Exploring the town of Magdalena, New Mexico

Tree in a vacant lot in Magdalena, New Mexico.

It’s been a long time comin’

Way back in November of 2019, before the pandemic, Johnpaul and I passed through the small town of Magdalena, New Mexico on our way to a rare open house at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory. I go on a special adventure every year around my birthday and the observatory was my birthday adventure for 2019. 

It was decided at the time that we would return to explore the town of Magdalena on another day. And then the world got different and two years went by. This return trip was finally made on November 6, 2021.

The town of Magdalena, New Mexico

Magdalena is a village in Socorro County. It’s off the beaten path and provides a fun look into the history of New Mexico. You would also pass through Magdalena on the way to the Magdalena Ridge Observatory, Pie Town and the NRAO Very Large Array.

The 2010 census reported a population of 938 and the most current census information I can find reports a population of 870. As with many of New Mexico’s shrinking towns, Magdalena was once prosperous as the result of a mining boom. The local post office opened in 1884 and Magdalena was officially incorporated as a town in 1913.

The “Trails End”

Magdalena is located in an area that is rich in mineral deposits which lead it to become a center for silver and zinc mining. In 1884, a railroad spur was built from the smelter in Socorro and Magdalena become an important railhead for livestock, timber and ore. Every year thousands of cattle and sheep were driven into town “cowboy style” from the west using the historic Magdalena Trail. The stockyard driveway was used annually from 1885 to 1971 and the original stockyards are still intact. Because the railroad spur ended in Magdalena, it came to be known as the “Trails End”.

I didn’t have any specific agenda for photographing Magdalena, just showed up to see what I could find and I found a lot!  

Art & Darlene Pino’s Mini Mart and Gas Station

I never could find the name of this abandoned gas station located at the intersection of E. First Street and Hwy 107 on the west end of Magdalena, New Mexico. What I did find were names on the mail box. As you can see in the photo below, the mailbox has seen better days but the names Art & Darlene Pino can still still made out. 

Art and Darlene Pino were married for 51 years and they lived most of their lives in Magdalena. They had several business ventures, including this service station and mini mart which was in operation for about ten years but closed in 1983 and being village mail carriers for Magdalena, Alamo and Beaverhead for 38 years. Art also worked for the US Forest Service as a fire boss and later he worked for the NRAO until he retired.

Darlene Pino was born January 18, 1946 and died on July 22, 2015. Art Pino was born April 3, 1937 and died December 14, 2020. 

This defunct mobile home, along with another house that may or may not have been inhabited (I didn’t photograph the house because I wasn’t sure) are both located behind the gas station. Presumably one or the other was the home of Art and Darlene Pino.

Bank of Magdalena

The village of Magdalena is historically significant because it once served as the most important commercial center in west central New Mexico. During it’s prime, 1884-1925, the railroad spur in Magdalena served as a vital transportation hub for miners and ranchers alike. Miners of lead, zinc, and silver brought their ore  and ranchers drove their cattle and sheep to the train yards in Magdalena in order to send them out to the world. As a matter of fact, if you make a turn at the bank building onto Main Street, the old train depot is at the end of the block.

During its prime, Magdalena supported many commercial establishments including several general stores, livery stables, lumber yards, black smith shops, restaurants and hotels. Most of the buildings that housed these businesses were hastily built from wood and adobe and many of them have since burned and/or fallen down. 

The bank building, located at the corner of Main and US 60, is unique in that it is one of the few buildings from the time period to be built of brick instead of wood. Over the years, as many wood buildings fell into disrepair they were also replaced with better quality brick buildings.

The original corner section of the bank building was built prior to 1908 but the rest of the building was added on by 1913. The Magdalena Bank Building has been a bank, a drug store and now houses Evett’s Cafe & Ice Cream Shop.

The Bank of Magdalena Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Charles Ilfeld Co. Building

The Charles Ilfeld Co. Warehouse, located at the end of north Main Street in Magdalena, was built in 1913. It remains in excellent condition, probably because it is now a private residence. 

