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Madrid brings coal-mining history to life

The town of Madrid has packed an awful lot into its relatively brief existence.

In the early 1900s it was a company-owned coal-mining town, with a dentist and medical office and even a car dealership — with cars that could only be purchased with “scrip” — company money. It was also home to the first baseball field west of the Mississippi to have electric lights and an annual Christmas display rumored to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland.

When the demand for coal decreased in the 1950s and the company went under, Madrid gained overnight ghost-town status. Miners and their families had to leave whatever possessions they couldn’t fit into their cars when they went in search of new lives, leaving abandoned houses that, eerily, looked inhabited but weren’t.

Years later, the town was reborn, and Madrid has since evolved into a mecca for national and international tourists, New Mexicans in search of a good day trip, art lovers and even movie makers.

It has been an interesting journey, which you can learn more about at the Old Coal Town Museum. The museum is not new, but the exhibits have been consolidated, organized, and added to, and it reopened this month in its new format.


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Lynn McLane is a resident of Madrid and one of the tour guides at the updated museum. As she walks you through the exhibits, her enthusiasm for the town and its history is evident.

“It’s got so much … It’s always had everything you would want in the world, and it really still does. We have an example of every kind of person that you would have in a big city … it really is a microcosm of the world, and always has been. I like it because it’s steeped in so much history,” McLane said.

The tour starts in the Engine House Theatre, with the impressive sight of a giant opening to the elements in the back wall of the stage, with a real train coming through — convenient for any play that requires a heroine to be tied to railroad tracks by a villain. From there, the exhibits include electrical and mechanical devices used in the town and in the mines, a display with a history of movies that have been made in the town, pictures of grand Christmas lights and the old baseball field, and a few notes about some Madrid ghost haunts.

The museum is located right next to the Mine Shaft Tavern. Call 438-3780 for hours.