Roswell is most popularly known for having its name attached to what is now called the 1947 Roswell UFO incident, even though the actual crash site was some seventy-five miles from Roswell and closer to Corona. However, the investigation and debris recovery was handled by the local Roswell Army Air Field.
The first non-indigenous settlers of the area around Roswell were a group of pioneers from Missouri, who attempted to start a settlement 15 miles southwest of what is now Roswell in 1865 but were forced to abandon the site because of a lack of water.
Van C. Smith, a businessman from Omaha, Nebraska, and his partner, Aaron Wilburn, constructed two adobe buildings in 1869 that began what is now Roswell. The two buildings became the settlement's general store, post office, and sleeping quarters for paying guests. In 1871, Smith filed a claim with the federal government for the land around the buildings, and on August 20, 1873, he became the town's first postmaster. Van C. Smith was the son of Roswell Smith, a prominent lawyer in Lafayette, Indiana, and Annie Ellsworth, daughter of U.S. Patent Commissioner Henry Leavitt Ellsworth. He called the town Roswell, after his father's first name.
Roswell was originally a part of Lincoln County that included all of southeastern New Mexico, but in 1889 Chaves County was carved out of the larger county, and Roswell became its county seat. The Roswell, NM Post Office uses ZIP codes 88201, 88202, and 88203.
In 1877, Captain Joseph Calloway Lea and his family bought out Smith and Wilburn's claim and became the owners of most of the land of Roswell and the area surrounding it. The town was relatively quiet during the Lincoln County War (1877-1879). A major aquifer was discovered when merchant Nathan Jaffa had a well drilled in his back yard on Richardson Avenue in 1890, resulting in the area's first major growth and development spurt. The growth continued when a railroad was built through town in 1893.
During World War II, a prisoner of war camp was located in nearby Orchard Park. The German prisoners of war were used to do major infrastructure work in Roswell, such as paving the banks of the North Spring River. Some POWs used rocks of different sizes to create the outline of an iron cross among the stones covering the north bank. Later, the iron cross was covered with a thin layer of concrete. In the 1980s, a crew cleaning the river bed cleared off the concrete and revealed the outline once more. The small park just south of the cross was then known as Iron Cross Park. On November 11, 1996 the park was renamed POW/MIA park. The park displays a piece of the Berlin Wall, presented to the City of Roswell by the German Air Force.
In the 1930s, Roswell was a site for much of Robert Goddard's early rocketry work. It is also the birthplace of actress Demi Moore, musician John Denver, and Hall of Fame jockey Mike E. Smith. A Golf Hall of Famer, Nancy Lopez, was reared in Roswell (though born in California). A Hall of Famer astronaut, sixth man on the moon Edgar Mitchell, attended school in Roswell. Roger Staubach (later of the Dallas Cowboys) played football at NMMI, and Lewis Lloyd (later of the Houston Rockets) played basketball there. The professional baseball record for home runs in a season, 72, was set in 1954 by Joe Bauman of the Roswell Rockets, who took up permanent residence there (the record was broken in 2001 by Barry Bonds).
Roswell was a location of military importance from 1941 to 1967, at which time Walker Air Force Base was decommissioned. After the closure of the base, Roswell capitalized on its pleasant climate and reinvented itself as a retirement community. Roswell has benefited from interest in the alleged UFO incident, and in more recent times the business community has deliberately sought out tourists interested in UFOs.
In the early 1980s, a major manufacturer, Transportation Manufacturing Corporation, which produced buses opened a factory in Roswell. The factory has opened and closed repeatedly, resulting in cyclical swings of unemployment. TMC stopped building buses. NovaBus used the same buildings to manufacture buses but has also closed. The plant was reopened by Millennium Transit Services in 2003.
In 2002, Roswell was named one of the All-American cities.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 29.0 square miles (75.0 km²), of which, 28.9 square miles (75.0 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.07%) is water.
|Monthly Normal and Record High and Low Temperatures|
|Rec High °F||82||85||93||99||107||114||111||107||103||99||88||81|
|Norm High °F||55.6||62||70||77.7||86||94||94.8||92.3||85.7||76.5||64.5||56.3|
|Norm Low °F||24.4||29.3||35.7||43.3||53.2||62||66.7||65.5||58.3||46.3||33.3||25.1|
|Rec Low °F||-9||3||9||23||34||47||56||54||40||14||4||-8|
There were 17,068 households out of which 34.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.1% were married couples living together, 14.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.2% were non-families. 27.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.58 and the average family size was 3.13.
In the city the population was spread out with 28.5% under the age of 18, 9.9% from 18 to 24, 24.9% from 25 to 44, 20.6% from 45 to 64, and 16.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 93.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,252, and the median income for a family was $31,724. Males had a median income of $26,554 versus $21,408 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,589. About 18.7% of families and 22.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.1% of those under age 18 and 13.8% of those age 65 or over.
Also served by Pecos Trails Transit.