In 1916, this Mission Revival Style brick building building became part of the mercantile firm of Charles Ilfeld Co., one of the largest mercantile companies in New Mexico at the time.

Life of Charles Ilfeld

Charles Ilfeld was born in Homburg, Germany in 1847 and he arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. Upon his arrival in Santa Fe, Ilfeld worked as a clerk for the mercantile business of Elsberg and Amberg. Charles Ilfeld later relocated to Taos, NM to work for Adolf Letcher. In 1867, Adolf Letcher and Company moved to Las Vegas, NM and at this time Charles Ilfeld became a partner in the firm. Seven years later, Letcher sold his interest to Ilfeld who then changed the name of the business to the Charles Ilfeld Company. Ilfeld’s business eventually grew into the largest mercantile company in New Mexico.

On August 2, 1982, the Ilfeld Warehouse in Magdalena was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is architecturally significant due to it being one of only three large commercial buildings to remain standing in Magdalena. All three buildings are on north Main Street and also include the Bank Building and the Commercial Building. It is also an excellent example of the Mission Revival Style of architecture.

A copy of the original nomination letter for the Ilford Warehouse to be added to the National Register of Historic Places can be viewed here. 

   To learn more about Charles Ilfeld, click here.

Commercial Building

 I couldn’t find much information about this building, seemingly known only as “Commercial Building”. It is located behind the Magdalena Bank Building and across the street from the Charles Ilfeld Co. Warehouse on north Main Street. The Commercial Building is a good example of the Panel Brick style of architecture, meaning that a brick facade was applied to the front of an adobe building. Adobe structures require a lot of maintenance and Magdalena has lost many buildings due to deterioration. The Commercial Building stands out due to its relatively good condition. This building first appeared on maps of Magdalena in 1919.

Points of interest near Magdalena, New Mexico

This sign turned out to be a key factor in turning this outing into a successful trip. For one thing, the ghost town of Kelly is on this map and I had not previously known about it. Secondly, we found a bunch of cool stuff on the way to Kelly that we probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Abandoned building next door to the Magdalena fire station on E. First Street.
This red brick building, which apparently used to be a grocery store, is now a thrift shop.

Magdalena Cafe is back in business!

Full disclosure: I wasn’t aware that the Magdalena Cafe had previously been out of business but in my research I found a newspaper article detailing the history of this local cafe and it’s recent re-opening. According to an article from the El Defensor Chieftain dated March 18, 2021, the Magdalena Cafe had closed its doors in November of 2020 when the previous owner relinquished it to the bank. News of this unfortunate event got back to the original owners, Alanna and George Van Winkle, who had opened the business 35 years ago. 

Not wanting to see their legacy die, the Van Winkles decided to get back in the game and keep the business going. After a bit of sprucing up the Magdalena Cafe is once again open for business. The reopening of the Magdalena Cafe brings the total number of restaurants in Magdalena to four. The other choices include Tumbleweeds Diner, Kelly’s Place Cafe, and High Country Lodge Restaurant.

The Magdalena Cafe is located at: 109 S. Main Street, Magdalena, NM. I found conflicting information about their business hours. The newspaper article and their Google business listing do not agree so maybe it would be good to call ahead to verify when the cafe is open.

This cool building seems to be a private residence.

Ponderosa Restaurant

I didn’t find much information about the Ponderosa Restaurant which, contrary to the remaining letters on the sign, is most certainly not open. From the looks of it, the Ponderosa has been closed for awhile. They did have a cool sign though. Just imagine how nice it was when all the letters were still attached and the cowboy was freshly painted. 

I wanted to get some interior photos but, while approaching the front window to get a better look, I was startled to see someone walking around inside picking up things off the tables. I don’t know if it was a living person or the ghost of diners past, but I don’t think they saw me and I skedaddled on past the windows, shot two photos from the sunny side of the building, and ran back to the car.

