The Mesilla Valley has been populated for centuries. The Spanish passed through the region first in 1598 and continued to use the route to reach the northern territories around Santa Fe. Though the Spanish could not maintain settlements in the region at all during the 1700s, by the early 1800s people were able to move in and create hamlets that grew to become Doña Ana and, eventually, Las Cruces.
In 1848 the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War, but rendered uncertain the sovereignty of Las Cruces. The Mesilla Valley ended up split between two nations, with the town of Mesilla on the west of the Rio Grande belonging to Mexico and Las Cruces, on the eastern banks of the river, belonging to the United States. The Gadsden Purchase in 1853 made the whole area U.S. territory and Las Cruces began its ascent as the area's power center. The railroad, irrigation, agriculture, and local ranching drove the city's growth. Much of the new city was built in the Territorial and Victorian styles popular at the time. The College of Las Cruces was founded in 1880 and eventually became New Mexico State University.
Mention Las Cruces to someone today and their reply is likely to be about its status as one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States—second fastest in New Mexico, behind Albuquerque. With growth spurred by retirees looking for sun and mild winters, the defense and commercial business at White Sands Missile Range, the increasing strength of New Mexico State University, and its proximity to the business on the border with Mexico, this city of about 75,000 people is growing. Las Cruces is following the lead of many U.S. cities by pushing a major revitalization of its historic Downtown. The district and its surrounding residential neighborhoods date back more than a century, and a casual walk around will show all sorts of renovation—from simple painting and planting to the restabilization of entire buildings. Despite the revitalization, greater Las Cruces tends to be a bit sterile, as its historical district is surrounded by ever-expanding rings of strip malls and cookie-cutter subdivisions.