District One — Old Town: The first flat-roofed, log and adobe houses stood side-by-side, one room deep around the Plaza, forming a defensive enclosure into which livestock could be herded in case of attack.
This new self-sufficient farming village stood on the Santa Fe Trail and was the first New Mexican settlement encountered by supply trains coming from the United States. The Trail meant jobs and commerce, and Las Vegas grew to over a thousand people by 1860. During the next twenty years its population quadrupled as it became a major trade center with businesses as well as residences lining the Plaza.
In 1879 the railroad arrived a mile east of the Plaza. Though a new town district was established with a competing commercial district, the entire city’s position as a mercantile center was solidified because it was the first large town in New Mexico to be reached by the railroad. At its peak, Las Vegas’ trade area expanded into western Texas.
The Plaza began to change. A windmill, erected there in 1876, served briefly as a vigilante gallows. [read more about lynchings and hangings here] This sign of frontier justice was replaced in 1880 by a bandstand encircled by trees and a picket fence. Today’s Plaza, with its gazebo under a canopy of mature trees, reflects efforts of Las Vegas’ first historic preservation movement led by Rheua Pearce and Johnny Villegas in the 1960s.