In this undated photograph provided by the Historical Center for Southeast New Mexico Museum and Museum Archives, prominent area businessmen pose for a picture inside the old Roswell Wool Warehouse. (Courtesy Photo)
Emily Russo Miller
Record Staff Writer
Some say it is not without a little sadness that the original Roswell Wool building is being torn down this week, as it is one of the last remaining vestiges of the once booming wool warehouse district in historic Roswell and a symbol of the state’s largely bygone sheep industry.
One previous owner of the building, Kimble Hibbard, is striving to preserve the building’s history by asking county commissioners to place a memorial plaque in the corner of the parking lot across from the Chaves County Courthouse at the site of the almost-demolished landmark.
“It was the first wool warehouse in the state of New Mexico,” Hibbard, now a real estate agent with Prudential, said in a recent interview at his office. He pointed to a black-and-white photograph of several men driving wool wagons pulled by mules in downtown Roswell in 1912 hanging on his wall. “They’re going to that warehouse that we tore down this week,” he said.
Local agribusinessman-turned-attorney Harold Hurd, father of Roswell artist Peter Hurd, founded the warehouse in 1905 and began operating it under the name Roswell Wool and Hide Company with co-founder Clark A. Baker. It was one of four wool warehouses in Roswell in the early 1900s that were situated along the railroad tracks around Virginia Avenue and Third and Fourth streets that made up the wool warehouse district. Since the state was rampant with millions of sheep at the time, wool marketing and sheep trading businesses were extremely profitably at the time.
Under Hurd’s leadership, the company shipped wool, hides and pelts, and acted as both wholesaler and retailer of grain, hay and coal, according to Elvis Fleming, chief archivist of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico. It was also an agent for the Pabst, Schlitz and Anheuser-Busch brewing companies, Fleming wrote in his book “Treasures of History IV: Historical events of Chaves County, New Mexico.”
Hurd and Baker operated their business for about nine years before selling it in 1914. The warehouse has had several owners and different names over the years, including the Bond Baker Company and Roswell Wool and Mohair Company.
In 1973, the now-defunct Wool Growers Central Storage Company, based in San Angelo, Texas, bought the building and hired Hibbard, a former wool buyer with Caron International Spinning Company in Rochelle, Ill., to operate it. Hibbard later bought the building with his father George K. Hibbard Sr. in 1976 and changed its name to The Wool Warehouse Company.
Hibbard recalls many fond memories of the warehouse, which still had its original yellow pine tree flooring, he said.
“I remember when I was a kid going in there on Christmas, and my father would have our brand new bicycles stored back there in the back,” he said. “We’d go in there and try to find them, and we couldn’t find them because they were all buried in the big stacks of wool.”
At its peak, The Wool Warehouse Company had about six to eight employees, who handled about 21⁄2 million to 3 million pounds of wool a year, he said. But eventually he had to sell the business.
“There wasn’t enough volume involved to keep it profitable. There’s actually not enough sheep here left in New Mexico,” he said, adding that sheep populations in the state have dwindled because coyotes preyed on them after the EPA banned the use of the popular predacide Sodium fluoroacetateis, more commonly called 1080, in 1972. Sodium fluoroacetateis was used to kill coyotes, but it was criticized by some as an inhumane poison.
As a result, “The sheep numbers starting declining because the coyotes number started increasing,” Hibbard said.
Mike Corn and his brother, the Marley brothers and Dale Rogers bought the building from Hibbard in 1992, together with another wool warehouse directly across the street from it that was built in 1954. The second building, Roswell Wool Co., which is the largest wool warehouse in the U.S. in terms of volume, is one of the few remaining wool houses in the country. The new owners merged the two businesses into one, and sold the original warehouse to Chaves County in 1998.
The county just recently decided to tear the building down, citing safety concerns and a structurally unsound building with a crumbling foundation. Demolition began on Monday.
The old warehouse is now bits of brick and dust on the ground, but Hibbard hopes the people of Roswell will remember its historical significance.
“It gives me a little bit of sadness to see it go because it’s been there forever,” he said. “There’s so much to tell about this old place, and there’s so much history behind that particular piece of property.”