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Grandpa and the ghost town

Deanna Keahey  ·  Sep 17, 2008  ·  13 Comments

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The New Mexico connection:

Dawson, NM was a booming coal mining town in the early 1900s. The population was as high as 9,000 people, and there were schools, churches, a hospital, hotel, even an opera. After a couple of tragic mine explosions, the town was abandoned. Today there's nothing left but a graveyard.

Dawson hotel

Dawson hotel

I just found out that my grandfather built a family home out of Dawson's remains.  Here's my dad's version of the story (so "my dad" in this tale is MY grandfather):

Around 1952 my dad's best childhood friend, an adventurer named Gene Prather heard about a mining town in NM that was being closed -- Dawson. Phelps Dodge wanted the place cleared out entirely, so Gene bought the hospital and my dad bought the hotel. They each took a bunch of workers (in our case a few nephews and some others) and took off. As I recall, it was late fall, the elevation was above 8,000 ft and it got COLD at night. All of the houses in town were simply abandoned, so we had our choice of residences while the work progressed.

No-one had any experience in dismantling multi-story brick buildings, but my dad figured to make a profit off the furnishings, etc. Of course, by the time we got there (I was only a part of this experience for short periods of time), various vandals and cannibals had already made off with most of the stuff that had supposed value -- the telephones, radiators, the best furniture, the x-ray machine from the hospital, etc. But the buildings remained, and they were disassembled board by board and the stuff was all hauled back to Tulia, TX.

In addition to saving any reusable lumber, the wrecking crew also saved any larger nails that happened to come out straight.  And the hotel had, of course, wonderful hardwood (probably oak) floors.  As the crew tried to take these up, the wood splintered and became unusable.  Some wise man advised my dad that some evening before they stopped working they should pour buckets of water over the floor.  The next morning, the wood had swollen so much that the nail heads were popped loose and came out easily.

At the time, we lived in a nice house on Gaines. But my dad used the materials from Dawson to build a new house for us at 17 Norfleet Drive. That hardwood flooring from the hotel was used in our new house. Aside from some fleeting occasional help, I believe he did everything himself.

Prather ended up in Brazil, occasionally dropping by with cases of aquamarines and emeralds ...."

Grandparents at house built from Dawson

Grandparents & house built from Dawson hotel

Photos: Dawson, NM -- then
Photos: Dawson, NM -- now

Is that cool or what? It makes me want to go visit Dawson, and imagine the town full of people, and the old hotel when it was in business.  Probably all the mining officials and opera singers who came to town stayed there.

Then my relatives taking it apart, and hauling it board by board to Texas, where my grandfather reincarnated it as their family home.

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I'm in New Mexico now for our Santa Fe and Taos tour. Afraid I won't have time to check out Dawson on this trip, but I can tell it has the makings of a cool future adventure! :-)
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Categories: Behind the scenes · Santa Fe
Posted from:   Santa Fe, NM       Photo credit:   Herman Keahey

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kathy // Sep 26, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    Sounds like your grandfather was into sustainability and architectural salvage way before these ideas became mainstream!

  • 2 Deanna Keahey // Sep 27, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Hi Kathy -
    I know! Even saving the nails - how many people would do that nowadays?

  • 3 Sebastian Keller // Sep 27, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    In the Middle Ages almost everything was reused. People even took old gravestones to include in 'new' buildings.

  • 4 Deanna Keahey // Sep 28, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Hi Sebastian -
    Now that would seem a bit weird - having a stone in your house "Here lies John Doe, rest in peace" might give me the creeps. But I can see how it would have been a lot easier than going out & cutting new stones. Think I'll stick with reusing boards & nails, though. :-)

  • 5 Ralph Bradford // Nov 11, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    I was born in the Dawson hospital on April fools day, 1941, I often wondered what happened to the larger buildings. Many of the houses were moved to other towns in New Mexico.
    I now live in Oregon but return to Dawson on even years for the reunion.

  • 6 Deanna Keahey // Nov 11, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Hi Ralph - Wow - thanks for writing! I didn't know there was a Dawson reunion. It must seem strange having it at a town that's no longer there. I think it's great that you're keeping the memory alive!

  • 7 Lucy Ann Wines // Nov 16, 2008 at 6:51 am

    I was born in the Dawson Hospital in 1935. My family moved one of the house intact to Raton NM and it is still there. I have the Barrister's bookcases from the manager's office that my parents built. Dawson was a wonderful place in which to grow up.

  • 8 Deanna Keahey // Nov 16, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Hi Lucy - That's wonderful that you still have these links to Dawson -- the house that still exists, the bookcase, and your memories of growing up there. It's sad that a good town is gone now, but at least it lives on in different ways. Thanks!

  • 9 Lisa Brown // Sep 14, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    It is hard for me to explain why I am so attracted to Dawson. I am not from New Mexico I am from Missouri. Dawson keeps coming to me in my dreams. I was curious if you have to have a special invite for the reunion or if there is someone that I can contact to be able to see dawson for what it was. Please reply back so I can begin to rest once again.

  • 10 Deanna Keahey // Sep 14, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Hi Lisa - How interesting! I don't think the 2010 reunion has been set yet, but here are a few links you might find useful...
    http://dawson.vps.it/gallery_internet.php#
    http://dawson.vps.it/links.php
    http://www.silogic.com/genealogy/Dawson,%20NM.html

    Good luck with it! - Deanna.

  • 11 Kelly // Sep 30, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Great post! Dawson reminds me of the oldtime Western town of Oatman in Arizona.
    .-= Kellys last blog ..NOVA: Solar Energy Saved by the Sun =-.

  • 12 lochlomondo // Oct 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Such a sad story about a lively town. hard to believe that they had all they amenities and yet there is no sign of them left.
    .-= lochlomondo s last blog ..4 Star Loch Lomond Accommodation =-.

  • 13 Deanna Keahey // Oct 28, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Isn't it amazing? Thinking about taking a whole town apart, bit by bit, so that it ends up dispersed all over... It's an odd thought.

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