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On Walkabout At: Shakespeare, New Mexico

There are many ghost towns in the Old West with many of them being in New Mexico.  Many of these ghost towns remain in obscurity, but one of them is quite well known to the efforts of one family that has owned and over the decades worked to renovate the ghost town into an authentic representation of what life was like in the Old West.  This ghost town is called Shakespeare, which has had a past as colorful as the family that owns this ghost town.   This family owned ghost town is located just outside of Lordsburg, New Mexico near the Arizona border:

Here is a Google Earth image that shows just how close to Lordsburg, Shakespeare is:

shakespeare 1

Shakespeare is accessed by a dirt road just to the south of Lordsburg to a parking area just outside the ghost town:

shakespeare 2

Due to the ghost town being located on a working ranch it is only open to visitors 2 weekends a month.

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

We took the 10 AM tour on a Saturday morning which meant we had to wake up really early to make the drive to Lordsburg from El Paso.  It took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes to make the drive to Lordsburg.  Here is a picture of the front gate of the ranch where Shakespeare is located:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The brown building in the background serves as a visitor center where there are many historical items as well as displays depicting the history of the ranch. After the town was abandoned in the early 1900’s in 1935 Shakespeare and the land around it was purchased by Frank and Rita Hill for a ranch.  Over the decades the Hill family restored the buildings and their work was eventually recognized when in 1970 when Shakespeare was declared a National Historic Site. Frank Hill sadly passed away that same year in 1970 and his wife Rita passed away in 1985.  This left their daughter Janaloo to run the ranch and continue the restoration of the town.  Janaloo and her husband Manny Hough would continue the work of the Hill family to restore the ranch to where today it is a well known location for people interested in exploring Old West ghost towns.  Sadly Janloo passed away in 2005 due to cancer. Inside the visitor center Manny Hough has plenty of information posted about the Hill family and his wife Janaloo.  They were all colorful characters and great representatives of the Old West way of life.

Janaloo Hill & Manny Hough

At the gate Manny Hough met the group of about 12 people that showed up that morning to tour the ranch.  Below is a picture looking back towards the entrance of the ranch which is where we parked:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

From the ranch’s entrance it was a short walk over to the ghost town:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

From here Manny began to explain to the group the history of Shakespeare.  The existence of Shakespeare like many towns in the Old West owes its existence to mining.  However, before the miners arrived here the reliable spring in a arroyo west of town was used as a water source for passing Native-Americans, eventually Spanish explorers, then became an alternate stop for mail riders & stagecoaches traveling to Tuscon, and then the US Army.  The US Army actually built a building in Shakespeare in 1856 that remains to this day.  Due to this reliable water source this area was called Mexican Springs at first.  After the Civil War the settlement’s name was changed to Grant in honor of the victorious Civil War general.  The first building that Manny took us to was the Grant House Stage Station:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

On the side of the station there was a little saloon:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

During Shakespeare’s boom days there was over a dozen saloons in town, but this is the only one of them that remains.  This saloon was basically just some place that someone stopped over at the stage station could get a drink at:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The saloon was quite small and didn’t have a whole lot of room:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

We next went through the attaching door into the stage station’s waiting area:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Here is where people stopped over at the stage station could wash their faces and hands at:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Over the years the Hill Family has acquired a number of authentic items used during the Old West time period to stock Shakespeare with:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

In the front part of the stage station is where the dining room was located.  Since there was no trees in town sturdy enough to hang people from the rafters in the dining room served as the towns gallows:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Shakespeare’s citizens took it upon themselves to force their own laws and here is a story that shows what frontier justice was like in the early days of Shakespeare:

On one occasion, a well-known outlaw by the name of Sandy King was making his home in Shakespeare and when he got into an argument with a storekeeper and shot off his index finger, he was quickly taken to jail. At about the same time, an area horse thief was tracked down and also held in the pokey. Before the night was over, both outlaws were dragged from the jail to the Grant House, where they were lynched. They were still hanging when the stage stopped the next morning and the passengers disembarked for breakfast.

Manny during the tour also relayed this story to us as well about the breakfast surprise that the stagecoach riders had that morning.

This little stage station in the middle of the remote New Mexican desert would become a boom town in 1870 when prospectors discovered silver in the nearby hills.  Some of these prospectors were able to get the President of the Bank of California,  William Ralston to back their mining venture in Shakespeare.  With Ralston’s financing a company was formed and the town was named in Ralston’s honor.  The town’s population grew to 3,000 people, but the high quality silver played out quickly thus causing investors to back out from the company.  Then in 1872 rumors of diamonds being discovered in the hills around Shakespeare began to spread.  This caused investment money to return to Shakespeare, but the diamond quickly turned out to be a hoax.  Ralston ultimately ended up paying investors back their money from the hoax, but the bad investment in Shakespeare would help lead to the collapse of the Bank of California in 1875.  With Ralston in financial ruin, later that same year he decided to take a swim into San Francisco Bay from which he never returned.

Here is a couple more pictures of the exterior of the Grant House Stage Station that was once a stop on the Butterfield Stage Station:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

After exiting the station I took this picture looking up the hill just outside of town where all three members of the Hill family are buried:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The cleared out area of desert also shows how far up the hill the town of Shakespeare once extended.  I would estimate probably only a tenth of the town remains today.

