Fire Destroys Etown!!

On Tuesday, September 1, 1903, a fire that lasted a little over an hour destroyed almost all of Elizabethtown, New Mexico’s business district and began the demise of the 36-year-old municipality.

The blaze began around 2:15 p.m. in a defective stove flue at Remsberg & Co. Mercantile. By three o’clock, nothing was left of the store except $300 in merchandise and the company’s books and cash on hand.

Sept 3 illustration.SF NM 9 4 1903
Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 4, 1903

In the meantime, the flames had spread to the Mutz Hotel next door. From there, Harry Brainard’s saloon and warehouse caught fire, then the general store next to Brainard’s. Flying embers ignited the Moreno Hotel and it was also destroyed.

By 3:30 p.m., almost all of Etown’s mercantile district had been reduced to ashes. The only store left standing was Herman Froelick’s.

Although the Mutz Hotel would be rebuilt in stone, the conflagration was the beginning of the end for Etown. Over the next two years, miners, store owners, the local schoolteacher, and even Elizabethtowns’ favorite vegetable wagon man would flee town for other locales. Some of the remaining buildings would eventually be dismantled and then reassembled in what is now the Village of Eagle Nest, three miles to the south.

It’s a little amazing what a single fire can do.

Sources: The Elizabethtown New Mexico Story, F. Stanley, Dumas, Texas, 1961; September 4, 1903, Santa Fe New Mexican

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That Wicked Town, circa 1940

“Don’t you stop in Eagle Nest,” Nelda said sharply. “You just keep right on going through that wicked town, Clifford Earl James.”

“Gotta stop and buy fuel,” Clifford said. “I didn’t fill the tank all the time we were in Red River.”

She frowned darkly.

“What’s wrong with Eagle’s Nest, Mama?”

“Never you mind, Henry,” his father said.

“Gambling and liquor and bad women,” Nelda said. “Sin and more sin. Temptation and evil.”

“Now Nelda,” Clifford said.

“It’s the truth!”

“They’re just people,” he said mildly. “Trying to survive.” He slowed the car at the edge of town and pulled into the first filling station they came to.

“What’s that?” Henry asked. He pointed to the building across the street.

“A saloon,” Nelda said, giving it a hard look. “An awful, evil, dangerous place.”

Henry examined it carefully. Two men came out. They looked pretty normal to him.

from Moreno Valley Sketches II