Two Spaniards, Captain Don Diego Torres and Antonio Salazar, founded Belen in 1740.
They named it Nuestra Senora de Belen, the Spanish words for Our Lady of Bethlehem, in honor of the biblical Virgin Mary. In years later, the name was shortened to simply Belen, or Spanish for Bethlehem.
The 40 families who founded Belen as a land grant nearly 300 years ago began their community based on agriculture. By the 19th century, Belen’s economy expanded into sheep herding. The town began to grow. After New Mexico became a territory of the United States in 1846, immigrants began arriving in the community, and with it, the Belen area developed into a mercantile center with a trade base extending west to the Arizona line and east to the Estancia Valley.
The arrival of the railroad in 1880 eventually brought an expansion of mercantile shops and new service-oriented businesses, including restaurants and hotels. The railroad centralized itself in the city, building a roundhouse, ice plant, and rail yards containing miles of track and a depot. to this day, the railroad continues to be among Belen's most important industries.
In 1918, only six years after New Mexico became a state, Belen officially became a municipal village. The first village ordinance was passed on July 1, 1919, to provide for methods of enacting ordinances to help serve and protect the city. Belen became a town in 1940 and then a city in 1966.
Today, Belen boasts a strong retail and service sector, hotels, restaurants, friendly residents, and historic sites to visit and enjoy.
Belen’s friendliness comes from being a well-established community that welcomes everyone. Many people have strong roots in the area and those people embrace everyone, especially folks who love the Rio Grande valley and make it their home. The old-fashioned values in a small town like Belen bring citizens together to support their community and each other. The sense of community has been strong for centuries and will continue to be strong because of its citizens.
The City of Belen has prepared for growth within its community, having among the best transportation infrastructure in central New Mexico, especially in roads, rail and air. Along with its rail yard and rail spurs, Belen has easy access to I-25 and I-40, plus the only public airport in Valencia County.