Sunday, December 26, 2010

One of the Best

Listed among the following rankings: "Best 50 Places to Live: The Next Great Adventure Towns" by National Geographic Adventure Magazine (2008) and "America's Top Ten Bargain Towns for Boomers" by and "10 Coolest Small Towns" by Budget Travel Magazine (2007) is Silver City, New Mexico.

Located about 110 miles northwest of Las Cruces, Silver City was born with the discovery of silver in 1870. Within a year, the city grew from one cabin to eighty buildings. A local brick plant provided the building material for businesses and homes.

Among the latter was the H.B. Ailman house (1881), now the Silver City Museum (left). The beautiful 1881 Mansard-Italianate H.B. Ailman home, with a cupola that created the era’s “air conditioning,” is typical of the Eastern-style architecture favored by builders bringing sophistication to the West.

On the left is the restored Bell Block. Built in 1897 and sheathed in galvanized metal stamped with intricate designs resembling carved stone.

The Warren House (right), built in 1885, was the home of Elizabeth Warren, the first woman insurance agent in New Mexico.

The home is today's only survivor of the Main Street floods of 1895 and 1903. The 1895 flood was marked by an immense wall of water 12 feet high and 300 feet wide. The flood left a ditch 35 feet below street level; the 1903 flood scraped the ditch down to bedrock at 55 feet.

The Big Ditch is now a park (left).

Another of the historic buildings of downtown is the Palace Hotel, which dates back to 1882 when it was the Meredith and Ailman bank.

It opened in 1900 as the Palace Hotel. The present owners, with the help of the New Mexico Historical Preser-vation Office, have restored the Palace to its former elegance, reopening it in 1990.

Walking around the lobby, we got a sense of the Old West downtown hotel. Upstairs are 18 guest rooms and suites.

There was a regard for the history of the town's buildings which was comfortably combined with the services of today. The 1883 Buffalo Bar (left), which interestingly enough is next door to the Municipal Court, seemed to focus on supporting community activities (host bar for the annual City Blue Festival and also the host bar for the Wild Wild West Pro Rodeo and Tour of Gila).

Our brief walk around downtown revealed an active community with several conver-sations going on among pairs or groups of people we passed.

Our guess is that there are two groups of individuals who gravitate to this city of a little over 10,000 people.

One of the reasons for the town's desirability as a destination for a visit or residence relates to the outdoor activities available. More than three million acres of the Gila wilderness offer adventures for the hiker, mountain biker, camper, or wildlife observer, and plenty of lakes are strewn about the desert terrain.

Although we did not sample the outdoor opportunities, we had a number of encounters with the other main attraction--the artistic side of the townspeople. We have included several photos of the colorful, creative "personality" of the town.

I think the artists in a community are the life of that community--the people who see the world around them in a different way--a way that energizes those around them.

One of the other influences on the creative life of the commnity is the presence of Western New Mexico University, offering cultural activities as well as an extensive continuing education program, including the retiree-focused Elderhostel programs.

We found ourselves gravitating toward the section of town that had ART stickers in the windows and doors of shops. Through the colorful buildings, we could feel the energy and curiosity of the people.

The town's arts community has drawn rave reviews from around the globe, and has been counted among author John Villani's "100 Best Art Towns in America!"

We thought the community effort exemplified in the 20th Annual Lighted Christmas Parade (November 27) demonstrated a close-knit group of merchants. They were asked to: outline their windows with white lights, turn off all exterior lights (except these white lights) for the beginning of the parade, and participate in a window display contest featuring gifts for children available in their stores.

Silver City warrants more that a half-day visit.

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