When New Mexico became a territory in 1850 an influx or prospectors began to arrive. Almost immediately, they found a small amount of gold at Placer Mountain near Cerrillos, N.M. By 1879 zinc, lead, silver, copper and iron were also discovered in the mountains south of Santa Fe. Cerrillos became a community filled with newcomers and activity. In addition, the prospectors found “black gold.” The coal was located in the communities of Madrid and Waldo just north of Cerrillos. Today, this area is known as the Turquoise Trail.
Railroad Comes to Town
In 1880 the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad set up a train station in the community of Cerrillos. With the arrival of the railroad Cerrillos became a boom town with more than 20 saloons, four hotels, an opera house, three newspapers and a prison. Cerrillos soon became a town of diverse populations including a large Italian population. Since the Spanish and Italian languages are closely related, many marriages between the two groups followed.
Boom & Bust
During the mining heyday Cerrillos and the surrounding communities of Madrid, Waldo, Golden, San Pedro and Dolores thrived. But then diesel fuel replaced coal and natural gas became a cleaner more efficient way to heat homes. The surrounding communities suffered and began to decline. By 1940 the train station closed in Cerrillos. The little town that had such promise almost became a ghost town.
Located 17 miles south of Santa Fe, Cerrillos is a small hamlet determined to survive. There are small stores for tourists. The church of La Iglesia de San Jose and the old Opera House on main street is listed in the state register of cultural properties. The school is gone but many of the older residents remember their days playing in the schoolyard with other children of diverse backgrounds. All of these families came in search of “black gold.”