The town of Belen (now in Valencia County) is one of the oldest in New Mexico having been founded around 1740 by Spanish colonists. It is far from being the actual oldest behind Acoma and Taos Pueblo from around 1000, Zuni from around 1450, Santa Fe from 1607 and Albuquerque from 1706. Its original name was Nuestra Señora de Belén, which is translated Our Lady of Bethlehem and was originally founded under a Spanish land grant.
The main water source for early agriculture was the Rio Grande, which led to conflicts between Belen and nearby settlements. It has a rich Roman Catholic history as do many New Mexico towns, as its churches were some of the earliest buildings and many have endured. The first two Catholic churches of Belen were built too close to the river but a new building, Our Lady of Belen, was completed and blessed in November 1860 by Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, also noted for the building of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe. A brand new chapel bell was purchased in Cincinnati, Ohio and brought by wagon to Belen down the old Santa Fe Trail.
A German immigrant was named John Becker was Belen’s first postmaster shortly after the Civil War. Prior to that, the mail was delivered from Los Lunas. Becker was the proprietor of an early mercantile store and Becker Avenue was named for him. The town was officially established in the 1880s. Rail service reached Belen in 1907, connecting the community via the old Santa Fe Railroad with Amarillo to the east. The so called Belen cutoff helped trains avoid the steep inclines of Raton Pass and became a major part of rail activity in the state.
Belen is served by the Belen ISD. Its mascot is the Eagle and its students compete in all major sports. Its wrestling team has won 6 consecutive state titles. In football, the championship has eluded them although they are usually in the playoff picture. In recent years Belen has reached the final game under Coach John Lerma. In 2009, they were 12-2 losing 28-21 to Goddard and in 2014, they were 11-1 losing 49-21 to Artesia. The head coach as of 2016 is Greg Hennington, who formerly was Offensive Coordinator at Mayfield, having served in that capacity under longtime head coach Jim Bradley.
Other notable people with connections to Belen include athletes Emelio Vallez, Mike Nesbitt and others, political figures Bartolomé Baca, Joe Baca, Dennis Chavez, Tobo Chavez and Casey Luna and gunfighter/lawman Elfego Baca. In the age of aviation records, Arthur C. Goebel won a race from the mainland to Hawaii in 1927 by being the first person to fly nonstop between the two locations.