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Belen, New Mexico

Belen, New Mexico
Official seal of Belen, New Mexico
Nickname(s): The Hub City
Location of Belen, New Mexico
Location of Belen, New Mexico
Belen, New Mexico is located in USA
Belen, New Mexico
Location in the United States
Country United States
State New Mexico
County Valencia
Settled 1740
Incorporated 1918
 • Type Mayor-Council
 • Mayor Jerah R. Cordova
 • Total 4.7 sq mi (12.2 km2)
 • Land 4.7 sq mi (12.2 km2)
 • Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 4,810 ft (1,466 m)
 • Total 7,175
 • Density 1,463.1/sq mi (564.9/km2)
Demonym(s) Belenite
Time zone Mountain (MST) (UTC-7)
 • Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6)
ZIP code 87002
Area code(s) 505
FIPS code 35-06480
GNIS feature ID 0923557

Belen (; Spanish: Belén) is the second most populous city in Valencia County, New Mexico, United States, after its county seat Los Lunas. The population was 7,175 in 2014 census data.[1]

Belen is Spanish for Bethlehem but gained the nickname "The Hub City" because of a major rail junction on BNSF Railway's Southern Transcon rail line. The city is geographically near the center of New Mexico and has been a significant transportation hub for central New Mexico that includes access to rail, the interstate and air at Valencia County's only public airport.

Belen is at the southern end of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city is located 35 miles south of Albuquerque.


  • History 1
  • Geography 2
    • Climate 2.1
  • Cityscape 3
  • Demographics 4
  • Government and politics 5
  • Culture 6
    • Annual festivals and other events 6.1
    • Museums 6.2
    • Parks and outdoor attractions 6.3
    • Christmas in Belen 6.4
    • Media 6.5
  • Education 7
    • Public schools 7.1
    • Private schools 7.2
    • Community college 7.3
  • Transportation 8
    • Roads 8.1
    • Airport 8.2
    • Rail 8.3
    • Bicycle Routes 8.4
  • Notable people 9
  • References in popular culture 10
    • Movies 10.1
    • Television 10.2
    • Literature 10.3
  • References 11
  • External links 12


Belen, 1904
The Belen Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Belen was founded in 1740 as Nuestra Senora de Belen by a group of Spanish colonists led by Diego Torres and Antonio Salazar, who received permission to settle the tract of land known as the Belen Grant the year before.[2] Recognizing the strategic significance of Belen, Spanish authorities established a fort in Belen to protect the settlements along the Rio Grande in 1760. By the 1790s, Belen had established a city center known as Plaza Vieja, or Old Town, and had grown from a paraje, or precinct, to a partido, or district, with a population of 1,695. By 1793, a Catholic church and parish was founded.[2]

By the middle of the 19th century, Belen had outgrown Old Town and was expanding into what became known as New Town. In 1853, the residents in each part of town disagreed over the construction of a new Catholic church, with residents of Old Town wanting the new church to remain there, while residents of New Town wanted it built in their part of town. Ultimately, the adobe church in Old Town was abandoned and a new church was built in New Town. In 1910, the last ruins of the former church were dynamited and the crushed adobe was used to pave New Town's main avenue—Becker Avenue.[2]

The residents of Valencia County spent nearly 30 years from 1846 to 1875 disputing where the county seat should be located. Valencia, north of Belen, was the county seat in 1846, followed by Peralta in 1847. Valencia reclaimed the county seat in 1849, only to lose it to Tome in 1852. Belen captured the county seat from Tome 20 years later, but lost it to Tome two short years later in 1874. Finally, in 1875, Los Lunas claimed the county seat and remains the county seat to this day.[2]

In the late winter of 1862, Belen, an ally of the Union, become entangled in the Civil War when the town briefly fell under Confederate control after 400 Confederate soldiers marched into Belen. By summer, however, the Confederate army had completely withdrawn from New Mexico.[3]

