Frozen in Time in New Mexico
The year is 1870 in southwest New Mexico. A mule skinner named Harry Pye was hauling freight for the US army in the area when he came upon a lump of rock that looked to be chloride silver ore. The as- sayer’s office confirmed Pye’s hunch, and Pye did his best to keep his discovery a secret, but word soon got out and people of all stripes moved to the area hoping to make it rich. The town of Chloride sprung up less than one hour north east of Truth or Consequences what is now Highway 52. Before you knew it, the town had nine saloons, a general store, a dry goods, millinery, a restaurant, a candy store, pharmacy, one butcher, a photography studio, a school, a post office and two fine hotels.
The general store was built by Mr. James Dalglish in 1880. Like many in New Mexico, he was an immigrant. He’d moved down from Canada to improve his health. He began the backbreaking task of building a log building of hand-hewn Ponderosa Pine.
By the end of the year, Dalglish had finished his building and opened The Pioneer Store. Dalglish operated the store through the silver boom of 1880 through 1897, helping workers and families in Chloride by carrying food, clothing, and ranch equipment. He’d even order wagons and buggies.
The government rented space in the store front for Chloride’s post office, and a newspaper called ‘the Black Range’, which ran weekly between 1882 and 1896, rented space above the store.
When the boom ended, Dalglish leased the building to others who continued to operate it until 1908. In 1923, Chloride had become a true ghost town. The building’s owners boarded it exactly how it stood, including the food on the shelves. It was frozen in time for 68 years.
In 1994, restoration began. The building had to be straightened, as the wood had sagged. The windows were replaced. The roof, chinking and foundations all needed repair.
The bonanza inside, however, was 50 boxes of personal and town records, from 1880 to 1923. All were carefully cleaned and stored. Amazingly, much of the store’s inventory was in fine condition.
The building reopened to the public as the Pioneer Store Mu-
seum in 1998, and is registered with the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties and run by a nonprofit organization. It is to remain open as a museum in perpetuity.
Stepping into the Pioneer Store and Museum is like stepping back into the Old West. Shelves are stocked with canned goods, kerosene lamps, flour sacks, sugar loaves, handoperated meat grinders, coffee mills, chamber pots, cigars, ammunition, and countless elixirs and snakeoil remedies.
Period tools and tack covers an entire wall, and some items that are difficult even to identify by modern eyes. An abundance of clothing from the period includes dresses, hats, undergarments, and even bustles that were in style when the store was last open.
Only thirty of Chloride’s original three hundred buildings remain today, mostly as derelicts or in terrible states of disrepair. But you can also visit the Monte Cristo Saloon & Dance Hall, now a gift shop and gallery featuring local artists, and the Apache Kid RV Park has full hookups, and Pye’s Cabin has been restored as a vacation rental.
The Pioneer Store Museum is a must-stop glance at the past, a time-machine that’s not far away and is well worth the trip.