Around the turn of the 20th Century, a boy would walk from his father’s mercantile store, which also served as a hotel, to the train depot (shown above), just a short distance away. This boy then carried the luggage of passengers newly arrived in San Antonio, New Mexico back to their rooms, which ran $2.50 a day and included meals. The boy met every train stopping in town, regardless of time or weather. In 1919, that boy, Conrad Hilton, now thirty-two years old, bought the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas and thus began the Hilton Hotels chain. Paris Hilton is his great-granddaughter.
Below is a shot of some almost 100-year-old graffiti from inside the depot. Note the infinity sign/hat brim. Could it be the mark of the original train-hopping Bozo Texino?
San Antonio can trace its history back to 1629 and the founding of the San Antonio de Senecú Mission. The Apaches succeeded in destroying the mission in 1675 and for over 100 years the burnt remains of the village, which had been inhabited by Piro Indians for a mere 700 years prior, slowly decayed out on the plains, a caution to travelers on the nearby Camino Real. Now those ruins have been fully reclaimed by nature and the exact location of San Antonio de Senecú is unknown. On the other hand, the Crystal Palace, below, was once a dance hall and then a much more dilapidated (and photogenic) auto garage, but someone eventually decided to kinda fix it up.
Hispanic farmers from northern New Mexico established present-day San Antonio in 1820 and, when the Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1880, the town shifted to be closer to the rails. While most of San Antonio’s 1,250 residents still raised livestock, made wine, or even kept bees, the railroad was soon extended 10 miles east to reach the coal mines of Carthage and Tokay. Stakes included a claim known as the Hilton Mine, owned by A.H. “Gus” Hilton, who used the money to found the A.H. Hilton Mercantile Store. Mr. Hilton’s son, Conrad, was born on Christmas Day, 1887.
For almost 50 years the mines paid out, the trains came and went, and stagecoaches ran between White Oaks, Fort Stanton, and Lincoln. However, by 1925, the mines were going bust and the railroad soon took up its tracks.
And that is largely where San Antonio is at today, except for the slight shift to the north, where most business is now conducted along U.S. 380. Not a true ghost town, you still won’t find any trains stopping at the marooned and badly listing depot. Of course, every ghost town aficionado hopes to discover something new, and,
For those Paris Hilton fans wishing to tour the old ruins, I can be hired at a very reasonable price. Please wear sensible shoes and long pants and don’t expect much.
Info for this post came from Varney and Harris. Special thanks to the grandson of the owners of the San Antonio depot for the quick peak inside. Next time we’ll visit the aforementioned Carthage and Tokay. Or, at least, an area the might as well be.
APRIL 2014 UPDATE: Thanks to Jerrysocorro P, a wonderful photo of the A.H. Hilton Merctl Co building has been brought to my attention. Apparently taken in 1909, this is a rare image indeed. It shows the corner on which the above ruins were photographed. Across the street is a building signed as "City Drug Store." This is what was later the post office and still stands as a private residence.
Very interesting to me is the building behind the mercantile. Unfortunately, you can't see it on the downloaded photo, but behind the skeletal tree is a sign on which you can read " OT L". The best way to have a look for yourself is to go to this page. Is this another "Hilton Hotel"? I can't imagine San Antonio supporting two hotels when it couldn't support a bank.
This excellent biography (thanks again, Jerrysocorro P!) on Conrad Hilton mentions a "makeshift hotel" where for $1 you got a room and a hot meal. It also specifically states that there were rooms in the mercantile, although the merc looks rather un-hotel-like. So what is this second apparent hotel? 'Tis a mystery.
Kudos to the University of New Mexico and NMSU for making historical photos like this one available on-line.