In 1884, the General Land Office, through the authority of President Ulysses S. Grant, established the Town of Belen. By the turn of the century, local merchant John Becker had designed a commercial and residential plan for the town. Becker's plan laid out Belen on a grid, extending from a commercial center with two grand avenues: Becker Avenue and Dalies Avenue. Originally all of the town's streets were to be named after Spanish explorers, such as Coronado, but were quickly changed to the last names of the town's founders, such as Becker, Paul Dalies and Charles Reinken.[4]

In 1907, the Belen Cutoff for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was completed, connecting Amarillo with Belen.[2] Prior to the Belen Cutoff, trains used the steep Raton Pass on the Colorado and New Mexico border. The cutoff made it possible for many more trains to travel east and west across the United States. Today, Belen remains a major refueling station for BNSF Railway, where an average of 110 trains travel through Belen in a 24-hour period on the Southern Transcon.

Belen was officially incorporated as a municipality in 1918.[2] It was originally called the "Village of Belen," later becoming the "City of Belen."

In 1927, Belen native and movie stunt pilot Arthur C. Goebel took up the challenge by James D. Dole, the Hawaii pineapple magnate, to race with other pilots to be the first to fly nonstop from the mainland United States to the Hawaii territory in what is known as the Dole Air Race. Goebel flew the Woolaroc. Of the 13 planes that qualified, seven were lost in crashes, killing 10 people. Only two planes made it safely to Hawaii. Goebel landed first in Hawaii after a nonstop 26 hours, 17 minutes and 33 seconds, receiving the top prize of $25,000.[5]

The world's first atomic bomb, in unassembled pieces, traveled through Belen in July 1945 en route to the Trinity site at what is now White Sands Missile Range. The bomb's Belen route used old Highway 85, now Highway 314, also known as Main Street. Located in downtown Belen in 1945 was Roy's Cafe, a restaurant where military and science personnel would go to grab a meal, since it had the necessary security clearance. Local legend suggests personnel escorting the atomic bomb, and perhaps the bomb itself, stopped at Roy's Cafe as they passed through town.

In 1950, William F. Beavers, owner of B&B Cafe on Becker Avenue, filed the first patent for a machine that sliced potatoes into waffle-like slices, vowing to help commercialize the now famed waffle fry in cafes across the United States. His patent was granted two years later for what he called a "slicing machine with stationary knife and reciprocating carrier" made "for the slicing of potatoes and like foods into attractive shapes." The waffle fries could be paired with Belen's own Hub City soda pop brewed and bottled locally by the Belen Bottling Co. The soda's trademark was "Pop with Personality."


Belen is located at (34.665587, -106.776225).[6] According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.7 square miles (12 km2), all land. The city lies in the Albuquerque Basin on the west bank of the Rio Grande.


This climate type occurs primarily on the periphery of the true deserts in low-latitude semiarid steppe regions.

Climate data for Belen, New Mexico
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 50.7
Average low °F (°C) 18.6
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.3
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 2 2 3 2 2 2 6 7 4 3 2 2 37
Source: NOAA[7]


The Heart of Belen, as it has become known, is Belen's central business district and downtown, located along Becker and Dalies avenues, stretching from the BNSF rail yard to Main Street. Downtown Belen features historic structures dating back to the early 20th century when the railroad came into town.

The Belen Hotel and Central Hotel, both located on Becker Avenue, are two-story structures built to accommodate railroaders and other rail guests in the early 1900s. Both were constructed of bricks made from the former Belen brickyard.[8] Today, the Belen Hotel has been converted into a private residence and private art gallery, while the Central Hotel is a winery and reception hall.

Next to the Central Hotel is the former E. Garcia Grocery, famed for its Eva's Chile products still sold in stores today, and across the street is Sugar Bowl Lanes, a 50s era bowling alley.

Old City Hall, also located on Becker Avenue, is a 1938 Works Progress Administration project, which housed the former Belen City Hall and fire department.[8] The two-story building was constructed of terron, a material similar to adobe.

The Belen Harvey House is located within feet of the BNSF rail yard. It is a two-story building opened in 1907, one year before completion of the Belen Cutoff, to provide room and board to railroaders and others passing through.[8] The original Belen rail depot is adjacent to the Harvey House grounds, owned by BNSF and used as office space for the railroad.

