Sugarite Way Back When

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From our camp at Lake Alice, we hiked to the old coal mine town of Sugarite, NM. The sun was out and the temps felt warm, but the wind was blowing and chilled the air. That didn’t stop Dale from wearing shorts! We crossed the creek and walk down an old road covered in a grassy weed (is there such a thing) that made the hikeeasier.

We could see from here that a fire had come through here at some point in time. As we walked I noticed this black substance on the hillside and road and thought it was burned timber ashes. NOT. It was crushed up coal.

Sugarite was a coal mining community from 1912-1941. There were three coal mines in the area. A community was formed for all the mine workers and their families. The miners came from a diversity of nationalities such as Italians, Slavs, Japanese, Mexican Americans, and English. They learned to live together, sharing food, gardens, recipes and their talents. We found many Iris beds as we walked through the half-walled buildings. I also found broken pieces of plates and knickknacks.

Mrs. Recchia’s husband built her a brick oven where she baked bread for the bachelors staying at the boarding house. She sold her bread for .15 cents.

Each home had about 4 rooms and each room had one single light bulb. They had running water, which made washing day easier. For drinking water, the young boys would go to the springs above the township. I found this old wash tub in the woods just like the one I use to take baths in when a child.

The town back in its hay day.

Today. The hillside is covered with these kinds of ruins showing how many houses were in Sugarite.

The miners would receive a script to use at the store. Photo at right is what remains of the store. This was one way to keep the money in the community. The mine also paid for doctor and dentist’s bills out of the miner’s wages, leaving a stipend each pay day. The mine also felt that if a miner was injured or killed it was his own fault. There were no sick days and evidently no workmen’s comp!

In the visitor’s center (which was the post office for Sugarite) there were many old photo’s of people in this community. I noticed that sports was a huge deal. Baseball in particular.

What surprised us was the school house. Not much remained of this two-story building. Just a plaque and a few bricks. The library was also in this building. Across the way was the community center as we call it today. Dances and dinners were held there.

When shipping costs rose so high, the mine closed down (1940) and Sugarite became a ghost town.

And, as always, I am thrilled and in awe of walking where others walked before me. Imagining their lives and all that took place on the ground where my feet step. Amazing.

One last tidbit. Morgan had a wonderful day. She seems to have those kind of “happy” days when she is near water. After playing in the creek, she found some green crabgrass to roll in. She is one happy dog.


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