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Española is a city primarily in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States. A portion of the central and eastern section of the city is in Santa Fe County. Founded as a railroad village some distance from the old Indian town of San Juan de los Caballeros (now renamed Ohkay Owingeh), it was named Española and officially incorporated in 1925. It has been called the first capital city in the United States. At the time of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 10,495. Española is within the Albuquerque–Santa Fe–Las Vegas combined statistical area.

Española was referred to as La Vega de los Vigiles (‘the Vigils’ Meadow’) before the presence of railroads. La Española means ‘Spanish woman’, and folk history attributes the name to railroad construction workers who named the area after a woman who worked in a small restaurant in the area. In fact the name is a shortened form of Plaza Española (‘Spanish town’), which likely was to differentiate it from the Tewa pueblo just to the south.

Tewa people have lived in the area since the 13th century. They built towns in the area, now called ‘pueblos’, four of which still exist: Ohkay Owingeh, Pojoaque, Santa Clara and San Ildefonso.

The upper reaches of the Rio Grande region were explored by the Spanish in 1540. Don Juan de Oñate was the first to bring settlers here in 1598. His group stayed at Ohkay Owingeh for a time (calling the Tewa town San Juan de los Caballeros), before settling in an abandoned Tewa village which he renamed San Gabriel. San Gabriel, close to modern Española, can thus be seen as the first capital city founded by people of European racial descent in what is now the United States.

Oñate arrived in the Española area on July 11, 1598, at the confluence of the Chama River and the Rio Grande, where he established a camp at a place then called Yunque-Yunque.

Almost a century later, near the same region, Don Diego de Vargas established his villa at Santa Cruz.

Prior to the arrival from Antonito, Colorado of the narrow gauge Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1880, the hamlet on the west-side of the Rio Grande was known as La Vega de los Vigiles in reference to the Vigil family who initially settled that area. The earliest document found indicates that La Vegas de los Vigiles had been populated by 1751, over 100 years before the railroad’s arrival. With the coming of the railroad the name of the hamlet was changed to Española. Until 1886, when it was extended to Santa Fe, Española was the terminus of the line. The Española station included an engine facility along with a roundhouse and turntable so it could service the locomotives. The facilities were built but torn down or no longer in use after six years; plans for the town had changed. Later popularly known as the “Chili Line”, this was part of an ambitious but unsuccessful proposal to connect Denver with Mexico City.

The route extended into what today is the downtown Española area, and the railroad began selling lots in the area. Anglo merchants, mountain men, and settlers slowly filtered into Española. Frank Bond and his brother George, who were Canadian emigrants, would later arrive in the city. Together they established the state’s largest mercantile and a multi–million dollar wool empire. With them came economic growth and prominence. Española was the headquarters for all the Bond family interests which included over 12 businesses across New Mexico.

Frank R. Frankenburger, a business man born in Fort Scott, Kansas, was the first “elected” mayor; he was elected in 1923. The first mayor who was chosen in “popularity” was Frank Bond, in 1907. In 1925 Española was incorporated as a city. As the population rose, there was a high demand for public education in the city. Española High School was established; it would be the largest school in the area for decades. The first high school in the area, however, was Santa Cruz High School. Two miles away from downtown Española, it opened in 1906 in the historic Santa Cruz area. Neither high school operates after a merger of school districts in 1975.

The importance of the railroad began to lessen as minimal passenger traffic and low shipments forced the railroad to close in 1941, with the tracks removed the following year. Many locals would become unemployed and would follow the railroad to Santa Fe, Albuquerque and central Colorado for jobs. Española’s population would fall dramatically and many homes in the downtown became abandoned. Most of the locals who remained would turn to farming as a way of life. Many people saw Española as another failed railroad town. The city removed the railroad tracks and the train depot in the 1960s, and the railroads completely vanished.

With the beginnings of Manhattan Project in nearby Los Alamos, many locals eventually found jobs at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). As much as nearly 9% of Española’s population have been employed at LANL.

In the 1980s, many historical buildings and homes of historical significance were torn down for urban renewal. Española followed many other New Mexico cities in this trend, but in Española, it failed. More modern business began to move into town, but the growth of Española had now expanded east across the Rio Grande. Although several buildings of historical significance remain in downtown Española, many are unused or abandoned. Strip malls became visible in Española, the first being the ‘Big Rock shopping center’, founded by oil tycoon Roy Honstein.

In the 1990s, a controversial plan to build a “plaza” and mission church where many historic buildings once stood was up for consideration. The city agreed to the plan, and locals supported the plaza. Although a plaza never existed in Española before the railroads, it was built to pay tribute to the Spanish culture in the area.

On September 18, 2008, Barack Obama, then a candidate for president, visited Española for a rally at the city’s New Plaza in the Main Street district.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 21.9 square kilometers (8.5 sq mi), with 21.7 square kilometers (8.4 sq mi) land and 0.2 square kilometers (0.077 sq mi) water, for a total of 0.83%.