Of the more architecturally significant buildings, because of the engineering behind the architecture, is the Scholle building, located at the intersection of Main Street and Becker Avenue. The Scholle building, originally designed as a Swiss chalet, has more than eight miles of rail built into its walls.

The Oñate Theater, located on Dalies Avenue, was built in the early 20th century, showing many of the biggest marquee films. The theater is situated on the same block as three other historic buildings.


As of the census[10] of 2000, there were 6,901 people, 2,596 households, and 1,778 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,463.1 people per square mile (564.5/km²). There were 2,952 housing units at an average density of 625.9 per square mile (241.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 67.50% White, 1.07% African American, 1.65% Native American, 0.17% Asian, 0.16% Pacific Islander, 25.39% from other races, and 4.06% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 68.61% of the population.

There were 2,596 households out of which 34.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.3% were married couples living together, 17.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.5% were non-families. 26.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.61 and the average family size was 3.14.

In the city the population was spread out with 28.8% under the age of 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 25.5% from 25 to 44, 21.0% from 45 to 64, and 15.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 91.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $26,754, and the median income for a family was $30,765. Males had a median income of $26,551 versus $21,300 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,999. About 23.2% of families and 24.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 33.9% of those under age 18 and 18.2% of those age 65 or over.

Government and politics

Belen is governed by a mayor-council form of government, with a city manager. The governing body consists of an elected mayor and four elected councilors. The city also has an elected municipal judge. Belen has five appointed positions: city manager, police chief, fire chief, treasurer and clerk.


Annual festivals and other events

Belen is home to a number of annual cultural events, including the St. Patrick's Day Balloon Rallye on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day, the All-American Fourth of July around July 4, Rio Abajo Days on the last Saturday in September, and the Miracle on Main Street Festival and Electric Light Parade on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The Hispano Matanza, held annually in Belen on the last Saturday in January, is considered the world's largest matanza, a Spanish-style barbecue that can trace its origin back to the conquistadors. This New Mexico matanza tradition, hosted by the Hispano Chamber of Valencia County, involves slaughtering and cooking 45 pigs, then serving the free food, such as chicharrones, to more than 10,000 patrons. All of the proceeds are given as scholarships to local college students.

The Our Lady of Belen Fiestas, held annually in Belen during one weekend in mid-August, is an event that has been around for more than 220 years. The fiestas, or parties, draws thousands of people from across the state and country to Belen for religious observance, and to celebrate with a carnival, dancing and other fun. The fiestas is held around the time Valencia County's green chile is ready for harvest, making its way as a garnishing in the famed hamburger Belenites call the "Fiesta Burger."

Follow the Star is an annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and pays homage to the Christian heritage of Belen (Spanish for Bethlehem), held each December. The journey begins at Second St. and Becker Ave. in Belen’s historic downtown and proceeds to Sixth St. and Becker Ave., culminating in the lighting of the Star of Bethlehem on Belen's water tower. Along the path the Christmas story is told with live characters and music by sponsoring churches. People from all faiths and walks of life attend this free event.


Harvey House Museum

Belen has the only Harvey House Museum in New Mexico.

The Santa Fe railroad arrived in Belen in 1880, when Belen was just a small farming community. For the next 25 years, there was little train traffic through Belen, because the main rail line went west from Albuquerque. But in 1908 the railroad opened a new line that avoided the steep grades over Raton Pass. This new line was the Belen cut-off, and it routed many more trains through Belen. Belen began to bustle.

Rail passengers who stopped in Belen needed a place to get a good meal So in 1910 the railroad built a Harvey House restaurant right by the railroad tracks. It was the 86th restaurant in the chain, operated by Fred Harvey. It contained a large lunchroom, a more formal dining room, a newsstand, kitchen facilities, a bakery, and sleeping rooms upstairs for the Harvey Girls who served the meals.

That Harvey House is still standing today. Inside you can find hundreds of memorabilia pertaining to the Harvey House and the Santa Fe Railway, as well as exhibits on early local businesses and residents in Belen. The Harvey House Museum is one of the few places where you can learn about America’s first chain of restaurants.

