Madrid, New Mexico

Madrid, New Mexico is a non-ghost town about 27 miles southwest of the state capital, Santa Fe.  I call it a non-ghost town, because although the town tried hard to die, there were people who loved it enough to make sure it regained its health.  It’s now a quaint little town of roughly 400 full time residents, many of which are artists of one kind or another.

Mining has been a staple industry in the area for over 1,500 years, when the local Native Americans mined for turquoise and lead. Once the Spaniards came into the area, they discovered deposits of silver, which they greedily exhausted. Later, in the 1800’s gold was also found in the area and the population began to swell.  Soon the gold petered out, but large supplies of coal had also been discovered, so the town continued to grow.

It was the coal industry that really caused the little town of Madrid to blossom. The mining company that owned the vast majority of the town took care of its people, in contrast to most of the other mining companies of the day. By the 1920’s, the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company had their own electric plant, from which they supplied all their workers’ homes with free electricity.  The A&C provided schools, a hospital and even paved streets, a rarity in that area in those days. During prohibition, the company assisted their workers by providing places for them to brew their own liquor.

Eventually, coal lost its popularity as a heating source and the mining company slowly dwindled away to nothing. The town was a mere shadow of itself by the mid-1950’s. The former superintendent of the mining company ended up owning basically the entire town. For almost two decades, the poor little village struggled on. Finally, in the 1970’s, the superintendent’s son, Joseph Huber, started leasing the old buildings to artists, wood and metal workers and a whimsical artists colony started to emerge among the hills.

While today Madrid is a popular spot along the Turquoise Trail, where tourists stop to shop among its artistic boutiques and studios, there is a portion of a long-gone population that has stayed behind to mingle. Besides the local churches and private homes that are known to be haunted, the very roads that you drive and walk along have their own ghosts in Madrid. The specter of a cowboy and his Latin lady have been spotted many times drifting down the main street, arm and arm.  One can only speculate about the reason they still roam…perhaps a love affair cut short by a jealous suitor or a protective father?

Another ghostly hot spot (or should I say “cold spot”?) is the Mine Shaft Tavern. Though this historic watering hole suffered a devastating fire and was subsequently rebuilt, the old wooden bar is the original and is known for being the longest in New Mexico. Some of its original customers are still there to throw back a cold one every now and again. Glasses have been seen to go flying across the bar and smashing to the floor for no earthly reason. Doors open and close without visible cause. Ghostly apparitions have been witnessed reflected in the mirrors in the old building, and voices and sounds of merriment are heard even when the tavern is empty.

Even without its ghosts, Madrid sounds like a wonderfully historic spot to visit any time of the year. Summer is the high tourist season, but locals from the Santa Fe area especially love to visit the town during December when every building in the town is decorated with Christmas lights….a tradition dating back from the boon days of the mining town, when the A&C Mining Company used to provide its workers with free electricity. (If someone else was paying my electricity, I would be happy to thrown more lights on my house as well!)

If you’re ever in the Sandia Mountains, meandering along the Turquoise Trail Scenic Byway, stop for the afternoon or spend the night in this tiny little mountain haven, with its history and its ghosts and then stop back here and tell us of your stay! And I’d love some pictures of the Christmas lights too!

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