Magdalena Community Church

Magdalena Community Church, located at 4th and Main, is still in use and is an active church. According to the church website, in 1907 a group of Christians in Magdalena petitioned the Presbytery of the Rio Grande to become the First Presbyterian Church of Magdalena. 

Elizabeth “Bessie” Cameron Mactavish, wife of one of the founding members used her own money to purchase three lots of land on Main Street. I’m not sure why Bessie is referred to as “wife of one of the founding members” and not as a founding member herself. After all, it was she, and not he, who purchased the land for the church. But anyway… Local miners provided the labor and construction was complete in the fall of 1907. 

The church website does not explain why the Magdalena Community Church is no longer the First Presbyterian Church of Magdalena but there is reference to their sister church, the First Presbyterian Church of Socorro.

One interesting thing I noticed is that in all the exterior photos of the church on their website, the front doors are blue. The red is a recent development.

Hay’s House

From down the road, I thought this house at 2nd and Spruce was abandoned. But standing across the street from it, I honestly don’t know…maybe? It was the flower pots on the front porch that made me wonder. There were no cars parked out front and there are three newspaper vending machines over in the side yard. It wasn’t until later that I discovered this is a house of historical significance in the town of Magdalena.

The Hays House has filled many different roles over the years. From 1907 until the late 1920’s, the Hays House served as Dr. McCreary’s offices and hospital. The Forest Service occupied the building for awhile and after that it was subdivided into small apartments. At a later time, it was converted back into a single family home.

 I did not find an explanation for why the structure is called Hays House but I did learn that, until recently, the staircase to the second floor was located on the outside of the building. This struck me as weird. Who builds a two story building without a staircase to reach the second floor? Staircases were a prominent feature of many turn of the century homes but, in this house, it was left out.

The Roosevelt School in Magdalena, New Mexico

There is precious little information available on the internet about the now abandoned Roosevelt School in Magdalena, New Mexico. The school, which is located at 6th and Main is next door to another building that looks like an elementary school or daycare center. That building is not abandoned so it is safe to assume that someone is watching should you choose to visit this location.

The only information I could find about the Roosevelt School is on the sign at the main entrance. Erected in 1919, designed by Trost & Trost Achitects, F.O. Shelton Builders. The names of the people on the Board of Education are also on the sign and they include P.H. Arcall, Juan A. Garcia, Jerry Gonzales, Caroline Mayes and Jennie Knoblock.

Information was scarce but then an interesting thing happened. A friend on Instagram told me that his mother used to teach elementary school in Magdalena. Obviously, I was excited to hear that but then something even better happened. His mother called me on the phone to tell me all about her time as a 3rd grade teacher at the Roosevelt School! How cool is that? 

A conversation with Ms. Blount, 3rd grade teacher at the Roosevelt School

Ms. Ruth Blount, as she was known at the time, taught 3rd grade at the Roosevelt School in 1972. She was a young woman of 22 who had moved away from her home in Laramie, Wyoming in search of an adventure, and I guess she found one! 

Ruth said she rented a little house on the main drag in town that was $50/month and came furnished! The majority of the 22 students in her 3rd grade class were Navajo children. They were bussed into town on Sunday, stay in the dormitory all week, and take the bus home on Friday. She wasn’t sure which dormitory they stayed in but it was likely the Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding School.

Together with her friend Judy Palm, who also taught at the Roosevelt School, Ruth would drive all the way to Socorro to do laundry. According to Ruth, “the water in Magdalena was kind of brown”. While the clothes were washing, Ruth and Judy liked to stop in at the Capitol Bar which is where all the cool kids from New Mexico Tech liked to hang out. It was at the Capitol Bar where Ruth met her future husband, Willi, in December of 1972. After a whirl wind romance, Ruth and Willi were married in May of 1973 and then moved to the east cost so Willi could attend graduate school.

Ruth said that she did not know why the Roosevelt School had become abandoned but she did say that the building “had a lot of asbestos” and speculated that the cost of remediation may have been a contributing factor.