The Belen Harvey House is the official railroad museum of the State of New Mexico and is a branch of the Belen Public Library.

The museum is located at 104 North First Street at the corner of First Street and Becker Avenue. To reach the museum take Main Street (Highway 314) to Becker Avenue in the Heart of Belen and go east to First Street. It is at the east end of Becker Avenue next to the BNSF railyard.

Parks and outdoor attractions

Belen has nine parks and is home to the Valencia County Fairgrounds.

The Valencia County Fairgrounds is situated along the I-25 Bypass on the northside of Belen. The fairgrounds includes two rodeo areas and the Sheriff's Posse, a restaurant and dance hall. Every August, the fairgrounds hosts the Valencia County Fair, coupled with the fair parade down Main Street.

Eagle Park is located near I-25 and Belen High School. It is Belen's multipurpose park, including several soccer fields, baseball fields, tennis courts, and an outdoor basketball court. Eagle Park also has a community center with a weight room, indoor basketball court, and a number of meeting rooms.

The historic Anna Becker Park, located in downtown Belen and named after the wife of Belen's most influential businessman, John Becker, was once a pond where residents ice skated in the winter.[8] The grassy park includes a sand volleyball pit, basketball court, and historic gazebo.

Doodlebug Park features a restored Doodlebug rail car. The Doodlebug is known in Belen for shuttling Belen residents to Albuquerque during the first part of the 20th century. The Doodlebug at Doodlebug Park was restored by the production crew from the movie The Last Stand, which was filmed near the park, at the request of Lions Gate and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who starred in the film.

Belen also has Sen. Willie M. Chavez State Park, which is nestled next to the Rio Grande along Highway 309. Willie Chavez Park has walking trails, picnic grounds, and during special events, is open for camping. It is the site of Belen's annual ham radio operator event, as well as a fishing derby that takes place at the acequia, or irrigation canal, that runs through the park.

Other parks include El Corazon de Belen Garden Park, Jose Gallegos Park, Rosedale Park, Ross Park, and Welcome Park.

Christmas in Belen

Because Belen means Bethlehem, every December the city unveils its Festival of Trees and Bugg Lights at the Harvey House. The Bugg Lights, a massive display of Christmas-themed decorations and lights, were made famous by the Bugg family of Albuquerque, who used to display the decorations at their home in Albuquerque.

Starting with the Miracle on Main Street Electric Light Parade, Belen transforms into Bethlehem. Christmas plays and pageants are held throughout local churches and auditoriums. Downtown, the city lights a star on the city's water tower as part of the Follow the Star event.


Belen is home to the Valencia County News-Bulletin, a weekly news publication covering all of Valencia County.

Eagle 98 FM is also located in Belen. The radio station plays oldies and other music throughout Valencia County.


Public schools

Belen is within the Belen Consolidated Schools district, which includes one high school, one middle school and seven elementary schools. Belen Consolidated Schools also has an alternative high school and a family school for homeschooled students.

Private schools

Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church runs the private St. Mary's Catholic School, and Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley runs the private Calvary Chapel Academy Christian School.

Community college

Belen residents are serviced by the University of New Mexico Valencia Campus in Tome and the University of New Mexico's main campus in Albuquerque.



Belen's western boundary is Interstate 25. Belen is intersected by New Mexico Highway 314 and Highway 309.


Belen has Valencia County's only public airport. Belen Alexander Municipal Airport is a regional general aviation airport. It primarily serves general aviation activity, including business activity from jet and multi-engine aircraft. Belen Alexander Municipal Airport is used by flight instructors, skydivers, crop dusters and recreational pilots, among others. A number of aviation-related businesses are located at the airport.


Belen train station

Belen is intersected by the rails of the BNSF Railway, which has both east-west and north-south routes through the city. The New Mexico Rail Runner Express also has a commuter rail station at the north end of the BNSF rail yard, shuttling residents and tourists to and from Belen on a daily basis and connecting with Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Bicycle Routes

New Mexico Bike Route 1 follows Reinken Avenue through Belen. The route connects Belen with Bernardo, which is south of Belen.

