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New Mexico State University
Facilities Planning & Construction

Brief History of New Mexico State University

Drawing of McFie Hall
Drawing of McFie Hall

When Indiana educator Hiram Hadley arrived in the New Mexico territory in 1887, he found virtually no educational opportunities in the town of Las Cruces. By 1888, Hadley had the community support to open Las Cruces College. The rent for the adobe building that housed the college was $25 per month.

A year later, the Territorial Legislature created New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts as the land-grant college under the Morrill Act.

Under President Hadley, New Mexico A&M slowly grew as a center of learning in the broad sense that the land-grant mission of education, service and research was carried out. This service and maturity were recognized in 1960 when the constitution of New Mexico was amended to change the name to New Mexico State University.

The curriculum was narrow at the beginning. The first college was Agriculture, followed by Engineering in 1914 and Arts and Sciences in 1917. The Graduate School was organized in 1957 and the College of Education followed in 1958. The College of Business Administration and Economics was established in 1964 and the College of Human and Community Services came into existence in 1979.

The university's campus covers more than 6,000 acres statewide including the central campus, four branch campuses and 12 experiment stations. The university also directs its extension offices in all 33 counties of the state.

Today's modern campus centers around the Horseshoe area in the middle of the campus. A college landmark, the cornerstone of McFie Hall, stands like a sentinel of the past near the flagpole in the center of the Horseshoe. This original campus building was popularly called Old Main. Cornerstone ceremonies for Old Main were held September 9, 1890, and the building was ready for classes by February 1891. Old Main was destroyed by fire in 1910.

Horseshoe from an Old Master Plan
Horseshoe from an Old Master Plan

The Horseshoe area has changed through the years from cactus and sand to an alfalfa patch where college livestock grazed, to a favorite walking area centered by Lover's Lane edged in flowers and shrubs, to the serene, grassy area it is today.

One of the oldest buildings on campus, the YMCA, was brimming with activity soon after completion in early 1909. Now it stands unoccupied on the northwestern edge of the Horseshoe.

Designed by Trost and Trost Architects of El Paso, the YMCA was one of only three student-owned university buildings west of the Mississippi River when it was built. It was furnished with gifts from donors throughout the then Territory of New Mexico. Built primarily to provide dormitory facilities for male students, it was a boarding house in the 1920s .

The YMCA was converted to space for the Music Department in 1929 and was bought by the university in 1964. It became headquarters for the Air Force ROTC program the following year until that program was moved to the renovated Young Hall in 1982.

Another Trost-designed building was the Engineering Building, built in 1913. In 1934, it was renamed in honor of Professor R. W. Goddard, the Dean of Engineering in 1920. Spanish Renaissance style was adopted for campus structures in the early years.

Student enrollment continued to grow over the first 100 years. Enrollment hit 100 for the first time in 1917 and attained the 200, 300 and 400 plateaus in the decade of the 1920s. The post-World War II era saw the enrollment jump from 279 in 1946 to 1,656 in 1947.

The student population went over the 10,000 mark in 1975 with 10,649 students enrolled on the central campus. Projected enrollment for the fall semester 1990 will be 14,500. It is estimated that enrollment at NMSU will exceed 17,500 by the end of this decade.

As the student body grew, so did the Physical Plant. As an example of the progress made by the university's Physical Plant, NMSU has added buildings with a total of 1.3 million square feet at a cost of approximately $51.6 million since 1977. This 30 percent increase in enclosed square footage was necessary to handle the steady increase in enrollment over that period.