Not A Ghost Town Anymore
Located midway on the Turquoise Trail, the village of Madrid is often referred to as a ghost town, though the approximately four hundred inhabitants might not agree with that categorization. From squatters to company run coal town to ghost town to arts haven, Madrid is a community that has rolled with the times and found a way to thrive. There are several galleries in town, many featuring talented local artists. There are shops, cafés, an awesome saloon, an ice cream shop and a general store. Much of Madrid’s mining history has been restored or preserved, including the Miner’s Amusement Hall, the old Catholic Church, the Coal Mining Museum, most of the store fronts and many of the wooden company houses. On the outskirts of town there are still many structures in their original state, crumbling over time.
Madrid, and the entire surrounding area, is said to be haunted. People have reported ghost sightings in homes, in the old church, in the cemetery, and in the Mine Shaft Tavern. One apparition spotted frequently is a silent cowboy. Residents often see him escorting a Spanish woman dressed in her best finery down Main Street. Many people have reported all types of ghostly forms in the cemetery. However, the most haunted site is the Mine Shaft Tavern, though the correlation between excessive alcohol consumption and the potential for hallucination is worth noting. If ghosts exist, Madrid certainly has a history that would provide ample opportunity for more than a few to set up shop.
The inhabitants from the nearby pueblos mined the turquoise and lead deposits in the Cerrillos hills 1,500 years ago. When the Spaniards arrived in 1540, they were looking for silver and gold. They weren’t interested in turquoise. Later, the Spanish discovered silver and lead in the area and returned, enslaving the native population to mine on their behalf. Decades of conflict ensued, erupting in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The Spanish returned in 1692, reconquering the province. Though they continued to look for gold, settlers began to establish farms and ranches in the region. It remained sparsely populated until prospectors searching the hills around the Ortiz and San Pedro mountains for gold discovered the Madrid coal fields around 1835. The settlement known today as Madrid began to grow rapidly, with prospectors, fortune hunters and corporate interests moving in for a piece of the action.
The railroad’s role in western expansion and development dramatically increased the value of coal in the late 1800s. Madrid, known initially as “Coal Gulch,” sits on 30 square miles of hard and soft coal. The anthracite was particularly valuable. Anthracite is a hard, compact variety of coal that has a metallic luster. It has the highest carbon content, the fewest impurities, and the highest calorific content of any type of coal.
Cerrillos Coal Company began mining around 1835. They built the entire town. The yield from the narrow valley was substantial enough to justify the construction of a 6.5 mile standard gauge railroad spur connecting the community to the main line of the Santa Fe Railroad by 1892. They constructed a seven story anthracite breaker by 1893. All of the coal production in the region consolidated in Madrid (aka Coal Gulch) by 1899. The town produced 250,000 tons of coal a year at its peak, with a population larger than Albuquerque.
Madrid’s prominence grew in the 1920s when Oscar Huber took over the mining operations for Cerrillos Coal Company. He turned Madrid into the model mining town. The company owned everything and they provided everything. They administered law and order. The company paid to dismantle wood framed cabins in Kansas, bringing them to town by train to house the miners and their families. They operated the hotel, the car dealership, the stores, the schools, the hospital, the water, the power, and the tavern.
Mr. Huber formed the Employee’s Club and required miners to donate from .50 to $1.00 per month for community causes. He used funds from the pool to build the first illuminated baseball park west of the Mississippi. They turned on the lights in 1922, putting Madrid in the history books. The stadium was home to the Madrid Miners, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers played a game in the park to a packed house in 1934.
Mr. Huber required miners to participate in town events, such as the Fourth of July celebration and the Christmas Light Display. Madrid was known for their annual Christmas light display by the early 1920’s. People would come from throughout the state to see the lights of Madrid. The town lit up the winter sky with 150,000 lights, powered by 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. It was the first electric Christmas display in New Mexico.
In 1947, Huber purchased the town of Madrid and the surrounding coal lands. Unfortunately, the demand for coal began to fall as natural gas became a more popular alternative for home heating. The town of Madrid collapsed with the coal market. The Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company ceased to operate and almost all of Madrid’s residents moved away in 1954. An ad in the Wall Street Journal listed the town for sale for $250,000 the same year. There were no takers and Madrid became a ghost town for about twenty years.
Madrid’s revival began in the early 1970s when Joe Huber, Oscar’s son, began to rent and sell the old company houses to artists, craftsmen, and other individuals willing to live off-grid. Determined to breathe new life into the town, he succeeded in attracting a new population. Madrid was reborn.
The Mineshaft Tavern
The Mineshaft tavern is the oldest continuously run tavern in Santa Fe County. They managed to stay open during the lean years. It is one of my favorite saloons in the state, with a long, sordid past. I would not want to send a bacterial sample from those floors to a lab. Don’t want to know.
The tavern has been Madrid’s living room for decades, more than a century if you ignore the need for a rebuild in the 40s. The Cerrillos Coal Company opened the original tavern around 1895, during Madrid’s boom. It burned down on Christmas Day in 1944, which was probably an unpleasant holiday present in a mining town. They completed the current tavern in 1947. The forty-foot pine and oak bar is the “longest bar in the state.” They designed the bar for miners, men who wanted to stand up at a bar after hunching in the mines all day.
Ross Ward, the artist behind Tinker Town, painted murals depicting the town’s history from mining mecca to more recent event. The murals serve as a backdrop for the state and the bar. This is a bar with enormous character, which is a kind way of saying they haven’t renovated in the last century. Much of the interior is original. That may extend to the plumbing. The most critical variable is covered if the bathrooms are functional.
The Mineshaft is said to be the most haunted site in Madrid. . The tavern experiences odd phenomena, like glasses falling from their shelves, mysterious sounds, furniture inexplicably relocating, and orbs appearing in photos. Based on the number of sightings, it would seem that locals aren’t willing to heed last call…even after death. Ghost hunters have conducted paranormal studies on the adjacent museum property.
Old Coal Mine Museum
The Old Coal Mine Museum is the final resting place of all sorts of “stuff” from years as a coal mining town – an eclectic and quirky mix of whatever seems to have been deemed worthy of saving when the coal mine shut down and the miners left. You’ll find everything from an old Model T to one of the earliest X-ray machines in New Mexico. The museum has numerous “ghost town buildings” from the 1890’s coal mining operation, including the unique “Engine House Theatre” that once house the Engine 769.
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Madrid, NM 87010
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