Magdalena Public Library and Boxcar Museum
The history of Magdalena is a reflection of the Old West, with a pattern of American Indian, Spanish and Anglo interaction in the area.
Prior to, and after the arrival of Europeans in the region, the area was a hunting ground for numerous Indian groups, including the Piros, Pueblo, Navajo, Gila, Mogollon, Apache and Comanche peoples.
The first Spanish explorers arrived in the late 1500's and named the area "la Sierra de Magdalena", having seen what they believed to be the face of St. Mary Magdalene in the nearby mountains, a similar geographic feature to a mountain in Spain.
Magdalena began to grow in 1866 when lead, zinc, and silver mining opportunities were discovered in the surrounding mountains, particularly at the Kelly mines.
Magdalena became an incorporated municipality in 1884, and shortly after, a railroad spur was built between Magdalena and the smelting industry in Socorro.
The new railroad also had an important impact on the other major industries in the area: cattle and wool. The three markets of mining, cattle, and wool brought prosperity and development to Magdalena.
Positioned as a center of commerce, the village provided professional services, business, entertainment, medical clinics, and schools for the region.
In 1910, the Forest Service established a regional headquarters in the Village it is now the longest continuous “business.”
Magdalena’s three major economic markets began to decline after World War II. The mines were spent of their major minerals, the cattle were shipped on trucks instead of on the train, thus ending the necessity of large cattle drives, and a decline in the value of wool plus overgrazing brought an end to sheep herding in the region.
The Kelly area was abandoned by the 1950’s when Kelly residents moved into Magdalena or elsewhere.
In 1958, the Bureau of Indian Affairs built a boarding school for Indian children in the Village. This promoted activity in the local economy by attracting school teachers, as well as family visitors of the boarding students in the Village. In 1974, the BIA policies changed and the school was closed. The facilities have been vacant and neglected since its closure. The Village of Magdalena purchased the campus in the fall of 1996 but has never used the facility.
The railroad stopped using the Magdalena-Socorro spur in 1978. By that time the nation’s first coast to coast highway, United States Highway 60, had already displaced the railroad as a Magdalena commerce corridor.
Residents of Magdalena drive to Socorro and elsewhere to work. There are some arts and crafts stores, a theater, a museum, a library, and the Forest Service has an office here.
Cattle is hauled in trucks. Hunters hunt for pleasure.
People move to Magdalena to enjoy a less expensive and calmer way of life.
A Brief History of Magdalena: written by the Magdalena Historical Society, 2011.