Silver City (population 10,054) is New Mexico’s oldest incorporated community, and still operates under its 1878 Territorial charter. The county seat of Grant County in southwest New Mexico, it is near the headwaters of the Gila River and nestled alongside more than 3 million acres of the Gila Wilderness Area. The present settlement originated with the discovery of silver in 1870 near the San Vicente cienega, a marshy valley previously settled by the prehistoric Mimbres and Mogollon cultures and later frequented by Apache bands, Spanish explorers, and Mexican colonists. Long before Americans came to the area looking for gold and silver, Spain (and later, Mexico) governed this far-northern province, producing copper.
Silver City developed with an eye to permanence and progress that was unusual in frontier mining camps. Despite its rugged and isolated setting, the young town boasted brick buildings in Victorian high style, early electric and telephone service, railroad connections, a hospital, waterworks, and New Mexico’s first independent school district. Silver City witnessed the tumultuous and tragic events of the Apache Wars and survived a series of floods at the turn of the last century, which transformed its Main Street into the “Big Ditch.” After the nation’s silver industry crashed in 1893, the town was reincarnated as a health resort serving patients with tuberculosis and other diseases as well as an educational center. Large-scale copper mining has dominated the region’s economy since 1910, but it is waning.
The town has been a premiere New Mexico Main Street Community for 20 years and today boasts six historic districts and numerous properties on the national and state registers. The Silver City Museum is housed in an 1881 Italianate mansion that has been restored. Home to Western New Mexico University, which houses a major collection of prehistoric Mimbres black and white pottery as well as other artifacts, Silver City is near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and the Gila Riparian Preserve.
Several important annual events and festivals take place in Silver City that celebrate the area’s cultural and natural heritage, including the Tour of the Gila Bicycle Race, a Victorian Christmas, a Wild West Rodeo, and the Gila River Festival. A replica of a historic adobe chapel known as “La Capilla” originally dating to 1885 has recently been reconstructed through an extensive community partnership effort and now forms the focus for a local event venue and a planned 21-acre heritage park that is reclaiming a former brownfields site from the days of mining.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2006.