History of Silver City

History of Silver City New Mexico

An elusive essence is more than the sum of a community’s parts, its people and its past, but reflecting all of these elements is what makes a personality of a place. Southwest New Mexico has an undeniable personality from its ruggedly beautiful landscape, echoes of vanished cultures and a continuing, complex human heritage. It is a richly textured living collage, with a uniqueness only found in rural areas that are historically multi-cultural.

There are several historic layers in Grant County, some scarred by conflict, others enhanced through collaboration, each contributing something to the area today. The region’s deep Hispanic and Native American roots are reflected in the distinctive foods, architecture, family ties and community celebrations. The Spanish introduced cattle into the New World, in which the Southwest owes its ranching tradition to. New Mexico’s 19th-century Territorial Period of westward expansion introduced soldiers, miners and settlers of many different backgrounds – bringing new perspectives, material goods and traditions. The early 20th century saw a new wave of influences from the eastern health seekers who sought relief from consumption (tuberculosis) in the area’s congenial climate.

The valley where Silver City is located was known as San Vicente in the early 18th century, it would undoubtedly have been a permanent Spanish or Mexican settlement if not for the continuing Apache hostilities. In 1870 when silver was discovered nearby, the town of Silver City was christened, even though many old-timers in the region wanted to keep the original name of San Vicente. Over the years many descriptive slogans have been attached to Silver City: “The World’s Sanatorium,” “ A Paradise for Consumptives,” “The Biggest Little City” and even “Air Conditioned by Nature.” Whatever you may call it, the Silver City region seems to have held a special attraction for waves of discoveries.

Silver City was founded with the future in mind, unlike the many Western frontier towns that have vanished into a memory. Frustrated in its early efforts to establish local government and a public school system, Grant County threatened to defect to Arizona in 1876, promoting a profound change of heart in the Territorial legislature. As a result, Silver City is the oldest unincorporated town in New Mexico, and the only one still operating under a Territorial charter. It boasts the oldest public school system in the state. It is a town that was built to last, and as a result is rich with surviving historic neighborhoods to tell the stories of its visionary founders.

Many fortunes have been made and lost in the boom-to-bust economy of Southwest New Mexico, but the most consistent and valuable resource of the region has always been its people. Silver City was established on a foundation of people volunteering, its 1878 charter required all able-bodied men to donate two days’ labor each year to street maintenance. The rural character and spirit live on in countless ongoing efforts, from hands-on park construction to youth athletics and literacy programs and arts events. Continuing the tradition of early miners who piece together the first silver-crushing mill and local women who decided to establish a hospital, the quality of life here is a local product.

Old-fashioned courtesies still prevail in Grant County as strangers greet one another on the street and motorists pull to the side when a funeral procession passes and yield to pedestrians. There is a general understanding that events don’t begin precisely at their scheduled times. Legal notices appear in both English and Spanish in the newspapers. Local celebrations (Fourth of July parades, fiestas, live performances, community-wide art festivals, rodeos) are marked by hospitality and a large capacity for enjoyment. The self-reliance, stubbornness, neighborliness, orneriness, generosity and sturdiness associated with the Old West all combine to create a personality of place that is interesting, engaging and, most of all, real.