'Farmington Before the Boom' author will speak at San Juan County Historical Society meeting

Connie Nordstrom looks back at town in World War II era

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Author Connie Nordstrom displays a copy of her new book "I Remember Farmington Before the Boom" in front of the San Juan County Historical Society office in Aztec.
  • Nordstrom will talk about her book during the San Juan County Historical Society meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11 at the Farmington Civic Center.
  • Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the meeting.
  • They also can be purchased at the historical society office at 201 N. Main Ave. in Aztec, the gift shop at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park and at Amy's Bookcase in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Of all the recollections and material she gathered for her new book, author Connie Nordstrom points to a single photograph that illustrates the nature of how much Farmington has changed since the 1940s.

The image focuses on a house from that era in the 300 block of North Orchard Avenue, a little more than a stone's throw from downtown and near what is today St. John's Episcopal Church. Nordstrom notes with amazement that what is today a densely populated urban neighborhood was then an empty landscape, other than that single home — no buildings, no trees, nothing.

"The town was empty," Nordstrom said, describing how before the oil and gas boom started in Farmington in 1949, its development came to a halt at Apache Street — four blocks north of Main Street. All its schools were confined to Wall Avenue on the east side of downtown, and Main Street was its only paved road, she said.

For those who have never known a Farmington that didn't feature miles and miles of sprawl in every direction, that idea of the city once existing as a postage stamp-size community may be more than a little hard to imagine.

Author Connie Nordstrom will discuss her new book "I Remember Farmington Before the Boom" during the San Juan County Historical Society meeting this week.

But that is exactly the picture Nordstrom paints in her book "I Remember Farmington Before the Boom: Oral Interviews with Jim Easley, Eileen Gerding, Marilu Waybourn, Pat Wood and Zang Wood." Nordstrom will talk about her book during the San Juan County Historical Society meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11 at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.

Nordstrom said the energy development boom that transformed Farmington began in 1949, but the impact was not immediate. She cited U.S. Census Bureau figures to support that contention.

In 1940, she said, the town's population was 2,161 people. By 1950, it had grown to 3,637 — not quite double what it was 10 years later, although it was certainly an impressive increase.

But by 1960, there was no mistaking Farmington's boomtown status, she said. The population that year registered 23,786 folks — more than 10 times what it had been only 20 years earlier.

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"It had changed irrevocably," she said of the city.

Nordstrom was not born a Farmington, but she has lived in the area for decades and insists her love for the city runs deep — so much so that she considers it her adopted hometown. The idea of writing a book about the preboom Farmington came to her a couple of years ago during a fundraising dinner at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park during a conversation with several other couples.

Nordstrom, who said she spent a year and a half researching and writing the book, tried to put the project aside at least once. But in January, she was asked by Catherine Davis of the historical society if she could have it finished by April, as her organization was interested in publishing it.

That gave her the motivation to finish the book, Nordstrom said.

Eileen Hutchinson Gerding is pictured riding her scooter in Farmington in July 1946 in an image from the book "I Remember Farmington Before the Boom."

"I finally got serious and got my facts in order," she said.

"I Remember Farmington Before the Boom" runs fewer than 50 pages and contains numerous photographs, making it a relatively short and quick book to consume. Nordstrom said she avoided putting together a dry, factual account of what the town was like in the 1940s and instead compiled a story that relies on the personal recollections of her five interview subjects, all of whom were young people here in the World War II era.

"It's an easy read," she said. "It's a delightful read. It's a fun history."

Nordstrom said the most striking thing she learned from writing the book was how closely connected the people she interviewed were and remain to this day. In the Farmington of the 1940s, it seems, everybody knew everybody, and those bonds appear to have survived the tests of time and growth, she said.

This is Nordstrom's third book, with each of them covering some aspect of local history. Her first project was an account of historical quilts, while her second was a biography of her late husband, the physician and canyon guide Frank Nordstrom. She keeps promising herself she won't get involved in another book project, but then another subject captures her fancy, and away she goes.

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Ultimately, Nordstom said, she just has a weakness for a good story.

"I think people like talking about themselves," she said. "And I'm a good listener."

The historical society meeting is free and open to the public. Anyone who has not been vaccinated or with health complications is asked to wear a mask.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the meeting. They also can be purchased at the historical society office at 201 N. Main Ave. in Aztec, the gift shop at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park and at Amy's Bookcase in Farmington. Call Patty Tharp at the historical society at 202-538-2102 for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.