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Seventeen miles west of the Texas border, Lovington, the Queen City of the Plains, got its start and soul from the Lone Star state. Like many of his Texas compatriots, Robert Florence Love (1870-1942) first experienced the New Mexico territory during the waning years of open-range ranching, driving cattle onto the Llano Estacado.
Born 1870 in Palo Pinto County Texas, Florence and his brother Jim Love struck out for the New Mexico Territory in 1890, working at first for the INK-Bar Ranch and later for the Mallet Ranch. After meeting his future wife, Matilda Glasscock, at a dance in Stanton, Texas, Love left the Mallet operation in 1892 and returned to Texas, working at a ranch owned by the Connell & Pemberton Brothers. Love soon accumulated a small herd of his own. Remembering the lure of the Llano’s rich grasslands, Love moved his herd to the New Mexico territory in 1900, filing a homestead claim in 1903 at the site of future Lovington.
In 1907, Love relocated to Knowles, a homestead town staked out by Ben L. Knowles, approximately 17 miles southwest of Lovington. There he established the Love Hotel, the Llano’s first two-story building. For reasons unknown, Love sold his hotel and returned to his first homestead, which had been occupied by his brother and his family.
Intent on building a town, Florence Love deeded a portion of the homestead to Charles M. Burks to plat as a town site. Love later deeded another part of his section to Wesley McCallister, a U.S. land commissioner from nearby Seminole, Texas. McCallister furthered the goal of town development, mapping the original townsite and the East Addition in 1908. McCallister suggested naming the town Love, but Florence settled on the softer sounding Loving. Due to the fact that another Eddy County community had already claimed the name Loving, the name changed to Lovington. A post office under this name opened on September 12, 1908, with Robert Florence Love appointed postmaster.
Commerce commenced in Lovington in May 1908 when Jim Love opened a mercantile store on a site later occupied by the Lea County State Bank. The business, serving ranchers and homesteaders, changed hands in September when Florence Love purchased the store, moving it to the south side of the future courthouse square. Charles Burks opened a competing store, which Love quickly purchased, merging the two stores together.
With business underway, the small community turned its attention to building its first school. When opened in October 1908, the unfinished building housed 19 pupils, the youngest six, and the oldest 19. The single teacher, J.W. Conley, received script for his pay, redeemable only when Eddy County collected property taxes. Unable to live on this salary, Conley put up his homestead to anyone who could offer him a horse and saddle to leave town.
Unfazed by this setback, Lovington hired two teachers for the next year and built an additional room to the schoolhouse. Seeking to build the school’s student body, Lovington offered free town lots to families with school-age children. This arrangement worked not only to stimulate population growth, but also justified school expansion through bond issues. By 1913, enrollment had grown to 139 pupils, representing primary grade to high school. This expansion continued as ranchers in remote parts of the Llano built homes in town so that their children could attend school.
In 1916 Lovington had “grown from a mere little speck of a few ranch houses and two small stores on a great broad plain…” to a modern town boasting a public water works, local and long distance telephone service, a steam laundry, a post office, two churches, a movie house, a sundry of shops, a six-room grade school and a new high school constructed at a cost of $5,500.
Despite this growth spurt, Lovington remained isolated, without connection to a railroad or highway. A mail route initiated in 1909 between Carlsbad and Midland, Texas, did much to open Lovington to the outside world. Yet the trip was often grueling, and described by one passenger as being stuck “in a cubicle completely surrounded by mail sacks.”
Lovington initially hoped to be a stop along a proposed branch of the Gulf, Texas and New Mexico Railway Co. between Seminole and Roswell. Seagraves, a neighboring town in Texas, had grown twice as fast as Lovington after the MK&T Railroad had pushed its tracks there in 1914, and the Lovington looked for a similar boost. The Queen City of the Prairie, however, would have to wait until 1930, before being connected to the railroad as the terminus of the Texas & Pacific Railroad.
In spite of its isolation, Lovington was selected in 1917 as the county seat for the newly organized Lea County, and officially incorporated as a town on May 15, 1918. With an imposing two-story courthouse, set off by castellated towers, new businesses, including a drugstore, a furniture store, a hardware store and a bank, massed up around the courthouse square.
In 1918, with a population of 1,500, the future looked positive for Lovington. But by the end of 1918, the town’s boom had ended, and ten years of bad luck, including a fire, a prolonged drought, and an economic recession, shuttering both of the town’s banks, would follow. Later competition from Hobbs, an upstart oil-boom community to the south, would send Lovington into an economic backwater until the 1950s.
Essay taken from "Commercial Hotel", National Register of Historic Places, November 2004.