By 1875, Elizabethtown was a virtual ghost town but, it was given a second chance in November, 1878 when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad advanced its track from Trinidad, Colorado into New Mexico. Now, ore could be shipped much cheaper and investment in Elizabethtown area mines once again increased along with the population. E-Town was reborn!
The money collected from liquor licenses was earmarked for schools. The school’s baseball team arranged games with Catskill, Midnight and Trinidad, making their community proud by winning many of the games. Footraces and boxing matches were also common events in the community. Elizabethtown had finally found its share of respectability by becoming, not just a mining town, but a town with families and gentile social events.
Saturday-night dances, complete with a fiddle band were so popular that people would travel several miles over mountain roads to attend. When snow covered the roads, sleds replaced wagons and folks danced their cares away. The dances were said to have been “nice” affairs; where participants dressed in their most elegant clothes and everyone was on their best behavior.
Several well-mannered young men, riding good horses, flashing plenty of money, and claiming to be cowboys, arrived at one dance; the floor manager introduced them so all might enjoy the evening. The single women of E-Town were enraptured by their manners. These young men became part of the social life in several of the surrounding towns. Not until later, when they were captured, did townspeople learn these young men were actually members of “Black Jack” Ketchum’s outlaw gang. The notorious outlaw gang had terrorized the 4-corner states in the late 1890’s, robbing trains, stores, and killing men during their crimes or shoot-outs when they were threatened. Black Jack Ketchum was hanged in Clayton, New Mexico on April 26, 1901 and is buried in the Clayton Cemetery.
In 1901, the Oro Dredging Company began the work of erecting a monstrous dredge, fondly christened the Eleanor. The enormous piece of equipment, born of the machine era, posed numerous challenges in its transportation through the mountain passes to E-Town. Piece by piece, the dredge was hauled from the railhead at Springer via mountain roads and water. The dredging company built a dam three miles from E-Town and hauled the biggest pieces on a large boat. By August, 1901 the dredge began production and handled up to four thousand cubic yards of dirt a day. In its first year of operation, the Eleanor paid for herself and cleared $100,000, mining a remarkable one-quarter of all the gold found in New Mexico that year.
In September 1901 Dr. L. L. Cahill purchased the La Belle drugstore and moved it to E-Town. LaBelle was another mining camp in the area that permanently died in 1901. Mining continued, but, tragedy struck E-Town in 1903 when fire caught in the second story of one of the largest retail establishments, the Remsberg Store. In the dry mountain conditions the flames quickly engulfed the mostly wood buildings, flames spreading throughout the town.
The Raton Range Newspaper reported on September 3, 1903:
A Colfax county gold mining town was almost wiped out by fire Tuesday. Only one business institution is left standing. Remsberg & Co. are the heavy losers. The fire originated from an unknown source possibly from a defective flue. The fire started on Tuesday afternoon about 2:15 p.m. in the hall used for entertainment on the second floor of the Remsberg store building and thirty minutes after the discovery of the fire the building and all it contained except about $700 or $800 worth of dry goods were totally destroyed. H. B. Phelps, the manager of the store, and William Walker, a clerk, with great difficulty and considerable risk to their lives, got the company’s books and money from the safe, and with the assistance of willing hands, were able to salvage dry goods to the amount of several hundreds of dollars. The building was a two‑story structure on the corner of the main business street of the town. The flames spread to the Mutz Hotel, a two‑story building adjoining. From there the fire spread to Harry Brainard’s place, then to Remsberg’s, Gottlieb & Iufelder’s general store. Across the street in the next block the Moreno Hotel caught fire from flying embers and in one hour and fifteen minutes from the time of the discovery of the fire all the buildings mentioned were reduced to ashes. The only mercantile establishment left in town is the store of Herman Froelick.”
At about the same time, the owner of the dredge mortgaged Eleanor to get money to finance a similar venture in Colorado. Unfortunately, the next year was unprofitable for Eleanor, and the owner ended up having to take bankruptcy. The dredging operation finally died in 1905 and Eleanor was left to rust and sink into the sands of Moreno Creek. The buried remains of Eleanor remain there but no trace of her can be seen now.
By 1917, E-town’s lifeblood was nearly drained. The mines no longer produced profits and the town folk had moved away, abandoning their homes, as no one wanted to buy them. Investors fell into bankruptcy and even the staunchest old timers left. Now and then, a few people would drift back in hopes of recovering something, but the new veins struck didn’t assay enough to mine and ship the ore.
Alice Bullock took a teaching post in Elizabethtown in the 1920’s, teaching in a one room classroom of the old school, where she was also responsible for cleaning, chopping wood and all other duties at the school. There were no books for the eight pupils, all members of two families, but her position only lasted a little over a month when the Red Bandana Mine was re-opened and hired the fathers of her pupils. The families moved, and her job ended. She was the last teacher in E-Town.
The Moreno Valley produced five million dollars in gold in 75 years – most of it in the first 40 years. In 1956, the old schoolhouse was sold for salvage. Curious people continued to frequent the site and unfortunately, a camper set a fire in the old Mutz Hotel, which further destroyed its remains, though its stone skeleton still stands. Vandals destroyed the Catholic Church and many of the other remaining remnants.
Today, there is very little left of this once prosperous town. The stone ruins of the Old Mutz Hotel, which long dominated the slope above NM Highway 38 north of Eagle Nest, have now been reduced to just a few low walls and a scattering of stones. However, Froelick’s Store still stands, the church has been rebuilt, and there is small museum and a few other scattered buildings on the property.
Elizabethtown is slowly being restored by one of the E-Town descendents, where a museum has been established just up the road from the hotel ruins. The museum currently features numerous artifacts found on the property, pictures and documents portraying E-Town history, and features an informative videotape in a small “theatre” that has been established. The Elizabethtown Cemetery is just about a mile up the road from the ruins and looks out upon the beautiful valley.
Elizabeth town is 4.8 miles north of Eagle Nest on NM 38, turn left (west) on B-20, a dirt road, then 0.3 miles to buildings from turnoff.