Las Cruces, also known as "The City of the Crosses", is the county seat of Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States. As of 2013 the population is 101,324 making it the second largest city in the state, after Albuquerque. Las Cruces is the largest city in both Doña Ana County and southern New Mexico. It is the principal city of a metropolitan statistical area which encompasses all of Doña Ana County and is part of the larger El Paso–Las Cruces combined statistical area.
Las Cruces is the economic and geographic center of the fertile Mesilla Valley, which is the agricultural region on the flood plain of the Rio Grande which extends from Hatch to the west side of El Paso, Texas. Las Cruces is also the home of New Mexico State University (NMSU), New Mexico's only land grant university. The city's major employer is the federal government on nearby White Sands Test Facility and White Sands Missile Range. The Organ Mountains, to the east, are dominant in the city's landscape, along with the Doña Ana Mountains, Robledo Mountains, and Picacho Peak. Las Cruces lies south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, northwest of El Paso, Texas and north of the Mexican border.
Spaceport America, which lies north of Las Cruces, has seen the completion of several successful manned, suborbital flights. The city is also the headquarters for Virgin Galactic, the world's first company to offer sub-orbital spaceflights.
The area where Las Cruces rose was previously inhabited by the Manso people, with the Mescalero Apache living nearby. The area was later colonized by the Spanish beginning in 1598, when Juan de Oñate claimed all territory north of the Rio Grande for New Spain and later became the first governor of the Spanish territory of New Mexico.
The area remained under New Spain’s control until September 28, 1821 when the first Mexican Empire claimed ownership. The area was also claimed by the Republic of Texas during this time until the end of the Mexican–American War in 1846–48. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 established the United States as owner of this territory and Las Cruces was founded in 1849 when the US Army laid out the town plans.
Mesilla became the leading settlement of the area, with more than 2,000 residents in 1860, more than twice what Las Cruces had. When the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway reached the area, the landowners of Mesilla refused to sell it the rights-of-way, and instead residents of Las Cruces donated the rights-of-way and land for a depot in Las Cruces. The first train reached Las Cruces in 1881. Las Cruces was not affected as strongly by the train as some other villages, as it was not a terminus or a crossroads, but the population did grow to 2,300 in the 1880s. Las Cruces was incorporated as a town in 1907.
Growth of Las Cruces has been attributed to the university, government jobs and recent retirees. New Mexico State University was founded in 1888. And it has grown as Las Cruces has grown. The establishment of White Sands Missile Range in 1944 and White Sands Test Facility in 1963 has been integral to population growth. Las Cruces is the nearest city to each, and they provide Las Cruces' work force many high-paying, stable, government jobs. In recent years, the influx of retirees from out of state has also increased Las Cruces’ population.
In the 1960s Las Cruces undertook a large urban renewal project, intended to convert the old downtown into a modern city center. As part of this, St. Genevieve's Catholic Church, built in 1859, was razed to make way for a Downtown Pedestrian Mall. The original covered walkways are now being removed in favor of a more traditional main street thoroughfare.
The exact origin of the city's name is unknown. It is told that it was named after three crosses on a hillside marking the graves of bandits, echoing an old tale of the valley of the 'Los Hermanos'. In Spanish "Las Cruces" means "the crosses." (Some have claimed an alternative meaning of "the crossroads" but this is grammatically implausible, as "cruce", the singular form of crossroad, is masculine and the phrase would be "Los Cruces".)