Willard is a small village located near the geological heart of New Mexico. It grew at the crossroads of the East-West Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway and the North-South spur that serviced the thriving dry land farming agricultural economy in the Estancia Water Basin. Willard is named for Willard Samuel Jr., the son of Railroad promoter Willard Samuel Hopewell. At its heyday, Willard boasted four banks and six mercantile stores. In 1929, Inland Utilities built a power plant in Willard to furnish electricity to Willard, Mountainair and Estancia.
Geologically, Willard is located at a low spot of what was once was a large lake, 40 miles long and 23 miles wide some 12,000 to 24,000 years ago. Willard was once covered by 100 feet of water that has long since evaporated. Since the basin has no outlets, excess water that flowed into the Estancia Basin surfaced in the prominent salt lakes north and east of Willard where evaporation left concentrated salt.
This salt supported thriving American Indian trade communities of Tiwa and Tompiro speaking Puebloans that settled in the area. It is here that the Franciscans built the “Salt Missions” of Gran Quivera, Abo, Quarai and Tijeras Pueblo. It was in one of these (Quarai) that the Inquisition came to New Mexico. Drought and famine brought Apache raids that caused the area to be abandoned from the 1670’s to the mid 1800’s.