Highway Development Through Socorro County

By: Paul Harden
Note: this information was shared with a constituent researching a family member's prison escape from a road crew in 1918 on 'Socorro Road'.

In 1918, there was no standardization on how highways were named and those tended to change from state-to-state and year-to-year. Prior to 1926, the names are a bit of a mess. The Federal Highway Commission was formed in 1923 to straightened out the national mess, which started the numbering system of U.S. Highways, and encouraged the same at the state level.

Prior to 1926, most highways were known by names, such as the "Lincoln Highway," "Pikes Peak Highway," "Ocean to Ocean Highway" (which went through Socorro), etc. It was a push to form the first highway to run coast to coast and fights as to the routing (i.e., through Denver, Santa Fe, etc.). The first true coast-to-coast highway ended up coming from Norfolk, Va to Los Angeles via Amarillo, TX, Socorro, NM, and on to Los Angeles. It was called the "Ocean to Ocean Highway," (O2O) completed in 1911, and on to Los Angeles. Of interest, the reason it came through Socorro is because there were no bridges spanning the Rio Grande. The County of Socorro decided to build a bridge across the Rio Grande north of Socorro to beat Albuquerque, which is today's Escondida Lake bridge.

That was the first auto bridge across the Rio Grande and lured the highway through Socorro and away from Albuquerque. In those days, the O2O came down Johnson Hill to Pueblito, and across the new County bridge. In 1926, the O2O was designated U.S. 60 and rerouted over Abo Pass (the designation it still holds).

At the same 1910-12 period, there was a push to build a highway from Mexico to Canada. El Camino Real was chosen to be this highway from El Paso to Santa Fe, then the Santa Fe trail to Raton, then to Denver, Cheyenne, and the Canadian border. In New Mexico, this was known as the "Camino Real Highway." There are a few references to the "Socorro Highway," being the segment from Albuquerque to Socorro. I am assuming this is the "Socorro Road," though I have never seen a reference quite to that exact name. In 1926, this highway was redesignated to U.S. 85, and in 1964, replaced by Interstate I-25. The old U.S. 85 is now NM-1 through Socorro County.

There are references of portions of El Camino Real Highway being built by prison labor, primarily due to the efforts of the Superintendent of Penitentiaries at the time, Holm Bursum. Documentation indicates prison labor was used on the road from Socorro north to the Rio Puerco, and the east side highway to La Joya; also south of Socorro to San Marcial. Prison labor was not used on the U.S. Highways in NM as far as I know.

Therefore, it is assumed the reference, in the escape documentation, to the "Socorro Road" in 1918 was the post WWI rebuild of the Camino Real Highway, through Socorro, NM. Around this same time, the name also slowly shifted to the "El Paso-Santa Fe" highway, eventually to be designated U.S. 85 in 1926.