SILVER CITY: From booming mining town to artist haven
Rough and tumble, brash and bawdy, Silver City during the 19th century was a mixture of miners, inn keepers with their saloons and “soiled doves” together with ranchers and pioneers from the East trying to establish a new life for themselves in the Wild West.
Ever watchful were the Apaches, who had long before occupied this area as their campsite. Hostile to the intrusive newcomers, they perfected a talent for sudden bloody attacks and rapid retreats that were a constant challenge to the settlers. Geronimo and Cochise were among their war leaders.
Legendary Butch Cassidy and Kit Carson, as well as other infamous desperadoes, were always drifting through to add their own color to this disparate melange.
The infamous “Billy the Kid” grew up in Silver City during the 1870s. Thought to be a scrawny little student with delicate hands and an artistic nature, Henry McCarty (later Atrium when his mother remarried, aka William Bonney), took to burglary while in his teens. The skulduggery and killing led “Billy the Kid” to the Arizona territory where he became an icon in Old West outlawry.
Billy the Kid was born in a log cabin similar to this one in Silver City.
At an altitude of 6,000 feet and perched on the edge of the 3.3 million acre Gila National Forest in a high desert wonderland, Silver City enjoys an incredibly moderate climate.
The natural beauty, favorable climate and low cost of living have encouraged artists and writers to take up residence. Every Saturday, some two dozen galleries encourage visitors to enjoy the work of local artists and artisans.
Aside from a wide range of contemporary paintings and sculptures displayed in the many galleries, unique jewelry, pottery and weavings make a broad selection for visitors to peruse. Hosana Eilert, owner of Wild West Weaving is a transplant from Chimayo, N.M., where her family has had a tradition of hand weaving. She, like many other artists, came to Silver City for the practical reasons mentioned, and enjoys a lively community of like minded artists.
Gaily painted store fronts line the streets in downtown Silver City.
In this unusual city of a little more than 10,000 residents, there are a surprising number of very delightful culinary retreats to reward diners.
The Curious Kumquat is on the top of the list. Award-winning Chef Rob Connoley forages the adjacent mountainsides to add to his freshly grown produce in creating what he calls “New American Cuisine.”
Another place to dine well is Tre Rosat. Nearby at the Hub Plaza is a small eatery for an unusual lunch of stuffed crepes: the Tapas Tree Grill.
A few predictable motels are on the southern outskirts of Silver City along Route 180, but an outstanding choice of lodging can be found at the Bear Mountain Lodge, located a few miles north of town. Only 10 minutes from the heart of Silver City, this historic 1928 lodge is fully restored with 12 guest rooms, each with a private bathroom (some with jacuzzi).
Sitting on 178 secluded acres bordering on the Gila National Forest, the lodge has four miles of on-site walking trails. The Cafe Oso Azul serves breakfast, lunch and dinner by reservation only.
The Mansard-Italianate Ailmann House, built in 1881, houses the Silver City Museum. Displays include pottery and relics from the Mimbres and other Mogollan cultures who lived in the vicinity until the 12th century. Extensive local artifacts and large photograph collection indicate life in Silver City over the centuries.
The Mansard-Italianate Ailmann House (1881)
The largest and most complete collection of Mimbres pottery and materials in existence is housed at the Western New Mexico University located at 1000 College Avenue. In 1893, the New Mexico Normal School was founded. In 1963, the university was officially established.
Fascinating side trips from Silver City could be taken to the Mattocks Ruin Site where the Mimbres built their homes from 550 to 1140, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings built by the Puebloans of the Mogollon Area who abandoned them around 1300.
Traces of ancient people, the Spanish, Apache, and the 1870s establishment of Silver City in the midst of a mining boom all are part of this unique city’s ambiance.
Further information about restaurants and hotels in the downtown historic district can be obtained from the Murray Ryan Visitor Center at 210 N. Hudson Street. A map of the city and nearby points of interest are available there as well. Call (575) 538-5555 or visit www.silvercityacd.org for more information.