Friday, September 07, 2012

Hitting the Bricks: Ancho, New Mexico

Lincoln County, New Mexico is Billy the Kid country. The Kid gained his reputation in the Lincoln County War of 1878 and escaped the hangman’s noose by shooting his jailer’s in the Lincoln County Courthouse. I may do an entire post on Billy the Kid and the town of Lincoln someday, but right now we’re going to visit Ancho, in the northwestern part of Lincoln County.

Ancho (pronounced like the first part of “anchovie”) is Spanish for “wide” or “broad” and refers to the valley in which the town sits. Most towns in New Mexico were born by the railroad or minerals and Ancho owes its existence to both. The El Paso and Northeastern Railroad pushed into the valley around 1900 and designated that there be a stop in the vicinity. Within a year, a gypsum deposit was discovered not far away and a plaster mill was built, operated by the Gypsum Product Company. In 1902 (or 1905, depending on your source), a proper railroad depot was put up and some company houses constructed. In 1905, the Ancho Brick Company was created to utilize the abundant fire clay in the area.

For a time, the heart of Ancho was made of plaster and brick. Ancho-made bricks and plaster helped rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 'quake and more bricks were used for smelter stacks in Arizona. In 1930, the town used its own product to construct a large, brick schoolhouse, replacing the small, wooden, one-room job that burnt down. The school had as many as five teachers and 140 students. However, Ancho was in trouble. Phelps Dodge had purchased the brick plant in 1917, enlarged it, and then shut it down following bankruptcy in 1921. It was finally dismantled in 1937 by the Abilene Salvage Company. There was a slight increase in population during the Depression as desperate families tried to make money mining for gold in the Jicarilla Mountains, but that was short-lived. In 1954, U.S. 54 was laid out, cutting Ancho off by over 2 miles on the route between Corona and Carrizozo. The school closed the following year. In 1959, the railroad shuttered the depot (photos at top and below) and the final nail was put in Ancho’s coffin. Almost.

In 1963, Mrs. Jackie Silvers purchased the old depot, somehow moved it off the railroad right-of-way, and then filled it with all manner of antiques from the area. My House of Old Things, as the “museum” was called, got a rave review in Varney’s New Mexico ghost town book. He called it “a wonderful conglomeration of all the things you thought nobody had saved” and said it was “not to be overlooked.” But Varney’s book is over 30 years old and so we didn’t get our hopes up. This was good because, while it was still easy to find My House of Old Things, it was immediately clear that it was very closed and had been for years. A disappointing reversal of our fortunes in Chloride. A still-furnished cabin nearby hints at what used to be on display.

Later, in nearby White Oaks, we met a man born in Ancho. It was revealed that Mrs. Sara Jackson, who’d taken over the house when Jackie, her mother, died, passed away several years ago. Her family had expressed no interest whatsoever in maintaining the house or its old things. Apparently many items were sold on EBAY, which we were told was “heartbreaking” given their relation to the history of ranching, farming, and homemaking in the region. Who knows what was sold, but peeping inside it appeared that much remains. Furniture, clothes, an old wooden letter box. Through one window was a mannequin head, seemingly presiding over the dust and decay, waiting for something to finally happen. It may be a long wait. The old playground, abandoned over 50 years ago, still stands, made of bolts and bits of pipe that no school would allow children to play on in this day and age. The school, pictured below, seems to have fared better and is now a church. Though who attends I have no idea.

Not one car passed down the road during our visit. The town was completely silent. Lightning flashed on the horizon and for a brief moment a few big drops of rain fell. Only one building seemed occupied and, indeed, we learned that someone does live there. So, this is Ancho in 2012, population 1.

As so often happens, most of the info for this post came from Philip Varney's ghost town book, but Legends of America fleshed out some details.


The Road Worrier said...

I visited 'My House of Old Things' in the summer of 2004. It was definitely "a wonderful conglomeration" and I am sad to hear that it is no longer open.

Julie Ferguson said...

Wonderful story and photos.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for your comments, Adsila and Road Worrier! Now we know that My House of Old Things was open at least into the summer of 2004. I'd be curious to know when it closed. Perhaps someone will stop by and be able to us. Best, JM

Eileen said...

I lived in Ancho in 1954 and went to school there. My dad was working on the highway. We had one teacher. I would love to learn her name. She lived in a small house with wooden shelves. The shelves were filled with teapots that her former students had brought her from all over the world. My dad bought a small television and he would pick the teacher up on Wednesday nights. We would all watch Liberace. I have written a small essay about my time in Ancho. I loved seeing the picture of the school.810

jmhouse said...

Thanks very much for your recollections, Eileen! It's great to hear from someone that lived in Ancho and went to the school. The school is still in very good shape!

I like the idea of a teapot collection! It must've been pretty impressive.

If you'd ever like to add your essay on Ancho to the information I've collected here, I'd be proud to publish it.

Thanks again!

Best, JM

Unknown said...

I work on the railroad and my run goes through Ancho. To the best of my recollection My House Of Old Things closed about 7 years ago. The couple that operated it have both passed away. I still their daughter there at the property once in awhile but nobody actually lives right in Ancho anymore. The old school building is still used for church services by nearby ranching families.

jmhouse said...

Andy, thanks for the information. I did hear that the couple that ran My House of Old Things passed away and that at least some of the "things" in the museum had been sold. I guess the family had no interest in keeping the place open, which, since the population of Ancho is about zero and there's no through-traffic to speak of, I guess I can't blame them for, really. Is there no one occupying the house next to the museum anymore either?

The school building does seem to be well-kept. I'm glad it's being used. It's a beautiful place made, of course, with Ancho bricks.

That must be a beautiful train ride through the landscape around Ancho. Not a bad gig!

Thanks again! JM

resipso said...

I recently came across a book a cousin of mine once removed had written. Her name was Sharon Amelia Downing (Alexander) Hatch. In it she writes "Tecolote was a railroad siding for the Southern Pacific Railroad. My Grandfather Downing was in charge of the siding. Dad donated Grandpa Downing's large gold pocket watch to 'My House of Old Things', a railroad museum at Ancho, NM, near Tecolote. The building holding the museum is Granddad's old railroad station, complete with an old telegraph key, and switch controls that he probably used. When we were at Tecolote, the ruins of the old Downing home could be seen." That watch belonged to my great grandfather, Moses Downing.