Lake Valley Ghost Town, New Mexico

We had an interesting visit yesterday to a former silver mining boom town, now under the auspices of the Bureau of Land Management for its preservation and rehabilitation. It was about an hour's drive southwest of our campground. The wind has been fierce while we've been here, and so it seemed like a driving tour was preferable to hiking.

We took off south and eventually turned off the interstate onto New Mexico 152. After a bit, we came to the little town of Hillsboro, New Mexico, and then turned south on New Mexico 27, which is designated a Back Country Byway.

Along the way we saw some pretty scenery, and this is pretty typical of New Mexico. Most of the state is fairly high in elevation, which makes the mountains look small. Nevertheless, their elevation puts them high enough for snow.

We stopped by the side of the road for this shot.

When I turned around, I noticed this rock wall with some colorful striations.

We drove some distance and were beginning to get worried when we came to the dirt road that led out to the town of Lake Valley. Along the way, we passed this sign:

There's your lizard...a little easier to pick out than the elephant of Elephant Butte.

Below the lizard was the Lake Valley schoolhouse where the museum is, and we headed there first.

It's one of just two structures in the town that have been rehabilitated since the BLM took over management. Inside, it looks like this. There is also a volunteer caretaker who lives behind the schoolhouse, and he met us inside. He was very knowledgeable about Lake Valley and the surrounding area.

Here are some artifacts picked up around the town.

Here's the original school bell, which was returned to the museum in 2000.

There were a number of photographs and newspaper articles about the place. The reflections made it impossible to get good pictures, but I was still hopeful you could at least read the headlines.

The town grew up practically overnight when silver was discovered in 1878. It wasn't until 1882 that the big discovery was made. That was the year the Bridal Chamber was discovered.

Silver ore was found just 40 feet from the surface, and a single piece of silver from the mine was displayed at the World Exposition held in Denver in 1882. It was valued at $7,000 at a time when silver was selling for about a dollar an ounce.

Prosperity took a downturn in 1893 when silver was devalued. To make matters worse for Lake Valley, most of Main Street burned to the ground in 1895. A few settlers who had put down roots stayed on into the twentieth century. Others drifted away to try to make their fortunes elsewhere. There have been brief periods of revival for Lake Valley. During the 1920's and again during the World War II era and into the 1950's, when the area was mined for manganese ore.

Also inside the school house was some preserved artwork by students. Cats featured prominently here, and so it's obvious these children were getting a high quality education.

Also bread-baking...

And sewing...

Here's a photograph of what the town looked like in its heyday.

Here's the general store.

This was a private residence.

We walked from the school house into the main part of the town. Along the way we passed by this old jalopy. As we walked out to it, a huge jackrabbit bounded away from us. It was the first time I'd seen one, and they are big! Wish I could have been quick enough to get its picture, but it was quicker than I was.

Turning around and looking toward the town, I could see this.

Here's some information about the town.

And another picture.

This was one structure I'd seen while standing near the car.

Walking to the right, it looked like this.

Around back, it looked like this.

And this. Of course, there was no garbage pick-up and so there were bottles and cans piled in various places.

This was a private residence.

Walking to the left it looked like this.

Here's some more information about how they were able to carry on industry there.

Except for the school and the church, the remaining buildings (about half a dozen or so) are simply being stabilized right now. They are too dangerous to enter. I'm hopeful that the BLM has plans and funding to refurbish the entire area.

These next pictures were taken where just a rock and cement wall was standing. The remainder of the structure was lost to fire.

Here's the little church, which has been restored. It was used for church services as recently as the 1970's.

Inside, we could see the sanctuary...

and the pews. Toward the back was a small storage room.

Standing in the doorway of the storage room and looking forward, it looked like this.

Walking on from there was a coal sorting structure. Beside it was a chute.

The railroad was extended to Lake Valley in 1884. It was a typical mining town, with plenty of saloons open around the clock. It had a reputation for "lawlessness," as did most other Western mining towns. A gunfighter named Jim Courtright, also known as "Longhair Jim," was hired as Town Marshall in 1882, and quickly brought things to order.

I believe this structure is what remains of the railroad depot.

Beyond that, some of the support structures where the mines were located.

The volunteer informed us that the main function of the stagecoach was to transport miners into town where they could partake of the many saloons and brothels located there.

And that's pretty much all I know about the town. On the way back, we noticed this view of the many layers of mountains off toward the east.

Today we're heading on to Lordsburg, New Mexico, for no other reason than its distance down the road. I have a story to tell you about Lordsburg, but I'll save that for tomorrow's post. We'll spend one night there, hopefully at a free spot, and then we'll be crossing into Arizona where we have reservations at yet another state park.

11 comments from clever and witty friends:

Debbie said...

Very interesting read and story of an old ghost town. Love your photos and they give a sense of what was and how forlorn the area is now.

Rosemary Rivas said...

When I taught 4th grade and showed episodes of California Gold with Huel Howser, I learned that some parks in California use the term "Arrested decay." Apparently this meant the the Park Service doesn't restore structures but merely supports them so they don't fall down. This is typical in the town of Bodie, a deserted gold mining town. My students were alarmed that in the housing structures you could see households in which miners and their families left everything obviously in a hurry to go to the next mining location. The cemetery is particularly interesting there as not all graves have markers, but many children are buried there. It seemed that many young children didn't survive the gold winters. See: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509


CJ Smith said...

Whenever I go to Albuquerque or Santa Fe from here in Tucson I turn off I10 at Deming and take NM Hwy 26 to Hatch. Then I pick up I25 for the drive north. Saves about 90 miles. So what?, you ask. Along Hwy 26 is a turn off to get to Nutt. (Do you see where this is going?) I can NEVER make this drive without commenting to myself that I am driving the Nutt Hatch road! Hey, I'm easily entertained! Simple minds...

Lee said...

Ghost towns are fascinating...so many stories fading into the oblivion of the past. In 6th-8th grades, one of our classrooms had those exact desks, rows bolted together on boards exactly the same. Enjoying your photo/story tours :)

MartiDIY said...

How fun! I love ghost towns. I hope some of those old buildings are restored too. I like the lizard better than the elephant, much easier to tell it's a lizard.

liniecat said...

Forgive my ignorance, is New Mexico IN Mexico?
(I expected to see Trumps huge wall strutting across the landscapes lol)
Totally love that old car! Such a rich rusty colour too.
What a remarkable social history 'cemetary' in its way, ghost village or not, it must have been the home of so many and the shells of their homes left, is rather sad and yet proof of their lives and nice that its celebrated by being kept as a memorium of the period of time they lived there.

WoolenSails said...

That was a fun place to visit with you, love the history behind the town, as well.
I love going places and wondering what it was like, and what the people were like,.


Brown Family said...

We had desks just like those in our elementary and middle school. I like the layers of rocks with the different colors. You are right that the lizard is easier to see than the elephant!
Nice tour of the ghost town!

piecefulwendy said...

You captured some really great photos on this visit. The window picture (just above the church picture in your feed) is my favorite. What an interesting stop!

Kate said...

What a cool place to hang out. You got some great pictures.

quiltzyx said...

I really like the rock wall with all the striations in it - like a fancy torte!
Thanks for the tour of Lake Valley,so many interesting things you found. You are a wonderful history teacher! Such a cool old jalopy and neat stacked stone walls with "picture windows".