From Albuquerque, two roads lead to Santa Fe. Interstate 25 north shoots straight up and even though it travels through several Pueblos on the way, if you blink you will miss them because the slow cars are traveling at 75mph. The other way is Interstate 40 east from Albuquerque for a few mile to Tijeras and there exit and head north on NM 14. But we’re not going to Santa Fe today – we’re going to Madrid. And, before you get there you should practice saying it correctly, as it’s not “ma-DRID” as said in Spain, but “MAD-rid” as it they are all mad there. Perhaps they are. Madrid was used for many scenes of the movie “Wild Hogs” and you can still visit Maggie’s Diner, one of the locations in the film, but Madrid has a much older claim to fame. While it’s not one of my old school postcard towns, nor does it have the colonial small town charm of Villanueva, (another town I posted about), Madrid does have its own odd history, quirks and story to tell, and Christmas is a big part of the story.
In the hills of the mineral rich Ortiz Mountains along NM State Road 14 on what is now called the Turquoise Trail – a National Scenic Byway of New Mexico, Madrid was born. At this time NM 14 was a horse and wagon trail that connected the State Capital of Santa Fe with a mining camp that was supplying coal to the troops occupying Santa Fe in 1846. Actually, to call it a mining camp at this point is a bit of an exaggeration because squatters were the ones actually mining the coal then. The legitimate settlement of this town was in 1869 and then it quickly grew to exceed the population of Albuquerque at it’s peak in the 1940’s, mainly due to the interest that the Santa Fe Railroad had for Madrid’s coal, (unusually – both kinds – bituminous and anthracite).
Madrid was a company owned town and this company provided residents with everything they needed from schools, churches, a hospital and jail to shops, garage/service stations, a ballpark and a hotel. There was even a tennis court, golf course and shooting range. At Christmas time the Company encouraged the development of a tradition for the residents through the Madrid Employees Club, a civic organization that every employee payed dues to and belonged. There were other events throughout the year in celebration of all the holidays, but Christmas in Madrid became famous. Over 40,000 electric bulbs were used to light up the streets of Madrid, NM. Every part of Main Street was decorated to the hilt and every home had a Christmas tree on the porch or in the yard that was also decked with glitter and lights. It was such a spectacle that commercial airplanes would divert their routes to fly over Madrid at Christmas time to treat their passengers to the show that started at the first of December and continued through New Year’s Eve.
All good things will usually end and the demise of this month long Christmas event had a couple of contributors, the first being WW2 when the population of the town dwindled as men left for war. At this time other fuel sources became popular further decreasing the demand for coal, so by 1954 the town was practically empty and the Company put it up for sale for a mere $250,000. No one bit on this For Sale ad:
200 houses, Grade and High School
Powerhouse, General Store, Tavern
Machine Shop, Mineral Rights
9,000 Acres, Excellent Climate
Fine Industrial Location
Madrid faded away and was revived by artisan hippies in the early 1970’s. At this time Madrid was owned by Joe Huber, the son of the Company’s Superintendent. He rented some of the buildings to the hippies that showed up to make a home in “nowhere” New Mexico, and the town slowly climbed out of obscurity, becoming a mecca for avant garde craftsmen and artists seeking a more laid back lifestyle in New Mexico. In recent years the 300+ residents of Madrid have begun to revived the Madrid Christmas traditions and celebrate this holiday all month long. Visit the Madrid website for a schedule of the events left for this year, and also visit the Mineshaft Tavern’s calendar for the musical events this month. Take a trip out to Madrid this holiday season, or any season for that matter. This picturesque New Mexico town is a delightful destination.
Pictured Company Houses
photo 1 – circa 1940 company homes decorated for Christmas, New Mexico Records Center and Archives
photo 2 – circa June 1981 origin unknown
photo 3 – present day, wikipedia
photo 4 by Charles Sovek, “Miner’s Shacks, Madrid, New Mexico” oil painting
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