TORNILLO, TEXAS. Tornillo is on State Highway 20 and the Southern Pacific Railroad thirty-five miles south of El Paso in southeastern El Paso County. The Rio Grande boundary with Mexico runs two miles to the south, and Interstate Highway 10 is two miles to the north. A paved, county access road connects Tornillo with the Interstate. The town was platted in 1909 by the Tornillo Townsite Company, a group of El Paso business men speculating on the development of valley lands into an irrigated agricultural area, motivated by the United States Reclamation's proposal to build a dam and reservoir on the Rio Grande above El Paso. Tornillo opened a post office in 1909. The name is the name of a member of the mesquite family, which was hauled from the site to El Paso for firewood. After the completion of the Elephant Butte Dam and Reservoir in 1916, the lands below the Hatch and Mesilla valleys of New Mexico and all valley land in El Paso County was organized as the Rio Grande Irrigation Project. Tornillo farm land was the last in the El Paso valley to be approved under the project. It became the center of a rich agricultural district. The first large-scale cotton production began in 1918. Growers planted a 600-acre field and set up a two-stand cotton gin. In 1990 cotton was still the main crop, and the largest cotton gin in the state operated at Tornillo. It ginned 90 percent of the cotton grown in the El Paso valley. To commemorate Tornillo's role in the growth and development of the cotton industry, a historical marker, approved by the Texas Historical Commission, stands on Highway 20 in mid-town Tornillo. Since 1970 a close second to cotton production is that of pecans. Other crops produced on a much smaller scale include chile, alfalfa, feed grains, and onions. The Tornillo school system has been an independent district since 1960. Santa Rita Catholic Mission, organized in 1966, was the only church in town in 1991. Santa Rita maintained its sanctuary, a recreational area, and Rivas Hall, which served as a community center for local civic and social activities. By 1991 the business section of Tornillo had decreased due to easy access to the freeway. Because local residents commute elsewhere to work, the population of the town has managed to remain almost constant since it dropped from a high of 280 in 1931 to a brief low of 100 in 1933. It rose to 250 in 1935. From 1968 to 1990 Tornillo had a population recorded as 241; it had one rated business in 1990. By 2000 the population reached 1,609.
Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953). Frances Segulia, Moments in Time: A History of the Tornillo Community and Its People (Tornillo, Texas: Cayote, 1981).