Sunday, July 11, 2010
New Life in A Ghost Town
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
CHLORIDE — A wrong turn taken by a visitor more than 30 years ago has given this Sierra County ghost town new life. Chloride was a dilapidated old mining town with a handful of full-time residents when Donald Edmund, a retired IBM manager, and his wife, Dona, arrived in town on Labor Day weekend in 1977.
Donald Edmund had been heading toward the Gila National Forest that day when he turned left at Winston, instead of right, and two miles later ended up in Chloride.
The Edmunds were smitten. They thought they had stumbled onto a deserted movie set, and Dona Edmund remarked, "If it's for sale, we should buy it."
Edmund quickly struck up a conversation with some of the residents, and, within hours, he had made an offer to buy a neglected property with a crumbling house. Only the building's walls were standing, the roof had caved in, and brush was growing through the floor boards.
Edmund said he planned to burn it down and start over with a small cabin, until Chloride's old-timers emerged to tell him about the building's history.
That evening, his wife told him they had to save it.
They did, and so started three decades of purchasing, renovating and resurrecting a series of long-neglected buildings in Chloride.
"We fell in love with the seven 'old-timers' who were here when we got here. They accepted us as part of their families," Edmund said. "After hearing their stories, it just seemed natural that we should save whatever we could. It has become our passion."
So far, Edmund and his wife have restored nine of the local buildings and have plans to work on four or five more.
Starting first with their own house and a stone chicken coop that housed a family during the Depression, the Edmunds have restored: an adobe building, built in 1880, to be a judge's office; the 1880 Pioneer Store, which had been sealed up in 1923 with all its merchandise and furnishings in place; a mining company headquarters, built in 1884; the 1879 cabin built by the town's founder, Harry Pye; the 1880 Monte Cristo Saloon and Dancehall; a stone building from 1884 that was supposed to be a bank; and an adobe building, built in 1884, as the barracks and armory for a local militia.
The Edmunds also acquired a two-story log building known as the Grafton Cabin, which was formerly owned by the city of Las Cruces and displayed on the edge of the Downtown Mall. The cabin, built in the late 1800s in a mining camp named Grafton not far from Chloride, is now on display in the ghost town.
The old armory building is being turned into a home for the Edmunds' daughter, Linda.
The Edmunds have converted the Pioneer Store, acquired in 1989, into a nonprofit museum with all of the store's merchandise and furnishings on display. Visitors can see old prospecting pans, pickaxes, a dynamite detonator, the area's first telephone, an American flag from the 1890s and a 3-ton, double-doored safe.
The museum also contains a small display of handmade shoes, clothing and furniture made by the late Willie Catherine "Cassie" Hobbs, a longtime resident who died in 1989 at the age of 85. The Edmunds had grown so close to Cassie Hobbs and her late husband, Earl, that Donald Edmunds presided over her funeral.
When Donald Edmund first set foot in the building, a colony of bats had made it their home. But the building also held boxes of records of the town's history.
"That's part of the allure," Edmunds said. "We lived back East. Back East, history is 300 years old. Here, the old-timers lived it."
The Edmunds have also converted the Monte Cristo Saloon into a gift shop and gallery featuring artwork created by local artists who are members of a cooperative.
Daughter Linda Turner, who used to run an interior design firm in Las Cruces and moved full time to Chloride in 2005, is the docent at the Pioneer Store Museum. She is also the chairwoman of the artists' cooperative that displays locally made folk art in the gift shop and gallery.
The museum and gift shop receive about 300 visitors per month, Donald Edmund said. A guest book at the museum shows recent visitors from Arkansas, Florida, California, England and even Finland.
"Being about 40 miles off the interstate, at the end of the road, we think that's pretty good. If they (tourists) are here in Chloride, it's because they want to be, or they're lost," Donald Edmund said.
The Edmunds also operate the five-space Apache Kid RV Park, and rent out Pye's renovated cabin to visitors.
"I think what they are doing is wonderful," said April Simonson, one of Chloride's nine residents and one of the founding members of the local artists' cooperative. "When I moved here (in 1982), there were some older folks around and it was fascinating to talk to them, but they wouldn't write things down. But the Edmunds have. Without them, a bunch of history and facts ... would just be gone."
Chloride got its start in the late 1870s with the arrival of an English mining prospector, Harry Pye, who had found chloride of silver in a canyon. Shortly thereafter, Pye was killed in an attack by Apaches, but stories of his find led to a rush on the area. By 1881, more than 20 homes had been built and seven businesses established.
Business was booming and the town's population swelled to 3,000 by 1890. Nine saloons opened to serve the local miners.
But Chloride's slide began in 1893 when, in response to an economic crisis, Congress repealed an act requiring the federal government to purchase silver as a basis for U.S. currency. Silver prices plunged. By 1900 Chloride had fewer than 100 inhabitants.
Today, the village's population is less than one-tenth of that, but Edmund is happy to call it home.
The Edmunds have sunk a "considerable" amount of their own money into the restoration efforts. Don Edmund prefers not to disclose precisely how much.
Expense is not the issue, he says.
"We believe we are living our dream."