When the State of New Mexico decided to put land at Fort Bayard up for sale, the future of this historical landmark was placed up in the air.
Members of the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society have worked since 1996 to educate visitors about the fort’s history through tours and a museum that occupies one of the old homes at the fort.
According to member Ansel Walters, the Fort was established in the 1860’s to protect the mining industry that was shipping minerals back east to fuel the industrial revolution. However, the history of this area goes back even further than that according to Walters.
“You need to understand the Spanish were here mining in this area in the early 1600’s and it’s got a long history before Fort Bayard was even established in 1866,” says Walters.
For member Gloria Beltran, this is ancestral land, and she hopes can be preserved for the public.
“My great-grandfather was French-Canadian and he was based here in Fort Bayard during the Indian Wars, and my other two great grandparents were Chiricahua Apache,” says Beltran.
Cecilia Bell, with the society says that on Saturdays the museum welcomes tourists and many attend the annual “Fort Bayard Days” at the old fort to celebrate the history.
“We usually average about 12 to 15 each Saturday in the wintertime. In the summer it’s 20 or more. However, if we were out here everyday it would be much more,” says Bell.
A National cemetery and a new hospital are located nearby. There’s a monument in the middle of the old fort that pays homage to the Buffalo Soldiers who were stationed there.
After being decommissioned the fort housed many tuberculosis patients. John Bell, preservation member and retired physician, says people would come from all over to be treated in the mild climate and elevation that exists there.
“They (patients) were here normally six months, sometimes up to eighteen months. The mortality was about 20 percent in the early years. By the close of the tuberculosis era it was about five percent. That’s because they got the patients earlier, they were able to keep them longer,” says Bell.
The State of New Mexico says it can no longer afford the upkeep of the property and has placed the old fort up for sale. The state says local governments have expressed interest in the property, but the high cost to bring it up to meet codes may hinder such efforts.
According to the New Mexico’s General Services Department, a study was completed in 2011 to determine what it would take to bring the fort up to code and regulation.
The study determined it would cost $28 million in 2012. However, today the state says that it would cost around $30 million due to increased costs and more deterioration, with a bulk of the cost tied to asbestos remediation.
New Mexico General Services Department Secretary Ed Burckle, said in a recent telephone interview with KRWG News that the state would like to turn it over to a local government or organization that would be able to operate and maintain the property and history of the Fort.
“The state would really like to see the more than 50 national historic landmark buildings preserved as great as possible,” says Secretary Burckle.
Secretary Burckle also said that in order to make the property more attractive it has made plans to tear down the old hospital.
The Fort still draws tourists and dollars to the area according to Scott Terry President and CEO of the Silver City and Grant County Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s truly a place for tourists to come. So without it, we would see a drop in hotels, people eating in the restaurants, and buying gas,” says Terry.
Terry says that without the old Fort there would be a negative economic impact in the area.
The Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society hopes that whoever eventually purchases the land will renovate the property and bring it back to life, so veterans and the next generation can enjoy the historical past of the Fort.