It always tickles me when I see towns and cities names after places in other parts of the world. They’re never quite like the original. Madrid New Mexico (pronounce it MADrid or people will know you don’t live around here), a former ghost town brought back to live is about 45 minutes south of Santa Fe on the historic Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, aka NM Route 14.
People searched the area for gold for centuries and there were farms and ranches scattered around the area, but, it wasn’t really settled until the 1890s when the rich coal deposits there began to be mined by the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company. They built a company town of small bungalows to house the miners; a company store, a hospital, schools and a power plant. They even had a company baseball team, the Madrid Miners. Local lore says it was a Brooklyn Dodgers AA farm team and that they had the first lighted ballpark west of the Mississippi. Everything in this small town was controlled by the company.
At one time, this town of 204 people according to the 2010 U.S. Census, had a population of 2,500. By the 1950s the mines closed and the town was virtually deserted. The town was put up for sale as an entirety, but there were no takers. In the 1970s, the run-down houses were offered for rent and sale at bargain prices attracting artists, hippies and other counter-cultural types. Today, Madrid New Mexico is an arty town full of galleries and boutiques attracting tourists on their way up or down the Turquoise Trail.
The town’s Mine Shaft Tavern is a gathering place for locals and has a reputation as a biker bar. It’s part of a compound that includes the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum and the Engine House Theater. It’s worth a stop for a burger, their tangy chile con carne or other pub favorites. The walls are covered with art and murals done by the late Ross Ward, creator of the Tinkertown Museum, a bit further south on the Trail. The bar offers live music on weekends.
The film, Wild Hogs, starring John Travolta and Tim Allan, about a group of middle-aged, middle-class bikers, was shot in Madrid during the summer of 2006. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recognize the town. The only remnant of the sets that were constructed to transform the town is the façade that was Maggie’s Diner. The shop behind the façade offers an eclectic collection of memorabilia and biker gear. Shop owner, Hugh Hackett, a transplant from Dublin, Ireland, says the movie put the town on the map for recreational bikers from all over the world. Each year, thousands of bikers pass through the town on Route 66 tours.
Park your car and walk though this funky town. Stop into the galleries and boutiques and grab a bite to eat. You can almost imagine you’re back 100 years or so in this town that’s come back from the dead.
Have you visited Madrid New Mexico or any other ghost towns brought back to life?
Read more about the Turquoise Trail.