Discover the Fascinating History of Carlsbad, New Mexico
Avalon Dam. Carlsbad history.

When you hear ” Carlsbad,” it’s likely you’ll probably think of the caverns located in the Guadalupe Mountains. However, these natural wonders are only part of the story. The neighboring city of Carlsbad possesses a storied and layered history that also merits attention.


Carlsbad is the county seat of Eddy County, an area that includes hills and prairies. This area was historically considered home for nomadic populations for countless generations. Over time, the Mescalero and Lipan Apache tribes set up camp, succeeded later by the Comanche people. Stability within these native communities persisted until Spanish settlers arrived in the late 16th century. The influence of Spanish culture was so profound that it essentially ousted and replaced the indigenous ways of life.

Among the first to populate the area were Mexicans, mainly from Chihuahua and surrounding states. An early settler once described the land they traversed as “nothing but a howling wilderness.” These nomadic individuals typically settled in temporary camps and herded sheep.


Following the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1846, a new wave of settlers, locally referred to as Anglos — which means white, non-Hispanic Europeans — began to arrive. Susan Tweit, in her book Barren, Wild, and Worthless, portrayed the incoming cattlemen as thinking that “The grass seemed endless, the profits sure.” However, they eventually recognized the environmental costs of overgrazing, but that’s a different chapter of history.

Charles B. Eddy, founder of Carlsbad, NM
Charles B. Eddy. Photo courtesy Southeastern New Mexico Historical Society.


Charles Eddy and his brother John, joined forces with Amos Bissell to found the Eddy-Bissell Cattle Enterprise at Halagueno Ranch, situated at Seven Rivers. About 20 miles north of Carlsbad, Seven Rivers is the oldest community in the county, notable for its history of conflicts with Native Americans that took place from 1882 to 1883. It was also an area frequented by William Bonny — otherwise known as Billy the Kid.

EDDYS AND BISSELL start irrigation

Undertaking an ambitious project, the Eddys and Bissell engineered a diversion channel along the Pecos River, enabling local irrigation. This innovation drew more settlers who capitalized on the improved irrigation to grow a variety of crops like fruits, grains, and vegetables, as well as alfalfa for horses, cattle, and sheep.


Charles Eddy, ever the visionary, envisioned a prosperous settlement. He stumbled upon mineral springs with therapeutic qualities similar to those in Karlsbad in Bohemia (now a part of the Czech Republic). Initially, the town bore his surname, Eddy, but was later rebranded to Carlsbad in 1889 to highlight the health-giving springs. This pivot, along with the ranching operations, lured settlers from England, Italy, France, and Switzerland, stimulating growth and development in the region.

EDDY COUNTY Courthouse

Eddy County Courthouse, Carlsbad, NM
Eddy County Courthouse, Carlsbad, NM circa 1903

Eddy donated a whole block of the town for the erection of a courthouse. Initially designed in Victorian brick architecture, the structure saw expansions in 1914 and once more in 1939. The latter modification shifted its architectural style to what we see today as Pueblo Style.

JOHN HAGERMAN’S Contributions

John H. Hagerman, an industrial mogul, brought the Pecos Valley Railroad to the area in 1891. Aimed at facilitating the transport of local crops and travelers, the township erected a premier hotel. Dubbed The Hagerman Hotel, the edifice had two floors and provided 60 accommodations.


The irrigation company under Hagerman’s supervision initially set up the Avalon Dam on the Pecos River in 1891. Regrettably, the dam couldn’t withstand a flood that hit in 1893. Despite being reconstructed by Hagerman in 1904, it succumbed to floodwaters once more. In 1906, the Bureau of Reclamation undertook a third reconstruction. Named the Carlsbad Project, it featured the Avalon Dam, McMillan Dam, a water storage facility, and the one-of-a-kind Pecos River Flume, which uniquely allowed the river to pass over itself.


In 1925, potash, an essential potassium compound in agricultural fertilizers, was detected in areas surrounding Carlsbad. This discovery spurred a new sector, positioning Carlsbad as a potash industry leader until the 1960s.

A photo dated approximately 1960 shows six anonymous IMCC laborers standing adjacent to a railway boxcar, which held the 100,000th carload of potash shipped from IMCC. Attribution to Bob Nymeyer Photo Collection; snapped by photographer Bob Nymeyer. Photo credited to Southeastern New Mexico Historical Society.

Miners in front of a railroad car loaded with Potash
Six unknown IMCC miners stand beside the railroad box car with the 100,000th carload of potash shipped from IMCC. Photo circa 1960. From Bob Nymeyer Photo Collection; Photographer Bob Nymeyer. Photo courtesy Southeastern New Mexico Historical Society.


In the 1970s, what was then known as the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (now the Department of Energy) laid the groundwork for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). This facility, located 2,150 feet beneath the surface in a saline formation about 26 miles east of Carlsbad, is used for the safekeeping of defense-related transuranic radioactive material.

So, if you’re like Jim White, the explorer who unearthed the caverns back in 1901, by all means, make the trip to the caverns, but be sure visit to the city that these famous caverns are named for.

Now that you know some history of the area, read about 12 fun things to do after visiting the Carlsbad Caverns.

Top image: Spill gates at Avalon Dam, north of Carlsbad. The dam was originally built as an earth fill structure in 1888 by private interests. That dam was washed out in 1893. It was quickly rebuilt, but was washed out again in 1904 by the Pecos River flood of that year. In 1907 the United States Bureau of Reclamation rebuilt the dam. The height of the dam was raised in 1912, and again in 1936. Date of this post card is unknown, but believed to be circa. 1912. Photo courtesy Southeastern New Mexico Historical Society.

Photos courtesy Southeastern New Mexico Historical Society


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