Melrose turning 100

Some residents are concerned for the future of a town once called “the Broom-corn capital of New Mexico.” (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

MELROSE — Melrose is the birthplace of the late William Hanna, an animator of Flintstones fame, and Col. Travis Hoover, one of the famous Doolittle Raiders who led the first U.S. retaliatory raid on Japan during World War II.

Also once home to an opera house and a legendary girls’ basketball team — and still home to the Melrose Bombing Range which has been an integral part of testing and training operations — Melrose has had a rather impressive 100-year-history as it gears up to celebrate its three-digit birthday with three days of Old Timers’ festivities beginning on Thursday. The Old Timers’ Days 2005 Centennial will feature a parade, a music fest, a motorcycle poker run, car show, turtle race, cook-off, alumni banquet and street dance, just to name a few events.

The celebration will also be highlighted by the groundbreaking of a veterans’ memorial to be constructed in the city park, thanks to $22,500 allotted by the New Mexico State Legislature, and the official reopening of a city swimming pool.

When Melrose was founded a century ago, this small village located 21 miles west of Cannon Air Force Base, was originally called BrownHorn after two ranchers. The Santa Fe Railroad came into town and changed the name to Melrose after a town in Ohio.

A lot has changed in the once-bustling town that was known as the “Broom-corn capital of New Mexico.” In 1914, Melrose reportedly had an opera house and many businesses, according to a copy of a recent speech delivered before the New Mexico House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. However, World War I and a flu epidemic was said to have greatly depleted the town’s population from an estimated 1,500 down to the current population of 750.

Today, the village is home to only one chain store, Allsup’s, and also has a popular fruit and vegetable market, along with a truck stop, several cafes and a senior citizens’ center. Nevertheless, it is a place that longtime resident James Townson calls home, and a place in which Lance Pyle sees a promising future.

“Right now, I’m excited about what Melrose is accomplishing in the community,” said Pyle, a Melrose city councilman who is originally from Clovis but moved to the village 10 years ago. “We have a park project, our park looks great. It gives the people of Melrose, as well as past residents of Melrose, something to come back to, and something to be proud of.”

“I would like to see Melrose continue on for another 100 years,” Pyle said. “But one of my concerns right now is that we’re stagnate. Another one of my concerns is to keep younger people here. This is a great community with an excellent school. I know without a doubt that Melrose will be here for another 100 years and will be twice as big.”

Townson, who has lived in Melrose for 30 years, said the town consists of mostly elderly, retired people.

“We would hope that Melrose would grow, but it has stayed about the same the past few years,” Townson said. “Several years ago, we had a lot of families from Cannon living here, but now we just have one or two. It was probably a housing issue at the time.”