Anthony, New Mexico/Texas — leap year capital of the world

Anthony welcome sign. Photo courtesty Anthony Chamber of Commerce.
Anthony welcome sign

Few cities, towns, villages or individuals, without moving, find their address and even their country has changed. The towns named above are some of those few, because that is what happened to them. In 1853, the Gadsden Purchase changed the southern boundary of the U.S.

New Mexico and Arizona were not yet states. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 had vaguely described the U.S./Mexico border, but President Franklin Pierce wanted to insure the United States possessed a large strip of land that would provide the most practical route for a southern railroad line to the Pacific.

Railroad promoter and diplomat James Gadsden negotiated the purchase from Mexico of 77,000 square miles for ten million dollars. In 1854, the U. S. Senate ratified the deal by a narrow margin. This odd-shaped strip of land now forms extreme Southern New Mexico and Arizona south of Gila. The eastern most portion of the Gadsden Purchase includes the Mesilla Valley that lies on either side of the Rio Grande River, where the villages in this story are located.

Residents had been given the choice, following the Hidalgo Treaty, of living in Mexico or the U.S. However, these events in history took that choice out of their hands, and the Gadsden Purchase set new international boundaries. Thus, those in these villages who had lived in Mexico, although they had not moved, suddenly lived in the United States of America, in what is now New Mexico. The Spanish language is heard there more often than English, and some do not speak English at all.

On the eastern end of the Gadsden Purchase, the town of Anthony, that is divided by an invisible state line, has become known by locals as the "best little town in two states." The early center of commerce developed around a flour mill located about 1/2 mile north of the state line and slightly east of where the railroad now runs. Farmers would visit and conduct business when they brought grain to the mill to be ground. The first post office was established in New Mexico in 1884, and still, in 1999, both sides of town are served by one post office in New Mexico. The post office, as well as other state and county offices, form the service center for small towns between Sunland Park and Mesilla.

Anthony, New Mexico was at one time called Halfway House because it is located half-way between Las Cruces, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. Two stories of how the post office in 1884 became Anthony exist. One says a local lady built a chapel in her home and dedicated it to her patron saint, San Antonio. When a post office was requested under that name, another city in New Mexico had already claimed it, so the English form, Anthony, was chosen. The other story is that it was named by a Catholic priest who had established a church there. At one time it was a stop on the Butterfield Stage route.

When the Santa Fe Railroad was built in 1881, they located the train depot on the Texas side of the state line and called it La Tuna. It is said that name was chosen due to the large number of prickly pear cactus that grew in the area. The Spanish name for prickly pear is La Tuna. The name was also given to the Federal Prison built at Anthony in the early nineteen thirties.

The area between Las Cruces and Anthony contains some of the richest farm land in New Mexico. Early crops of cotton, alfalfa and grape vineyards have been joined by large pecan orchards and onion, lettuce, and chile fields. The many dairies make insulage, alfalfa, and grain crops popular. Population estimates of this area are about 15,000 people living in the little hamlets and the wide open spaces, and encroaching seriously on the farm land in the Mesilla Valley.

On the New Mexico side, the Gadsden Independent School District is reported to have more bus miles than any other school district in the United States. The district extends from Sunland Park on the southern end to San Miguel and Mesquite on the north and across the mountain to Chaparral on the east. In contrast, the Texas side of Anthony makes up the Anthony Independent School District, one of the smallest school districts in the state. Anthony, New Mexico is not incorporated and is governed by Doña Ana County. The Texas side of town was incorporated under the name of Anthony, Texas in 1953, and is somewhat of a bedroom community for El Paso.

In 1988, Mary Ann Brown, a member of the Anthony Chamber of Commerce and born on Leap Year, founded the Worldwide Leap Year Birthday Club. The Chamber voted to proclaim the New Mexico/Texas town "Leap Year Capital of the World" and to sponsor the one and only World-Wide Leap Year Birthday Club and celebration. Then New Mexico Governor Garrey Carruthers and Texas Governor William B. Clements joined in the special proclamation. Senator Pete Domenici read it into the Congressional Record Vol. 134, No. 146, Friday, October 14, 1988, of the 100th Congress. Quadrennial celebrations were held in 1992 and 1996. The Leap Year 2000 celebration is planned to be the biggest one yet. The dates set for it are February 26-29, 2000. Anyone born on February 29 is eligible for membership in the Worldwide Leap Year Birthday Club at $20, renewable every leap year by February 1. For information write Mary Ann Brown, P O Box 1818, Anthony, TX 79821, 915-886-2540 or Anthony Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 1086, Anthony, TX/NM 88021. One person’s idea for something this unique can make the difference in tourism for an area, no matter how small the town.

