Cowboys and Indians rode the plains and the desert of the northwestern part of New Mexico and colorful stories of their adventures have trickled down for generations.
The history of the beginning of San Juan County is as colorful as those who traveled to this beautiful area, looking for a fresh start and a new life. In 1887, the Territorial Government named the little city of Aztec as the seat of San Juan County. There was a rivalry, however, amongst the citizens of the new county, and the residents of Farmington, Junction City, Largo, and Mesa City protested the appointment, with each of the cities believing it should be the county seat.
In 1890, an election was held to end the controversy. Junction City received 255 votes; Aztec 246; Farmington 1; and Mesa City received no votes. In 1891, a judge ordered the city of Aztec to move all county records to Junction City. The records were moved and the controversy ended -- but not for long.
Officials in Aztec proclaimed the election illegal. A presiding judge in the district investigated the election process and found discrepancies and illegal activities during the election. In August of 1892, Aztec was once again named as the seat of San Juan County. The county rented a room from a local businessman for $10 a month, which was occupied by the Probate Clerk.
In early March of 1895, the County Commissioners ordered the Clerk to remove all books, papers and other property belonging to San Juan County that had been housed in the Probate Clerk's office to a building that had been rented for county offices.
In November of that year, County Commissioners Samuel E. Koontz, J.E. McCarty and J.V. Lujan, along with L.C. Grove (County Clerk), and Joe Prewitt (Deputy) met W.H. Williams, John A. Koontz and A. Villman, commissioners who had been appointed by Governor Otero to build a court house in Aztec. They reported to the commissioners that all the money that had been approved for the construction had been used.
The clerk was instructed by the commission to take charge of the building and to move all county records into the new court house as soon as possible. The commission met in the new court house for the first time on April 6, 1903.
A county jail had already been built on the south side of the new court house, after a $2,500 bond had been approved by the county at a special election held in March of 1892. The jail was adobe with two steel jail cells.
As the years went by, more and more people discovered the beauty of living in the Four Corners, and the population of San Juan County grew. In the 1900s, the county was largely agricultural, with fruit orchards and vegetable farms creating a canvas of color.
By 1905, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad had built a railroad through the area and the county seat became a shipping point for sheep and cattle.
In 1950, a new industry found its way into San Juan County. Oil and gas brought in thousands of people to the area, with the population of the City of Farmington increasing nearly 763 percent in 10 years. Today, the economic base of the county is supported not only by oil and gas, but is also being diversified by a strong growth in retail and tourism. The City of Farmington has become the retail hub of the Four Corners area, catering to a population base of more than 250,000.
Shiprock, located about 20 miles northwest of Farmington, is on the Navajo Nation and is named for the Shiprock pinnacle, a large rock formation that rises up from the ground and is sacred to the Navajo people. The town of Shiprock has been made famous by mystery writer Tony Hillerman, who bases many of his novels in this community.
With 5,514 square miles included in San Juan County, less than 6 percent of it is privately owned. In 2003, 122,272 people called the county home, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. That reflects a more than 24 percent increase in population from 1920-2000. People have discovered that San Juan County residents not only enjoy a great climate, but a quality of living many consider being second to none.
As people discover what a great place San Juan County is to live, work and raise a family, the demands on county government have grown as well.
A new administration building was constructed and staff moved into the new facility in February of 1997, to better accommodate the needs of the citizens of San Juan County. The San Juan County Commission works closely with officials of the cities of Aztec, Bloomfield, and Farmington, to continue to make this area a safe and comfortable place to live.
In 2001, 118 miles of New Mexico Route 44 that connects San Juan County to Albuquerque, was rebuilt and widened. The improvement of that stretch of highway, which was renamed US Highway 550, made a big difference to those who travel from San Juan County to Albuquerque. The four lanes have made traveling safer and offer additional economic benefits to San Juan County as more commercial vehicles take advantage of the new highway.
As San Juan County continues to grow and prosper, the County Commission and elected officials, with the help of dedicated support staff, are committed to keeping a friendly small town atmosphere while providing business and citizens with the best in services, public safety and family values.