If you’ve ever wondered if a place is abandoned, just check if trees are growing under the windows. Any place with invasive trees growing up from the foundation is surely no longer in use.

This photo is just a mess of un-parallel lines, isn’t it?

Magdalena Hall Hotel

Built by Harry S. Hall and originally opened for business on December 14, 1917, The Magdalena Hall Hotel is the only surviving “cowboy hotel” in the village. Part of the reason could be that the walls are three bricks thick. This three-story, 13,500 square foot structure features a lobby, cafe, guest rooms and a second floor balcony.

Though the Magdalena Hall Hotel had been closed for some time, renovations were performed and the hotel was reopened around August 2019. There are now ten guest rooms available for booking. I found an interesting newspaper article in the Catron Courier detailing the hotel’s history and revival. 

The Magdalena Hall Hotel is located at: 404 2nd Street, Magdalena, New Mexico. They’ve even built themselves a pretty nice website that can be used for online booking. Check it out here.

Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding School in Magdalena, New Mexico.

On the outskirts of Magdalena lies this interesting complex of abandoned buildings. A little digging around revealed that this place was the Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding School. As with many of the places I’ve researched in Magdalena, there is not much information available about this facility. I did find one important document though. This is the original press release titled: Contract Awarded For New Indian Dormitory at Magdalena, New Mexico. The document is dated February 20, 1959 and announces the award of a $331,445 contract for construction of new dormitory facilities at Magdalena. The facility will make it possible for 128 Navajo children from the surrounding area to attend the local public schools. What happened after that and/or why the school was abandoned, I don’t know.

If anyone reading this article has more information about this school, or any of the locations highlighted in this post, please feel to reach out and share your story by leaving a comment below.

 The gourd vines have been growing up in the trees, giving the appearance festive Christmas balls.

This is the back side of the building pictured in the previous images. It seems the gymnasium has some built-in sky lights.

Walking around campus feels like touring a set of The Walking Dead. Especially these doors that are chained closed. They remind me of the hospital scene from Season 1 where Rick Grimes wakes up in the hospital and finds the doors chained closed with the words “Don’t Open, Dead Inside” spray painted in big ominous letters.

There are No Trespassing signs on the buildings but not at the property line. That’s ok, you don’t want to be going inside these buildings anyway. More about that in a minute. 

Don’t go in there, it’s a trap!

This door was standing open like a dank Venus Fly Trap beckoning its next curious victim. Normally I’m all about taking advantage of an open door but something at the threshold stopped me in my tracks. Johnpaul felt it too. We walked up to the doorway, looked in and immediately were like, “NOPE”, and backed away slowly. I did shoot a couple photos from the door that you can see below.

It’s hard to explain the invisible barrier but going inside seemed like a very bad idea. Maybe because it’s dark, cold and damp leading into a labyrinth of black hallways in a building where all the other doors are chained closed. Additionally, there is no way of knowing who or what else may already be inside. The potential for getting lost and/or trapped in the depths seemed high. This carnivorous plant will have to find a different fly.

This matchbook was on the breezeway in front of the door. Judging from the names of the Casinos, this is an old matchbook. The Hacienda Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip was in operation from 1956 to 1996. It was imploded as part of a live New Years Eve Special at the end of 1996. At the very least, this matchbook is 25 years old. For the record, the Sahara Hotel & Casino closed on May 16, 2011 and reopened after extensive renovations in 2014. 

These photos were shot through the aforementioned open door. This seemed far enough.

The playground

The playground out front makes me think that this part of the complex must have been the dormitory. The other buildings look to be administrative with offices and classrooms. The teeter-totters, monkey bars, jungle gym and swing set all sit exactly as they were left.

Skeleton of a swing set.

Who could resist photographing the well-aged fire hydrant in the driveway?

 I have already posted links to most of my source material for the information in this post but one site I have not yet credited is the Magdalena Historic Walking Tour.  Be sure to check them out for information about the history of Magdalena, New Mexico.

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1 Comment

  1. Top ,.. top top … post! Keep the good work on !

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