ELEGANCE IN ETOWN

The men in Seligman’s Mercantile watched silently as the young woman in the trailing pale blue silk skirts swept out of the store.

“She’s a lardy dardy little thing, isn’t she now?” Charles Idle, the expatriate Englishman, asked. He shook his head and stretched his feet closer to the wood stove. “That dress and hat.”

Joseph Kinsinger spat a stream of tobacco toward the empty lard can by the stove. “Those silks ain’t gonna last long in this mud. And the wind’l take that hat.”

His brother Peter grinned. “You’re just worried Desi’s gonna see her and want a getup just like it,” he said.

“I wonder where’s she’s staying,” Idle said thoughtfully. “Hey Jim, where’d she say to deliver that sterling brush and comb set?”

The clerk hesitated, then shrugged. It would be all over town soon enough anyway. “The Moreno Hotel,” he said.

There was a short silence, then Idle said, “Well, I guess I’d better go see how my mine’s doing this morning,” and rose from his chair.

“I’ll bet,” Peter said sardonically, but Idle only smiled and went out.

from Moreno Valley Sketches, II

Etown’s Moreno Hotel Opens With Elegant Dinner

On Wednesday, July 1, 1868, the newly constructed Moreno Hotel opened in Elizabethtown, New Mexico with a dinner for 83 guests, and Etown congratulated itself on its prosperity. The hotel was a living symbol of how far the town had come since its gold-mine camp beginnings early the previous year. This inaugural dinner was served on “the finest china in the territory” and accompanied by bottles of Mumm’s Dry Imperial Champagne. The hotel was nicely located on 3rd Street between Broadway and Washington and would have had a fine view of Baldy Mountain on the eastern side of the valley as well as the various gold mining claims on the Moreno Creek in the valley directly below the town.

July 1 illustration.Mumm champagne label

It’s not clear who owned the Moreno when it opened, but two months later, it passed into the hands of Augusta Forbes, a German-born woman who, when she divorced her runaway husband the following spring, was granted the right to revert to her maiden name of Augusta Meinert as well ownership of the hotel and “all the personal property, household, and kitchen furniture now on the premises.”

Meinert operated the hotel for about four and a half years. She remarried in late December 1872 and formally handed off the Moreno to her new husband, Chancy Storey a month later. She seems to have retired from active involvement in running the business at that point, because she’s listed as a housewife in the June 1880 census while Chancy is listed as a hotel keeper, presumably of the enterprise that had such an elegant beginning twelve years before.

Sources: Colfax County Real Estate records, 1868-1888; U.S. Census Data, Colfax County, New Mexico Territory, 1870 and 1880.