Madrid is a well-preserved example of the company-owned mining towns that were an important economic and social instrument of industrial development in the United States from the 1880s through the 1920s. Established in 1891 by the Cerrillos Coal and Iron Company, a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF), Madrid continued to function as a company town under successive owners until it was shut down after World War II. Largely abandoned, the town was repopulated in the 1970s and 1980s and is now a tourist stop on the Turquoise Trail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Located in the San Pedro Mountains in central New Mexico, Madrid is an area rich in turquoise, gold, lead, and both bituminous and anthracite coal. Native Americans mined here for turquoise and metals as early as 900–1100 CE, followed by Spanish colonists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and Mexican settlers in the nineteenth century. By 1835, coal was being dug up at the small community of Madrid, probably named after a Spanish family that traces back to Roque Madrid in the seventeenth century.
The arrival of the railroad brought with it a greatly increased demand for coal to power its steam engines. Starting in 1880, the Cerrillos Coal Bank (named after the nearby town of Cerrillos Station) began supplying coal to the AT&SF; in December 1891, the AT&SF formally acquired exclusive mining rights to 26,000 acres through its subsidiary, the Cerrillos Coal and Iron Company. In 1892, a spur was built from the main AT&SF line at Waldo Junction, and a company town with mines, industrial processing facilities, and housing was set up at the mining camp of Keeseville, renamed Madrid after the earlier Spanish settlement. By 1893, Cerrillos Coal and Iron was extracting and shipping large quantities of bituminous coal, used to power steam engines, and anthracite coal, used for home-heating and to fuel the coke ovens used in the production of steel, with total production averaging five hundred tons of coal daily.
To house the miners, the Cerrillos Coal Company transported simple, two-story, balloon-framed prefabricated cabins from the nearby mining town of Carthage, disassembling them into three pieces and reassembling them in Madrid. Made to be easily mobile, these were built without permanent foundations, indoor plumbing, and electricity; poorly insulated, the wood structures were typically finished with tongue-and-groove paneling on the interior and board-and-batten siding on the exterior.
Bisected by the railroad tracks, Madrid’s development concentrated along the town’s two main thoroughfares, Main (Front) Street, which was aligned with New Mexico 14 in 1927, and Back Street, which runs parallel to Main Street to the west of the tracks. Most of the miners’ houses were erected in a linear pattern along Back Street, while company buildings, a mine shaft, a general store, a tavern, a recreation hall, and managers’ housing were built along Main Street.
In 1896, Madrid was acquired by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, owned by the Rockefeller family. After a 1906 fire caused Colorado Fuel and Iron to close the mines, the Albuquerque businessman and founder of the Albuquerque First National Bank, George Kaseman, purchased the mining lease and established the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company; in 1919, he hired Oscar Huber as the mine foreman. Following Kaseman’s death in 1938, Huber leased and continued to operate the mines until he purchased both the town and the company in 1947.
The Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company owned the town’s stores, tavern, schools, medical and recreational facilities, a car dealership, and housing. To foster a sense of community, the company maintained a semi-professional baseball team, whose ball park still stands, and, beginning in 1922, oversaw the annual Christmas displays for which Madrid became known during the interwar period. From 1922 until 1941, participation in the Christmas displays was mandatory, with pay deductions to cover the costs of the electric lights, decorations, and evergreen trees that miners were required to install around their homes, the surrounding hillsides, and along Madrid’s main street. The displays were a source of town pride, but were also a source of resentment, underscoring the control the company wielded over all aspects of the miners’ personal, social, and economic life.
Deductions were made as well from the miners’ pay to cover such company-mandated expenses as their monthly rent for housing ($5-11 in the 1920s, and $9-18 in the 1930s), the monthly allotments of coal for cooking and heating, the powder and fuse lamps, and health care. The town’s inhabitants all shopped at the company store and, during the Great Depression, were only paid in company store credits. Monthly paychecks averaged about fifty dollars in the 1930s.
George Kaseman began to modernize the housing after he purchased the town in 1906, adding electricity and drop lighting in each room of a house. Following his appointment as the resident manager in 1919, Oscar Huber erected box-frame houses, some shipped from a railroad community in Tucumcari and others built by carpenters on site. These were all single story, with front porches and gabled and shingled roofs, clad in board-and-batten siding and finished inside with lathe and plaster walls. Plans typically consisted of four to five small rooms: one or two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and in some cases a living room. More substantial houses were built for Huber and other upper-management employees along a section of Madrid’s main street known as “Silk Stocking Row.” Similar to those built in the contemporary mining communities of Hillsborough, Kingston, and Silver City, these one- and two-story bungalows had gabled roofs, exterior stucco, electricity, and indoor plumbing.
In the 1920s, Main Street was paved and Huber also oversaw the construction of a new hospital, church, post office, fire station, schools, motion picture theater, and department store. Replacing the earlier one- and two-story frame structures that had lined Main Street, these modern facilities were built of brick, stone, and wood with stuccoed exteriors.
By the onset of World War II, Madrid was in decline. Coal production declined from its peak in 1928 of 87,148 tons of anthracite and 97,562 tons of bituminous coal; employment decreased from 725 miners in 1928 to 82 miners in 1945, and the population dwindled from 2,500 in the late 1920s to less than 10 permanent residents by 1954. Huber held on until 1954, in large part because he secured an exclusive contract to supply coal to Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory during and immediately after the war, when it was building the world’s first atomic bombs. But when Los Alamos switched to natural gas in 1954, Huber closed the last mines and listed the “entire town” for sale for $250,000 in a spring 1954 issue of the Wall Street Journal: “200 houses, grade and high school, power house, general store, tavern, machine shop, mineral rights, 9000 acres, excellent climate, fine industrial location.” This attempt to sell the entire town failed and, following Huber’s death in 1962, his son, Joe, began to sell off parcels of the town in the early 1970s. First preference was given to the private renters who had settled in Madrid after the mines closed.
The once-desolate town has since been repopulated by artists, craftspeople, veterans, retirees, and others attracted by Madrid’s affordable real estate and free-spirited, relaxed atmosphere. The small, close-knit community of Madrid now depends on much-needed income from tourists.
Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company Records, Center for Southwest Research, General Library, University of New Mexico.
Baxter, John O. and Sylvia Cook, “Madrid Historic District,” Santa Fe County, New Mexico. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1976. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Clark, Carol L. “Architecture and Town Development in the Mining Camps of Southwestern New Mexico.” Master’s thesis, University of New Mexico, 1982.
Hovey, Katherine. Anarchy and Community in the New American West: Madrid, New Mexico, 1970-2000. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.
Jackson, J.B. “The Dwelling as Chattel.” In New Mexico Studies in the Fine Arts 7 (1982): 5-9.
Keane, John L. “Changing Places: Tourism and the Fading Coal Heritage of Four Rocky Mountain Communities.” Ph.D. dissertation, Arizona State University, 2004.
Motto, Sytha. Madrid and Christmas in New Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: Alpha Printing Ltd., 1973.