Chloride ghost town in New Mexico is getting a second change at life

The ghost town of Chloride is getting a second chance at life

The Chloride Bank Cafe was restored with 6,000 adobe bricks made on site. (Glen Rosales/For the Albuquerque Journal)

CHLORIDE – In what might have been the busiest day here since the silver-mining heyday almost 150 years ago, ranchers, farmers and the generally curious packed the small town about 30 miles west of Elephant Butte on a brilliant Saturday afternoon.

Don Edmund, 90, who along with his late wife Dona Edmund restored numerous buildings in the erstwhile ghost town, was overseeing the auction of most of his equipment used in the work. He parted company with everything from hand tools to tractors and even an old-fashioned pinball machine.

“I’m getting too old for that,” said Edmund, who has diligently and lovingly poured his time, effort and money into the town that counts nine full-time residents. He and his wife restored 16 buildings in the town, with the Pioneer Store Museum as Chloride’s showcase.

Built in 1880, it was a thriving business serving miners who carved the silver from the mines several miles outside the town limits. The hand-hewn log building also was the town’s post office. The Black Range, a weekly newspaper, was published from its upstairs rooms.

Although the silver played out in 1896, the Pioneer served as a commissary for the James Family’s timber and ranching operations until the 1920s, when Chloride’s population simply became too small to support it any longer. So it was boarded over with lumber and tin, Edmund said, with the shelves still well-stocked with the products of the day.

“There was even still cash in the cash box,” Edmund said.

The time capsule is open to the public for free, looking much the way it did a century ago, he said.

The Edmunds stumbled onto the town nestled against the edge of the eastern side of the Gila National Forest by mistake in the mid-1970s.

“We thought we had discovered an old movie set,” he said.

They drove until they saw a mailbox. They found a couple of residents and began to talk.

Almost before they realized what was happening, the Edmunds had bought one of the deserted buildings.

“It was a dirty house that hadn’t been lived in for 40 years,” he said. “It was in pretty bad shape.”

But the Edmunds would drive over on weekends from his job at the White Sands Missile Range and it turned out to be just the thing they needed after a hectic career in missile testing working for IBM.

Later they added the Pioneer, then came the neighboring building. “The building next to it was an old saloon,” he said, adding the rollicking town once had more than a dozen bars lining its dusty streets. “My daughter asked to use it as a gallery and I’m really proud of her and the gallery. She turned it into a co-op and now there’s 30-plus artists in there. They came out of the woodwork.”

Four miner’s shacks at the edge of town have been completely redone on the inside with modern kitchens and baths, and Edmunds rents them out for people who want to enjoy the town and explore the many trails in the Gila.

“We keep the outside looking old, but we made the inside as modern as possible,” he said.

Across the street from the Pioneer sits an old adobe building that used to be the town’s bank. When Edmund heard it was going to be demolished, he bought it. Workmen doing another project for him in town made 6,000 adobe bricks on site.

“All of a sudden, I had a building going up,” he said. “We had a saloon, a church, but we needed a café. I put in a stainless steel kitchen, it’s state-of-the-art. I’ve run it with varying degrees of success, but it’s hard getting anybody to work. If I could find a cook, I’d open it up again.”

Indeed, the pandemic took its toll on the limited tourism business and things are only now starting to gradually pick up.

“We’re just now getting back on our feet,” Edmund said.

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