Lincoln County, NM
CARRIZOZO IS NOT normally on most people’s ghost town lists, yet this colorful, charismatic class E community is well worth visiting. Even though it isn’t a ghost town in the purist’s sense of the word, it definitely falls into our definition of a ghost town, or more properly, a semi-ghost. Even that is a subjective call since the population trend has been pretty well stabilized at about half of what it was during its boom years between 1910 and 1923. History seeps from the buildings along 12th Street and an unmistakable aura of the past exudes from the cracked stucco and adobe brick buildings lining what the Carrizozo Art and Antiques website calls the “Epicenter for Art and Antique activity.”
On Sunday morning, July 4, 2010, Ghost Town USA paid this historic old town a serendipitous visit. My intent for the stop was strictly for refueling & lunch. After eating, I always enjoy checking out the old downtown cores of most towns I pass through, looking for hidden gems. WOW! Carrizozo’s old downtown was a true gem. Nearly abandoned, what few occupied buildings that remained were mostly given over to the visual arts, with a handful of art galleries and a couple antique shops scattered about. I parked my car, unlimbered the camera and strolled the streets shooting a plethora of photos of buildings on which bright orange, fluorescent violet and vibrant reds & blues contrasted with fading advertisements, peeling stucco, battered bricks and crumbling adobe. Weathered wood siding and drab stucco walls were decorated with an almost infinite variety of artistic endeavors. Nineteen colorful painted burro statues watch from roof parapets, fence tops and the sidewalk, while a muffler & piston armadillo wanders about the sidewalks accompanied by a rusty cowboy and some type of wheelbarrow critter. While taking photos of the sculptures and buildings, one of the local artists noticed me and invited me upstairs to the second floor artist’s loft working area of the 1917 Lutz Building for some unique views of town. The colorful buildings along 12th street were visible to the north and the west. On the beautifully weathered wood stairs artist Patsy Sanchez’s “World’s Most Privileged Burro” and a bejeweled female bust shared space with the artists heading upstairs for work, or downstairs for home. Other scattered artistic jewels around town included a lizard door, tin can lid ants and Jason Kehrer’s 2008 scrap wood sculpture “Sunday Afternoon.” The above-mentioned burros are produced by Gallery 408, then painted/decorated by various artists and offered for resale. Carrizozo has one thing lacking that I DID NOT miss - the touristy commercialization of Jerome, AZ or Madrid, NM. Don’t get me wrong. I love both of those towns, but they have both become trendy artist colonies where artists cohabitate with the ghosts. In this pair of old historic mining towns the ghosts have pretty much been pushed out to boothill and forgotten. Both communities consider themselves historic old mining towns on the road to rebirth – not ghost towns. For Carrizozo’s non-commercialization I was grateful.
Carrizozo’s life was in a way tied to the death of another town – White Oaks. In White Oaks, the residents heard about the railroad desiring to come to their booming mining camp. Dollar signs flashed and greed got in the way. The railroad decided against paying extravagant prices for land, so in 1899 they established a station a dozen miles to the south at the future site of Carrizozo. The El Paso & Northeastern Railroad turned that station into a division point and maintenance/service center and built a large brick roundhouse and maintenance shops. Carrizozo quickly developed into an important trading and shipping center with daily stages departing for and arriving from a fading White Oaks. Part of Carrizozo’s importance was tied to the rich coal mines at Capitan. With Carrizozo’s location at the mouth of the wide valley leading to the mines, it was busy. In 1902 the still active post office was established and in 1907 the town was officially platted. Some of the businesses at that time included: 1st National Bank, a Baptist Church, two drug stores (Dr. Paden’s, and the Rolland Brothers’), railroad hotel and the railroad buildings.
In 1913 Carrizozo was designated the Lincoln County seat, much to the chagrin of the folks in Lincoln. This ushered a decade of boom which ended in the early 1920s when a recession dogged the area, causing the bank to fail in 1923. That failure coupled with a crippling railroad strike, drought and the resultant downturn in the cattle industry nearly killed the town. One of the bank officers, Arthur Rolland also had to sell his drug store and declared bankruptcy. The new store owner kept it open and Rolland eventually leased it back from the new owner. A year later, Rolland built a new building and reopened his own drug store, putting the nearly disastrous past behind him.
During the 1930s, roads replaced railroads for carrying freight, diesel locomotives began replacing coal, and the railroad shifted some of its operations elsewhere. In 1937 the El Paso & Northeastern Railroad declared bankruptcy and the roundhouse and shops were all sold and scrapped. One bright spot in this generally dismal economic time was Arthur Rolland’s Drug Store. It served as the town gathering spot and the soda fountain continued to employ local kids, helping families manage to survive through the Great Depression. Rolland finally sold the business in 1950 and it continued under different names until the 1970s. The building is listed on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties.
The other drug store was operated by Dr. Paden, and was a two-story, brick structure built between 1906 and 1910. He operated his medical office, a drug store and a soda fountain downstairs, while a small hospital was located upstairs. In 1934, he sold it to Red Eaker who continued to operate it for a number of years. Like Rolland’s store, the Paden/Eaker store went through several ownership changes and in 1978 was purchased and reopened as Roy’s Ice Cream Parlor. Somehow I missed this old building.
Today, a number of identifiable and some unidentifiable buildings remain, including: the aforementioned Roy’s Ice Cream Parlor, the two-story Lutz Building, the Gas Company building, a Ben Franklin store, a red-roofed structure, a large two-story adobe building, the Lyric Theater and an old restaurant with an interesting set of double doors – one labeled “DRINK” and the other “EAT.” Looking at the details presented on and about the town’s buildings brings this old community to life. Things like a shoe shine stand, a pressed tin ceiling under a store canopy and a wonderfully artistic, OLD script sign lift the old buildings out of drabness and share a little of the glory that once was. You can almost feel the folks from its glory days walking by on the sidewalks
Carrizozo is about as much fun to visit as it is to spell, or even say. I really liked this old town, and eagerly look forward to visiting again. If you do come to visit, be sure to get off the main highways and visit the unique, colorful downtown core that is a true visual treat. The downtown core lies along 12th Street, which is a block southeast of US 54 (Central Ave) and two blocks northwest of the railroad tracks just southwest of the junction of US 54/380. Carrizozo is located southeast of Socorro, north of Alamogordo and west of Roswell in the south-central part of the state of New Mexico.
As always, please abide by any sign postings and respect the rights of the building and land owners.
This was our Ghost Town of the Month for November 2010.
1910-1920 – 2000+ (approx)
1930 – 1171
1950 - 1389
1970 - 1123
1980 – 1222
1990 – 1075
2000 – 1036
2010 – 996
Sec 2, T8S, R10E, NM Principal Meridian & Baseline
Latitude: 33° 38' 30" N / 33.6417408
Longitude: 105° 52' 38" W / -105.8772120
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FIRST POSTED: November 05, 2010
LAST UPDATED: May 01, 2011
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