Notable people

  • Art "Golden Boy" Aragon, a professional Mexican-American boxer and Hollywood actor, was born in Belen
  • Bartolomé Baca, the fourth Mexican governor of the territory of New Mexico, was born in Belen
  • Elfego Baca, a wild west gunman and lawman, lived in Belen
  • Joe Baca, a former U.S. representative in California, was born and raised in Belen
  • Tara Calico, disappeared from Belen on September 20, 1988
  • Gloria Castillo, an Hollywood actress, was born in Belen
  • Dennis Chavez, the late U.S. senator, lived and worked as a newspaper editor in Belen
  • Tibo J. Chavez, the lieutenant governor of New Mexico from 1951 to 1955, lived at the Chavez Estate in Belen
  • Judy Chicago, a renowned American feminist artist, lives in Belen
  • Damon Gray, a Billboard Top 100 country singer, was born in Belen
  • Arthur C. Goebel, the son of a Belen merchant and a stunt pilot, was the first civilian to fly nonstop from California to Hawaii in 1927
  • Bobby Keys, a saxophone player for The Rolling Stones and other famous musicians, was raised in Belen
  • Casey Luna, the lieutenant governor of New Mexico from 1991 to 1995, is a businessman from Belen
  • Mike Nesbitt, a former punter for the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings, is from Belen
  • Emilio Vallez, a tight end for the Chicago Bears drafted in 1968, is from Belen

References in popular culture


At least 20 movies and a mini-series have been filmed in Belen:

In the 1971 movie Bunny O'Hare, Belen appears in two scenes. In the first, Belen is referred to as Los Lunas, which is a neighboring town to the north, including a bank robbery scene in Belen showing the name "Bank of New Mexico: Los Lunas Branch." In the second, Belen is referred to as Belen when "Eagle Bank" is robbed across the street from the "Bank of New Mexico: Belen Branch."

For the 1994 movie The Cowboy Way, the Valencia County Sheriff's Posse Rodeo Arena in Belen was where Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland learned to rope before filming the movie. In the movie, Woody Harrelson's character, Pepper, is announced as a roper from Belen.

In the 2007 mini-series The Lost Room, Belen stands in for Washington, DC.

In the 2008 movie Living Hell, Belen is referred to as "Bennell."

In the 2008 movie Swing Vote, Belen's name is changed to "Texico."

In the 2013 movie The Last Stand, Belen's name is changed to "Summerton Junction" and is set in Arizona, not New Mexico.

In the 2013 movie As Cool As I Am, Belen is the name of the small town where the movie is set, featuring Belen's water tower with the name "Belen" on it.

In the 2014 movie Transcendence, Belen is called "Brightwood"—and nicknamed "Blightwood" by locals who graffiti the town's signs.

In the 2014 movie Two Men in Town, several locations in Belen stand in for Deming, NM.

In the 2015 movie Sun Belt Express, Belen stands in for Tucson, AZ, and Mexican border areas.


At least 3 television shows have been filmed in Belen:


At least two fiction novels have been written about Belen or involve Belen in their plot:

  • The Belen Hitch by Pari Noskin Taichert (2006)
  • So Far from God by Ana Castillo (1993)


  1. ^ a b "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Andrew Hayes (1943). 150th Anniversary of the Founding of the Parish of Our Lady of Belen (1st ed.). Belen, New Mexico: Our Lady of Belen. 
  3. ^ Lil and Carter Waid (1965). "Belen: The Hub City" 43 (4 ed.). Santa Fe, New Mexico: New Mexico Department of Development. 
  4. ^ Baldwin G. Burr (2013). Belen (1st ed.). Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. 
  5. ^ William J. Horvat (1966). Above the Pacific. Aero Publishers. 
  6. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990".  
  7. ^ "".  
  8. ^ a b c d Margaret Espinoza McDonald and Richard Melzer (2002). Valencia County, New Mexico: History Through the Photographer's Lens (1st ed.). Virginia Beach, Virginia: The Donning Company Publishers. 
  9. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  10. ^ "American FactFinder".  

External links

  • City of Belen
  • Belen Consolidated Schools
  • Valencia County News-Bulletin
  • University of New Mexico Valencia Campus
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