One can take three routes for the approximately 25 miles to and from Las Cruces to Anthony:  via the old scenic route on NM Highway 28 on the west side of the Rio Grande; or through the valley on NM Highway 478 (formerly U.S. Highway 80); or if you’re in a hurry, Interstate 10 will bypass the farm lands and villages.

La Union, an agricultural community, is three miles southwest of Anthony on NM 28. Its post office opened in 1909, although the ages of the adobe houses indicate the village is probably older. The population is primarily Hispanic-American, some of those whose address changed, even though they did not move.

Chamberino, four miles north of Anthony on NM 28, was a refuge after the Mexican War for residents who could choose between citizenship in Mexico or the United States. Known as El Refugio and Los Amoles, it was in Mexico until 1854, the year the Gadsden Purchase was ratified, then became part of the United States. After many floods, the town was rebuilt on the higher, sandy, western mesa. The chile products have produced a retail establishment known as the Pepper Lovers’ Heaven at Pepper Tree Farm. Grapes and wine are other products in this area and La Vina Winery, said to be the oldest winery in New Mexico, is just off Route 28, a short distance to the west.

La Mesa, four miles north of Chamberino, is another area founded following the Gadsden Purchase. The tableland took its name from the nearby lava flow known as Black Mesa, although the town was originally known as Victoria. When the post office was established in 1908 it was named La Mesa. Populated with predominantly Hispano-Americans and a few Anglo-American pioneers, La Mesa is an agricultural community. The San Jose church was established in 1875, but was in a state of ruin by 1902.

San Miguel, three miles north of La Mesa, has a beautiful church. It was originally built in 1880, torn down in 1926, and rebuilt from volcanic rock. The village and post office were known as Telles until 1917. In 1926, the Stahmans bought 2,900 acres from the Santa Tomas Farm. Santa Tomas is on the map north of San Miguel, but apparently no village exists there at present. The Stahmans cleared the land and acquired more. Beginning in 1936, they planted pecan trees, with lettuce, cotton, and onions among them until the trees became so large the crops dwindled. There are so many pecan trees now they line both sides of the highway for three miles.

Chaparral is eleven miles across the mountain through Anthony Gap, east of Anthony. In Place Names of New Mexico it is described as a rural subdivision whose name means overgrown with scrub oak. Many manufactured homes and mobile homes are scattered over a wide expanse of land. Its zip code address is the same as Anthony’s. The eastern boundary is the Fort Bliss Military Reservation in El Paso.

Berino, five miles north of Anthony, just east of NM 478, is directly across the Rio Grande from Chamberino. Settled by Hispanic-Americans, this area is also a part of the Gadsden Purchase. Little historic information is available, but evidently it was called Cottonwood at one time with its own elementary school. It is now the home of McAnnaly Chicken Farm, a huge egg production plant.

Vado, four miles north of Berino, has had many names, among them Herron, Earlham, Center Valley and Vado. The population of this f
arming community was Hispanic and some African-Americans, many of whom moved here in the 1920s from Blackdom, a dwindling African-American community near Roswell. The proud people at one time established a negro college at Vado. The Herron family had opened a broom factory in 1886, explaining the name "Herron." Quakers from Indiana brought the name of Earlham that held from 1888 to 1911. Center Valley was named by a postmaster and existed for the years 1913-1919, then returned to the name to Vado.

Mesquite, four miles north of Vada, was a farming community established in 1882, named for the many mesquite bushes growing there. The post office was established in 1913.

East of Mesquite is Bishop’s Cap, a park in the southern Organ Mountains. It contains Conklin Cave, in which bones of ancient sloths, camels and cave bears have been discovered. Little other information is available.

About Phyllis Eileen Banks