of productive farms in San Juan County dropped by 50%. By 1960, petroleum deliveries from the San Juan Basin to the West Coast totaled 70,000 barrels of oil and 2.75 million cubic feet of natural gas daily, with Farmington declaring itself the "Energy Capital of the West."
Boom and Bust Decline and Revitalization
When Farmington's economy shifted into oil and gas production so did the locus of commercial development. In a ten year span between 1950 and 1960, population had increased countywide by 654%. One sixth of the employment was energy related and Farmington was the center, scrambling to keep up with housing and service demands that now exceeded the downtown's capacity. Housing shortages were met by new subdivisions spreading northeast of downtown. New auto-oriented commercial development followed with strip centers and motels stretching along East Main Street, as it connected to U.S. 550.
In 1957 city offices and anchor stores like Sears Catalog and Safeway Grocery had outgrown their Broadway locations and moved out of the downtown district. The 1958 bridge constructed at Animas Street rerouted traffic away from the district and the downtown was in decline when the energy based economy busted in 1965.
Tom Dugan, a former production manager for Phillips Petroleum in the San Juan Basin, summarized the energy industry in New Mexico in the mid-1960’s. "We had all those reserves and no way to make a profit on them." The Federal Power Commission had long followed a policy of mandating low fixed prices at the wellhead. Affordability and increased consumption would drive production. During the 1960’s, drilling costs exceeded oil prices and Arab OPEC oil imports were moving into the domestic market. In response, Farmington area oil producers brought their exploration and drilling activities to a near standstill. By 1965, unemployment in the Four Corners region was 6.3% compared to 4% nationally.
National and international oil policies and price controls occasioned the series of booms and busts that followed in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Owing to the unstable nature of Farmington's economy, the majority of buildings present at the end of the period of significance remain only superficially altered. The most significant changes in the district have been in street and sidewalk renovations, adding medians to Broadway and planters and broader curbs on Main Street. The district, with a preponderance of absentee owners, has a high rate of rental turnover limiting renovations to changing street signage and adding canopies. Many buildings retain their original site plan, massing and the historic spatial pattern most important to defining the main street commercial oriented district and a majority of original surfaces and architectural details remain intact.
Farmington's civic leaders and businessmen slowly began to view the tourist industry as a measure of offsetting economic decline. Durango and Moab in the region were beginning to draw tourist dollars, and in 1962 the Navajo Highway was constructed that linked the Navajo Reservation to the Four Corners highway network. The first phase of nearby Navajo Dam, completed in 1962, quickly drew recreation and water sport revenues. The Four Corners region promotes tourist income to its "Golden Circle" of national parks and monuments, the gateway to Navajo country and a year round scenic recreational playground.
In the 1990’s, economic diversification began to stabilize the local economy. Today, the city serves as a center for education and health services with New Mexico State College San Juan Branch and the San Juan Regional Medical Center providing services for the county and the Navajo Reservation. In the 1980’s the Navajo Reservation had shifted to a wage-based economy. The Chamber of Commerce estimates that Farmington's population triples on the weekends to 150,000, as Navajos flood into the city to shop. An active Downtown Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Association and Main Street program promote the downtown core as a community and tourist destination. A core group of entrepreneurs have established restaurants and shops on Main Street, listing two Railroad-era buildings on the State Register.
The City's 2001 Draft Comprehensive Plan seeks to revitalize downtown by promoting it as the city's historic and social center. Plans include extending the Animas River Walk, locating city offices off Broadway, and creating a civic and hotel center directly north of the district. The Downtown Plan further seeks to enhance the pedestrian-oriented quality of the district with the addition of entry markers, street furniture, and traffic calming measures. As such, the Farmington Historic Downtown Commercial District serves as a focal point for local historic preservation, a well-established community effort to preserve and promote Farmington's past.
 Mariah Associates, Inc.; Gary M. Brown editor. "Archaeological Data Recovery at San Juan Coal Company's La Plata Mine, San Juan County, New Mexico." Albuquerque, NM, 1991. " p. 36.
 San Juan Times. September 23, 1890: 1.
 The plat was registered in 1891. Farmington Gateway Museum, Farmington, NM special collections.
 San Juan Times. February 20, 1895: 2.
 Farmington Times Hustler. April 4, 1923.
 Gomez, Arthur Raymond. "The Fabulous Four Corners": Neocolonialism and Subregional development in the Hinterland West, 1945-1970." Thesis (Ph. D.) University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, 1989. p. 63.
 Ibid. p.70-89. Gomez cites Oil and Gas Journals and New Mexico State energy statistics showing the period between 1945-1949 as one of the most significant in the development of gas fields in the Four Corners.
 Kennedy, Sterling M. "From Valley to Basin; A Memoir and Oral History of Boomtown growth in Farmington, New Mexico, in the 1950's." UNM April 26, 1996 General Honors Program. Oral history, p. 55.
 Farmington Times. August 23, 1949: 4.
 Bureau of Business research College of Business Administration University of New Mexico. New Mexico Business 6.2 (February 1953): 5.
 Gomez, Arthur Raymond. "The Fabulous Four Corners": Neocolonialism and Subregional development in the Hinterland West, 1945-1970." Thesis (Ph. D.) University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, 1989, p. 111.
 San Juan County, New Mexico. Report prepared for the New Mexico Department of Development by San Juan County Redevelopment Area Organization. San Juan County, New Mexico overall economic development Plan, 1962.
 Gomez, Arthur Raymond. "The Fabulous Four Corners": Neocolonialism and Subregional development in the Hinterland West, 1945-1970." Thesis (Ph. D.) University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, 1989, p. 115.
 Gomez, Arthur Raymond. "The Fabulous Four Corners": Neocolonialism and Subregional development in the Hinterland West, 1945-1970." Thesis (Ph. D.) University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, 1989.