The next building we went to was the Stratford Hotel:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The hotel is still undergoing renovations so just the restaurant portion of the hotel was open.  The restaurant was nothing more than a large room with a long dining table for the guests to eat at:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The back of the restaurant is where the kitchen was located:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

What is historically interesting about this kitchen is that this is where a teenager by the name William H. Bonney more famously known as Billy the Kid once washed dishes at:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Here is the view the Billy the Kid would have had when washing dishes and looking out the window:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Ironically one of the nemesis’ of Billy the Kid, Governor Lew Wallace also stayed at this hotel at one time.  Besides being the Governor that spearheaded the effort to arrest Billy the Kid Wallace is also famous for being the author of the classic book, Ben Hur.  When then stepped back outside to headed towards the next building, but not before I took one last picture of the hotel and its accompanying restaurant on the right:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Here is a picture I took as we walked across the street towards the old barracks building:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

This barracks building constructed by the US Army in 1956 to help defend this watering hole long before Shakespeare became a city gives an idea of how rough life was a 150 years ago:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

For example there was not running water back then, instead the Soldiers had to walk to the spring and fill up these pots with water which they would then hang in the building:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The furnishings were also very basic back then:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Without a doubt those were some not only tough Soldiers, but really nearly everyone that lived in the Old West back then were some tough people.  Next we then headed over to the Assay Office:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The Assay Office which was built in 1870 was operated by the Shakespeare Gold and Silver Mining & Milling Company:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

This office is where the miners would go to have any mineral samples they found tested:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The office had a scale where any silver or other metals that were found could be weighed:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Next up was the National Mail & Transportation Company Blacksmith Shop:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

This blacksmith shop was used by the stagecoach line that came through town, but once the railroad upstaged the stagecoach service in 1881 the blacksmith shop slowly went out of business just like the rest of Shakespeare.  The inside of the blacksmith shop is stocked like the rest of Shakespeare with authentic items that the Hill Family has been able to purchase and acquire over the years:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Outside of the blacksmith shop there is a display of various items from the building’s stagecoach days which are still visible:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Here is view of the blacksmith shop and the assay office on the south side of the town:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Just outside the blacksmith shop was this restored storage shed:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Just behind the storage shed a dry creek bed could be seen that ran right along the side of the town:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

Across the dry creek bed I could see what appeared to be a mine:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

However, this wasn’t a mine but instead a magazine where gunpowder and explosives were stored for the town’s miners.

The final building that Manny took the group to see was what remained of the old general store:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The general store burned down in a mysterious fire back in 1997 and Manny has been busy raising funds and slowly working to restore the building.  There is obviously a lot more work to be done.  The pictures that Manny has posted of what the old general store looked like was quite impressive.  This really was a grand building that hopefully enough money can eventually be raised to restore.

The general store was our final stop on the formal tour that Manny gives to visitors around town.  After that visitors are free to walk around town and take pictures:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

I decided to take a walk up the hill to see the Hill Family Cemetery.  The cemetery has four graves, two for the original ranch owners Frank & Rita Hill, the third grave is for their daughter Janaloo, while the fourth grave is reserved for Manny.

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The hill provided a great view of Shakespeare and the surrounding terrain to include even Lordsburg in the far background:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

From the Hill Family Cemetery I then walked over to another viewpoint on the hill that looked towards the nearby mine:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

The mine is not part of Manny’s ranch thus visitors cannot walk over to the mine that appears to still be in operation:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

In 1879 the town of Grant was changed to Shakespeare in honor of who else, but William Shakespeare in an effort to rebrand the town.  It worked because some persistent miners came to Shakespeare and continued to earn a living by mining until an economic recession in 1893 once again killed the town.  There was another mining boom that began in 1908 before dying out again in 1932.  Miners abandoned the town for good this time setting the stage for the 1935 purchase of the town by Frank & Rita Hill.

From the viewpoint some of the old mine buildings from these mining boom years was still visible:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

After taking one last look at the surrounding desert scenery I then proceeded to walk back down the hill:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

As I walked down the hill, to my right I spotted the nearby rock formations that the conartists all those years ago planted diamonds to full investors into continuing to pump money into the failed mining venture at Shakespeare:

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

I then proceeded to check out some of the final remains of buildings in Shakespeare which the tour handout given to visitors by Manny provides descriptive stories of.

Picture from Shakespeare, New Mexico

For anyone who has a deep interest in the history of the Old West than Shakespeare is a location that really shouldn’t be missed.  I actually enjoyed visiting this ghost town better than visiting a more well known location like Tombstone.  By visiting Shakespeare I feel visitors get a more authentic depiction what life was like in the Old West compared to the theme park version of the Old West offered by Tombstone.  It was definitely worth the drive from El Paso to visit this authentic relic from America’s Old West past, however for people traveling longer distances it is probably worth wrapping in a visit of Shakespeare in with a greater tour itinerary of southern Arizona and New Mexico.

Of course this ‘archives is a good place to start to learn more about the many great things to see in the American Southwest to include Shakespeare.

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