All photos courtesy of Dixie Boyle
Adobe ruins, dilapidated homesteads, crumbling foundations, and rusty vehicles are often all that remain of the booming communities once dotting New Mexico’s landscape. Mining towns died when the gold and silver ran out, farm towns passed away when the rain stopped, and other locations lost population as the railroad downsized.
Towns along NM Highway 60 between Scholle and Encino in Torrance County were founded when the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) laid track between Belen and the Texas border, on the railroad line known as the Belen Cutoff. The railroad built water stops and depots along the route and encouraged settlement by sponsoring emigrant trains, a quicker method of transport for settlers moving their belongings and livestock across the country.
On a 62-mile stretch of the highway are five ghost towns that were once bustling communities, supporting schools, hotels, churches, mercantile stores, railroad depots, and more. But once the boom times went bust, these towns faded back into the landscape. Little remains of Scholle, Abo, Lucy, and Negra. While not technically a ghost town, Encino nonetheless continues to lose population. Only 65 souls currently live there.
From Ranching to Railroad
Located 13 miles west of Mountainair, Scholle was named after a pioneer mercantile owner from Belen who used the area to herd his vast flocks of sheep. When the railroad established a watering station at the site, Fred Scholle sold the land and left his name for the railroad town that followed. The community had become a boomtown by 1916.
Scholle was famous for its dances, and the most popular place in town on a Friday night was the dance hall owned and operated by local resident Canuto Sisneros. The establishment had a large rock patio, and settlers came from the surrounding farms and towns to dance and socialize.
The community’s most well-known resident was Joe J. Brazil. Born and raised in Scholle in 1924, he spent the majority of his life there raising cattle. Referred to as a poet and philosopher, he was also an accomplished artist. While serving in the South Pacific during World War II, he made enough money drawing portraits of his fellow soldiers and painting on B-24 bomber planes to start his first cattle herd when he returned home. He continued drawing in his spare time, and became an accomplished artist of ranch scenes and Western life. He died in his home outside Scholle in 2006.
1,000 Years of History Gone
Three miles to the east of Scholle is the Abo Unit of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. The location of Abo has become a ghost town more than once during its 1,000-year history. For centuries after the Tompiro Indians abandoned the site in the 1670s due to drought and Apache raids, no one settled near Abo Pass.
The Tompiros made Abo into a major pottery trade center, and they often traveled to the Rio Grande to trade with those following the Camino Real between Mexico City and Santa Fe. Accomplished farmers, the Tompiro tended orchards of peaches, apples, and apricots, as well as fields of corn and squash.
Between the years 1815 and 1830, the Sisneros, Pino, Lucero, Baca, and Sanchez families were the first to attempt settling the land near Abo Pass and the ancient Tompiro site. They brought their families and sheep. After 15 years of Apache and Comanche raids, they decided to move closer to Manzano, where there was more protection. But they could not forget about their former home, and returned 36 years later. Their descendants continue to live in the area.
At a different location a few miles southeast of the Tompiro ruins on the south side of Highway 60 are the remains of the railroad town of Abo. A four-room schoolhouse, in session between 1913 and 1960, is testament to its once thriving status—although the town started to decline when the railroad retired its depot in 1940. During its heyday the community also supported two saloons, a post office, and a Catholic church. The church remains in use, but most of the town has not survived.
A Devout Community
Lucy, the next ghost town along the route, lies 28 miles east of Mountainair between Willard and Encino. In 1915 the community had two general stores, a four-room hotel, blacksmith shop, Justice of the Peace, post office, gas station, and around a dozen homes. Roy Cline, who later started his roadside business at Clines Corners, first went into business in Lucy.
The people of Lucy loved to sing, and often remained after church on Sundays to practice their hymns until a little before the train was scheduled to arrive. Then they stopped what they were doing and headed to the depot to watch the train huff and puff in from the East. It was a common practice in most railroad communities of the time.
But in 1938 the depot at Lucy was moved to Estancia and used as the depot for the New Mexico Central Branch of the railroad. It now resides on a ranch south of Estancia, a relic of another time and place. To complete Lucy’s long, slow decline, within the past year the schoolhouse was demolished and the remaining ranch house to the north burned to the ground. Only a scattering of corrals and outbuildings remain where 300 people once lived.
The cemetery also still stands. In 2013, former residents and the land’s owner fenced the cemetery, whose graves and tombstones were nearly destroyed by grazing cattle. A gate and list of those buried have been added at the entrance. It is all that survives of Lucy.
Negra, located five miles southwest of Encino, owes its existence to the Homestead Act and the AT&SF Railroad. All that remains is the gas station and tourist court next to Highway 60. They were built by C.E. Davenport, the first postmaster of Encino. Across the tracks to the south was the main section of Negra, which held a school, teacher’s house, and several other structures.
The rock house of Ollie and Hallie Williams still stands just east of the road. Hallie and her sister, Carrie Walker, came to Negra to homestead and taught in the one-room schoolhouse. Hallie eventually married Ollie Williams, who homesteaded land at Negra and ran the gas station and tourist court before opening his mercantile store in Encino.
Campgrounds referred to as tourist courts were popular the first 50 years of the 20th century. These early businesses consisted of small cabins and areas to camp. Some even provided corrals for livestock. Showers were available at a few campgrounds, and almost all provided residents with buckets of water for cooking and cleaning.
During World War II, when there was a shortage of male teachers in the United States, Hallie also taught math at Encino High School. Between 1939 and 1942, she painted four Southwestern-style murals on the walls of Encino’s gymnasium. She was commissioned $20 a mural by the senior classes of those years. Unfortunately, the murals have since been destroyed.
Not Yet Gone
Five miles east of Negra is the small town of Encino. The town is not officially a ghost town, but most of its buildings are vacant and the community has lost 27 people since the last census.
Bonnie Salas homesteaded the town site of Encino. Sheep and cattle ranchers soon followed, settling on the endless plains surrounding the town. Mariano Mondosa, F.H. Wood, the Duran family, the Tenarios, Victor Perez, and Jesus Abeyta are a few of those original settlers.
R.C. Dillon was another of Encino’s early pioneers. After serving in the New Mexico State Senate from 1924 to 1926, he was elected the eighth governor of New Mexico, serving two terms from 1927 to 1931. After his terms as governor, he returned to Encino and opened a mercantile store near the railroad tracks named R.C. Dillon & Company.
Encino’s decline began in 1965 with the closing of the railroad depot. By 1982 the high school was consolidated with the Vaughn Schools, and the elementary school followed a few years later. The brick elementary school building now houses the offices of the Village of Encino and the town library. The high school and gymnasium built by the WPA between 1936 and 1939 were recently torn down due to safety issues. The murals of Hallie Williams were still on the walls.
The Railroad Taketh Away
All the railroad depots between Scholle and Encino were built in 1908, reflecting the power of the railroad to bring life to what was once nothing but vacant land. Unfortunately, the towns began their slide into decline and dust once the railroad depots disappeared. Scholle’s depot was retired in 1945, Abo’s in 1940, Lucy’s in 1938, Negra’s in 1941, and Encino’s in 1965. Then they were either torn down or moved, taking the heart of the town with them. The people soon followed, leaving nothing but abandoned buildings and years of memories behind.