Sunday, July 31, 2016

Empty Desks: Contreras, New Mexico

In Socorro County, New Mexico, tucked off a side road that parallels I-25, not far from a muddy stretch of the Rio Grande, is the little village of Contreras. This was where a man named Matías Contreras once raised cattle and sheep and gave his name to a small community. A post office opened in 1919 but closed in 1935.

Not far south of Contreras is La Joya, the literal end of the road, and, in fact, a map from 1918 has Contreras as Los Ranchos de la Joya. La Joya’s recorded history post-European contact goes back much farther, to 1598, when Juan de Oñate's expedition found a Piro Indian pueblo there and called it Nueva Sevilleta because the setting reminded the Spanish explorers of Seville, Spain.

To me, the most striking building in Contreras is the old, long-empty school, naturally. I don’t know much about it, but I do know that students were attending classes there in the 1930’s. So perhaps it's one of the many Works Progress Administration (WPA) structures built in the area around the time of the Great Depression. Nearby Alamillo has a WPA school that became (and might still be) a residence, although it looks quite different.

There used to be a plaque to the right of the front doors (see top photo), which I somehow managed to miss. Later I was told it commemorated some local folks involved with the school, but before I could get back to look more closely it had been removed. I don’t think it was stolen though; probably it was taken off because the building is in such poor condition. Maybe whoever has it will read this and tell us what it says! I should mention that I photographed the school a few years ago and not only is it in worse shape now, it's also been fenced-off.

Otherwise, the San Jose Catholic Church, part of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, is well-maintained and hosts a fiesta in March. There are no going commercial or civic concerns, but there are some well-kept homes and, if you visit whilst under the vengeful eye of the relentless afternoon sun on a parched, triple-digit day, plenty of dust. Of course, as this is the blog for connoisseurs of dust, everything is as it should be with this trip to Contreras, New Mexico.

There’s not a lot out there on Contreras, so pretty much all the historical information for this post came from Robert Julyan’s trusty “The Place Names of New Mexico.”

I have a backlog of so many small towns and villages in New Mexico that I may well never get to them all at this rate. But I can keep trying! Next time I’ll just reach my hand into the hat and see what I pull out.


Ruben Chandler said...

great post! thanks

jmhouse said...

Thank you, Ruben Chandler. I'm glad you enjoyed seeing Contreras! JM

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

The schoolhouse reminds me of the schoolhouse in the Village of San Acacia, north of Socorro. The building is use by San Acacia Riding Adventures.

jmhouse said...

You're absolutely right, Laughing Orca Ranch! I've never taken a photo of the San Acacia school because it's used by SA Riding Adventures and thus looks too...well kept, maybe! But I really should document it. And maybe take a horse ride!

Thanks for mentioning that! JM

Roger J Hampson said...

I love your posts, I live in the UK and they're like messages from another world.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for your comment, Roger J Hampson! It's much appreciated. Sometimes I feel like I've stepped into another world, too. And I live here!

Best Regards, JM

Anna Howle said...

My mother was born in Contreras, NM. I believe that many family members are buried in a nearby cemetery. Do you have any pictures of the cemetery? I remember passing through Contreras on the way to visit family in La Joya when I was younger. Thanks for posting the pictures. This was a sentimental journey for me!

jmhouse said...

Thanks, Anna Howle! It is not often that I hear from someone with a connection to Contreras! Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of the cemetery, but I am in that area quite regularly. I could easily take some pictures soon and, if there are any names in particular that you are interested in finding, I could try to do that.

La Joya is a fascinating place, as well. I really should try to do a post on it some day, too.

Best Regards, JM

yogi said...

My grandmother was born in Silver City and baptized in a town by the name of Georgetown. I understand that Georgetown is no longer there. THere is, however, a cemetery and a bed and breakfast business as of two years ago when I was doing some research. Have you ever been there? I've been meaning to try and find Georgetown, but don't know if that is possible, due to road conditions. It would be interesting to see what it looks like today. Georgetown is in Grant county, not far from Silver City. Love you posts, by the way. Thanks.

jmhouse said...

Hi Yogi,

Thanks for your comment! That's really something that your grandmother was baptized in Georgetown. I have not been to there, sadly enough. I've been very close a number of times, so I'm afraid I have no excuse! However, I believe you can access the town site without too much difficulty by heading west from Mimbres on Georgetown Rd. or picking up the other end of that road from Highway 152 east of Santa Rita. I'm not sure if it's paved, but I think the road is generally in good shape. While you're right that virtually nothing exists of Georgetown itself, the cemetery is accessible and you can see a photo (and get some more info) HERE. Incidentally, Georgetown Cabins Resort picked up that story and commented on it HERE. You might try calling them about current road conditions before heading out.

Hope that helps! Feel free to let us know what you find if you make the trip. Glad you found City of Dust! JM

Anonymous said...

Contreras, New Mexico - Settled first by Juan Andres Contreras and his family. His son, Matias Cotreras, is probably the reason Los Ranchos de La Joya became Contreras. Plenty of information has been posted on line - photos, stories, etc. You have not allowed for the posting of phots, etc. My mom's paternal grandfather, Albino Contreras, was the brother of Matias Contreras (Matias served in the New Mexico Territorial Legislature, was a Probated Judge, served as a first Lt. in the New Mexico Volunteers during the Civi War, was a Socorro County Commissioner, etc.).

jmhouse said...

Thanks for the information, Anonymous. It isn't me that doesn't allow the posting of pictures here in the comments. As far as I know, Blogger has never enabled such a feature. However, if you want to send me photos through the e-mail address associated with my Blogger profile (link at above right), I'd be happy to append them to the post itself. Or, you can send me a message with photos through the City of Dust Facebook page.

Thanks again! JM