Madrid New Mexico. An influential mining town steeped in America’s Wild West.
The name may come from Roque Madrid who had interest in lead mining the area in the 17th century. Madrid later abandoned the area with little trace.
Anthracite coal was particularly important for use in passenger trains, leading to the building of a spur line to the area.
But New Mexico was still a rather rugged territory, torn between the strained relations of Mexico and the US. It was not until 1880 that The Cerrillos Coal Bank came to pass.
Cerrillos Coal & Iron Co designed the layout of Madrid, they built a railroad station known as Waldo Junction then transported most of the inhabitants to to the town.
This “company town” of Madrid, thrived through this heyday. The innovative and forward thinking leader, Oscar John Huber was instrumental to the towns success and with his nourishing hand the train stop and rich with coal, the town of Madrid boomed.
What You Don’t Know About the Wild West
When imagining the Wild West, visions of swaggering cowboys and marauding “Indians” come to mind. In truth, clashes between settlers and the local inhabitants were not the norm in the Wild West. The settlers and the local natives lived in a strained peace predominantly.
Of course, a land full of opportunity appeals to entrepreneurs, pioneers, opportunists and outlaws alike. But in general, the Wild West was never quite as raucous or chaotic as we’ve been led to believe. And Madrid New Mexico was at the very heart of this new frontier.
Madrid’s interesting history offers a glimpse into the reality of what later became known as the Wild West. It is a story of reinvention, innovation and strife, all while living in the middle of an arid desert.
American Frontier Not The Wild West
New Mexico was one of the last holdout states to join the Union.
This new American Frontier showed great promise for opportunity, offering the possibility of great wealth. Yet it long remained far more rustic than its more mature and populated brethren to the East & West.
Once New Mexico joined the Union in January 1912, Arizona followed close behind, making them the last states to join until Alaska and Hawaii joined in the late 1950s. (I am leaving out a Hell of a lot of history here including the Mexican / American war).
As a territory, New Mexico had little to offer to those not tribally connected to the land until coal was discovered. But when coal was found in a streak from Cerrillos to Madrid, the mining began and the people started to come.
Houses were broken down in Kansas where the mines were drying up, then transported via rail to New Mexico, and rebuilt in Madrid. A “company town” was born. Madrid New Mexico.
Oscar Joseph Huber’s Madrid
Oscar Joseph Huber, superintendent of the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company, encouraged the community to thrive through his progressive management style in Madrid. His innovative and forward thinking ideals demanded the community to pitch in for schools, a hospital and the things needed for a society to be healthy and flourish and it worked.
Membership to the Company Store and an Employee’s Club, offered members discounts and perks in exchange for their monthly financial contribution and their promised community involvement.
Huber set the standard for coal mining communities and the idea of those that could afford it, contributing to the communities needs.
This created a new standard for such communities.
Madrid stood as a shining light and a healthy and happy town and populace. Well as healthy and happy as coal miners, living in the wake of the toxins and dangers spewed above and dug below could be.
Celebration & Demise
By the 1920s, Madrid became known for their holiday events. Thousands of lights illuminated the town via coal power, during Christmas. Elaborate firework displays lit up the sky for the 4th of July, subsequently bringing in visitors from far and wide.
When the popularity of dirty burning coal died out to cleaner fuels such as natural gas, coal mining died out. Madrid’s population dwindled. When wartime came to pass, the result made Madrid a veritable ghost town down to 30.
Madrid languished. Classic western store fronts, the mining shaft and miner shacks, sat deteriorating under sun drenched skies.
For more than a decade most of Madrid lay dormant, snuggled between rolling pink hills and azure skies. Not quite a ghost town, but from the 1950s through the 1970s Madrid was practically forgotten. Laying dormant, the near ghost town of Madrid stood as a testament of time.
Rebirth | Joe Huber’s Madrid
Then in the early 70’s Madrid New Mexico came to life once more. Transformed by the son of its originator Oscar Huber.
With the same innovative thinking, Joe Huber invited artists to come rent housing for cheap. The rumour goes, they came to visit and never left.
Madrid was reborn, bustling to life as a vivacious, counter culture haven and remains such to this very day. Joe, a visionary, opened up his beloved town to the frontiersmen (and women) of the time, creating a community of artists, and counter-culturists.
Joe remained dedicated to his home town until his death in the late 1980’s. Some of those who shared Joe Huber’s original vision remain in Madrid today.
Visiting Madrid New Mexico
Luckily the town of Madrid is protected from most types of development due to water regulations. So the sleepy little hippy town remains pretty much intact.
Driving The Turquoise Trail / NM 14, found between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Madrid, remains a slow moving and quiet artist community, albeit with a large community of dogs. Although the population is only about 200, colorful pubs, restaurants, shops, galleries and museums are enticing enough to spend an entire day there.
The Mine Shaft Tavern offers scrumptious fresh food.
Since I travel alone, I take note of how warm, welcoming and friendly places might be for someone alone and they score high on the list of comfort.
The residential area is made up of a patchwork of houses, cabins, yurts and adobes, along largely unpaved and gravel strewn drives. The main road is part of the Turquoise Trail
Madrid New Mexico, as a destination, is funky and unique place to visit. Truly an outlaw town that created itself and has held onto its counter culture roots.
A lovely little village, well worthy of the stop, offering food, entertainment, places to stay, shops and more, in a gorgeous location along a breathtaking drive.
Just remember to slow down to 20 MPH as you come upon Madrid on NM 14. It’s one of the only rules you may find there.