Española lies at an elevation of around 5,595 feet (1,705 m) with much variance. It is in a valley nestled between the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges, and the meeting point of three rivers, the Rio Grande, the Rio Chama, and the Rio Santa Cruz.

Española has a borderline cool semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk)/cool desert climate (BWk). The main Española weather station is hotter and drier than nearby cities due to relatively lower altitude, lying over 1,300 feet or 400 metres lower than Taos or county seat Tierra Amarilla.

July is the hottest month, with an average high of 91 °F or 32.8 °C. The highest recorded temperature was 107 °F or 41.7 °C in 2003. The average coolest month is January at 45 °F or 7.2 °C. The lowest recorded temperature was −38 °F or −38.9 °C in 1971. The maximum average precipitation occurs in August with an average of 1.90 inches (48 mm).

According to the 2011 annual report by the American Lung Association, the Santa Fe–Española CSA (metropolitan area) has the cleanest ozone layer in the country (ranked #1), cleanest area in the country for 24-hour particle pollution (ranked #1) and cleanest area in the country for annual particle pollution (ranked #2).

At the census of 2000, there were 9,688 people, 5,751 households, and 4,569 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,155.4 inhabitants per square mile (446.1/km2). There were 5,107 housing units at an average density of 189.2/square kilometer (489.8/square mile). The racial makeup of the city was 67.55% White, 0.58% African American, 2.86% Native American, 0.14% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 25.56% from other races, and 3.25% from two or more races. 84.38% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 5,751 households, of which 35.6% had children under the age of eighteen living with them, 42.5% were married couples living together, 18.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.5% were non-families. 26.2% of all households were made up of single individuals, and 9.7% had someone living alone who was sixty-five years of age or older. The average household size was 2.56 and the average family size was 3.08.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 27.8% under the age of 18, 9.7% from 18 to 24, 28.1% from 25 to 44, 22.1% from 45 to 64, and 12.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was thirty-four years. For every 100 females there were 95.3 males. For every 100 females aged eighteen and over, there were 94.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $27,144, and the median income for a family was $32,255. Males had a median income of $25,558 versus $23,177 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,303. 21.6% of the population and 16.5% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 28.4% of those under the age of eighteen and 15.1% of those sixty-five and older were living below the poverty line.

As of the census of 2010, there were 10,224 residing in the city.

The racial makeup of the city was:

The Los Alamos National Laboratory is the largest employer in Española; it accounts for over 12% employment of residents. The education sector is the second largest employer, the Española Public Schools is the 16th largest school district in New Mexico. Recently, Northern New Mexico College has expanded its degree programs and made massive improvements to its campus, adding a new library and a new School of Education. Larger local businesses include Akal Securities Inc, a security company that employees over 500 people.

Española has seen much commercial development on Riverside Drive, the city’s secondary main road. Retail and eatery chains such as Lowe’s, Chili’s and GameStop are anchors of a shopping square located next to Wal-Mart which came into the city in 1999. CVS/Pharmacy and Petsense also added locations in Española.

The fountain at Plaza de Española was designed as a replica of the Alhambra. The plaza is home to the Convent Mission, administered by the Episcopal Church.

Satview Broadband, headquartered in Reno, is the local cable television company. Due to a legal dispute with Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative, Satview Broadband has suspended services in Española as of March 2016. The city is served by several satellite TV services and is served by Windstream Communications for telecom and broadband service.

Española’s restaurants and convenience stores are popular with travelers between Santa Fe and northern communities, as well as with local people. The local fiestas are held in the summer to commemorate the Spanish colonization and introduction of Christian faith to the area. The fiestas include live New Mexico and/or country music, vendors and parades.

There are many locations near Española that provide for outdoor activity such as hiking, biking, and river sports like rafting and kayaking. Nearby winter sports include skiing (downhill and cross-country) and snowboarding.

The city of Española is run by a mayor–council government system under Strong-mayor form. The mayor and eight-member city councilors from their respected districts are elected to a four-year term, elections are constant every two years, with no term limits. The mayor appoints a city manager who supervises department heads, prepares the budget, and coordinates departments.

Every two years during the organizational meeting, one council member is elected by a majority in the council to serve as mayor pro–tem, usually a member from the party that is in control of the council.

*Denotes Resignation

The City of Española is a part of the Española Public Schools district, with six of its 14 schools being located within the city.

There is a Bureau of Indian Education (BIE)-affiliated tribal elementary school, Kha’p’o Community School, that has an Espanola address, though the school is actually in Santa Clara Pueblo.

Española Public Library is located inside the Richard Lucero Center at 313 North Paseo De Oñate. Its collection is about 50,000 items.

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