Is Kelly, New Mexico really a ghost town?
A prominent mine of the late 1800’s, the mine and settlement of Kelly, New Mexico is abandoned and lays in ruin. But…who attends this church?
A pleasant surprise
On a recent trip to Magdalena, I was thrilled to discover the nearby ghost town of Kelly, New Mexico. As with many of my trips, the best finds are usually the places I discover by accident along the way to somewhere else. These photos were shot on November 6, 2021.
In the town of Magdalena, there are multiple historic marker signs for the nearby ghost town of Kelly, including this very prominent one at the corner of 1st and S. Kelly Rd. To find Kelly, just turn on S. Kelly Rd. and follow it up the mountain. You’ll know when you get there.
St. John The Baptist Church
If your vehicle survives the drive up the unmaintained road to Kelly, the first interesting place you’ll find is St. John The Baptist Church. One doesn’t need to consult a census report to see that (practically) no one lives in Kelly but this church is not abandoned. To the contrary, it appears to be maintained.
There is a house just a short way down the road from the church that is also not abandoned. Given it’s small size and desolate location I can’t image that more than two or three people live there but it is tidy and well maintained. Are they the caretakers of the church?
I’ve looked all over the interwebs for information about St. John The Baptist Church in Kelly, New Mexico and have come up with a whole lot of not much. It is listed on a few sites as a mission church in Socorro County but the listings only show a photo and include no other information. The Atlas Obscura states that the chapel was rebuilt on the site of one of the original churches in Kelly but does not include any dates.
The church has a big parking lot, a picnic area and the landscaping is occasionally maintained. I was bummed to find out, after the fact, that there is a cemetery back behind the church that I totally missed.
In this photo, you can see the house on the other side of the church. People definitely live here so it safe to assume that someone is keeping an eye on the church.
The Ghost Town of Kelly, New Mexico
Continuing up the hill toward the Kelly Mine are the stone ruins of several structures. Some are small and look to be houses but others are larger and were likely stores or schools.
The concrete steps shown in the above photo lead to a building that no longer stands. The stone structure in the photos below is by far the largest structure (aside from the mine) to remain standing in Kelly. Towards the back corner is a rusted wash basin and you can also see what would’ve been a sealed door or window. I think this building was too big to be a house but, once upon a time, Kelly hosted a population of 3000 residents and the boomtown had everything the community needed such as schools, general stores, and churches.
The Kelly Mine
The only reason anyone ever lived in Kelly, New Mexico was because of the mine. This mine produced huge loads of silver, zinc and lead which were shipped out to smelters from the train in Magdalena. Due to its contribution to the industrial westward expansion, Kelly became New Mexico’s foremost mine in the late 1800’s.
Similar to the church, information about Kelly, New Mexico is scarce and what little information I did find is disjointed and doesn’t paint a very clear picture. What I found is that in 1866 a prospector by the name of John S. Hutchason arrived in the Magdalena area after serving in the Civil War. Hutchason, know as “Old Hutch” was exploring the Magdalena Mountains and upon finding outcroppings of lead he staked the Juanita Mine and then a few weeks later he also staked the Graphic Mine. Shortly after that, he found another mine which he probably should’ve kept for himself but he turned it over to a friend named Andy Kelley who operated a local sawmill. As luck would have it, that mine became the most prolific one of all.
I can’t find any explanation for why the friend’s name was Andy “Kelley” (with an “ey”) but the mine and the town were both named “Kelly” (no “e”). It is what it is, I guess. Anyway, “Old Hutch” went down in history as being the father of the Magdalena Mining District.
As the mines prospered the population of Kelly swelled to around 3000 and town expanded to include three churches, two schools, a movie theater, a medical clinic, and even a hotel of sorts that rented beds in eight hour shifts. There are some great old photos of Kelly from the early 1900’s on the Western Mining History website.
The Kelly Mine Headframe
Though mining operations ceased almost one hundred years ago, the Kelly Mine headframe still stands. Like a turn-of-the-century IKEA purchase, this towering relic was erected in 1906 after being ordered as a kit from the Carnegie Steel Works company of Passaic, New Jersey. Rising 121 feet above the desert sands, the headframe was designed by Alexander G. Eiffel and, yes, that is the same Alexander G. Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1887.
Under the Kelly Mine headframe is a very, very deep hole. The Tri-Bullion Shaft drops nearly 1000 feet straight down. This part is important so listen up. The Tri-Bullion shaft is not covered. It is surrounded by a sad little fence that a toddler could climb over. I’m not even kidding, it would be easy enough to fall into this thing and never be seen again so please keep your dogs and kids far away from it. On the other hand, if you were looking for a place to dump a body…
In the photo below, Johnpaul is standing right next to the 1000 foot deep Tri-Bullion Shaft. It is open and you can see the fence laying on the ground. He calls out to me, “hey, this hole is so deep I can’t see the bottom!” I walked over to check it out but was too afraid to lean over and take a photo. I’m just saying, this place is no joke, be careful.
I did not find a name for what this brick structure is called. It looks like a multi-level fireplace or maybe a chimney-stack or a kiln. If you know what it’s called, please tell me in the comments section.
I was completely surprised by the three other carloads of visitors that we encountered at the Kelly Mine. Honestly, I was not expecting to see anyone at all much less three other vehicles and all with out-of-state plates. There were people walking around all over the place but, not to worry, I “shopped” them all out of the photos and hopefully none of them fell in that hole.
Where did it all go?
By 1931, the Kelly mine was drying up and the business was dying off. The last residents left Kelly in 1947. They didn’t just leave though, apparently they took their houses and other buildings with them. Multiple reports state the residents deconstructed their buildings and “painstakingly” relocated them to the town of Magdalena which is three miles away. I guess they weren’t fans of the daily commute?
Please support this blog by subscribing to my YouTube Channel!
I have already linked to most of my sources but some other great information can be found about Kelly, New Mexico and the prospector John Hutchason on the following sites.
This post was originally published to the old Dry Heat Blog on November 21, 2021.