Introduction

Monticello Ghost Town

Step into the intriguing, tranquil world of Monticello, a New Mexico ghost  town with rich history and ethereal charm located well off the beaten path on Highway 142. With its captivating past and charming lifestyle of today, Monticello is a haven for those seeking the echoes of history and the solace of nature. But is that all there is to this seemingly quaint town? Let’s uncover the tales woven into the fabric of Monticello.

Back in Time: The Origins of Monticello

The Early Settlement

Monticello Ghost Town

Monticello residents originally settled in San Ygnacio de la Alamosa (Alamosa), which was established in 1856 by Hispanic ranchers and farmers drawn to the fertile valley along the Rio Grande. By 1860, San Ygnacio de la Alamosa had grown to include roughly six dozen homes occupied by roughly the same number of families, which included farmers, laborers, a blacksmith, a carpenter and a musician. Situated on land long occupied by Apache, the settlement was prone to Apache raids, evidenced by complaints of mule, burro and oxen theft.

Battle of Canada Alamosa

Monticello Ghost Town

Monticello’s history includes a Civil war skirmish – the 1861 Battle of Cañada Alamosa, – in which New Mexican militia clashed with Confederate forces. Confederate forces prevailed in this late-evening/early morning battle that took the lives of four militia, with a handful of wounded on both sides.

Post-Flood Relocation

Monticello Ghost Town

A catastrophic flood in 1862 brought considerable devastation to San Ygnacio de la Alamosa, wiping out crops and giving many farmers reason to relocate to the higher ground near Cañada Alamosa, (today’s Monticello). Today, San Ygnacio de la Alamosa, is buried under silt and the expansive waters of Elephant Butte Lake, created by the construction of Elephant Butte Dam, completed in 1916.

Rebirth as Monticello: A New Chapter

The Early Years

Monticello Ghost Town

Known first as Cañada Alamosa,, the town had a rather dubious reputation.  Town residents formed a treaty with the Warm Springs band of Apache, a treaty that was never broken because it benefitted both parties.  The Apache would deliver plundered goods and livestock to the town residents, who in turn sold these items for necessities, ammunition and whiskey.

By 1870, over 500 Apache had settled in Cañada Alamosa, with oversight by the Southern Apache Agency. In 1871, the renowned Apache leader Cochise relocated his entire band of Chiricahua to the town. When the Southern Apache Agency was dissolved in 1877, the Apache band was moved to the San Carlos Reservation. Not all Apache complied, however, with many involved in conflicts with U.S. and Mexican military until they finally surrendered or were captured and moved to a reservation far from Cañada Alamosa.

New Beginnings

Monticello Ghost Town

In 1881, with its days of illegitimate trading behind it, Cañada Alamosa was renamed Monticello. It was the town’s first postmaster who bestowed this new identity, naming the town after Monticello, New York. Like most Hispanic communities, Monticello was built around a central plaza, which had thick adobe walls that included gun holes for protection.

Today, many homes, beautifully restored from these original adobe structures, stand as reminders of Monticello’s early years. True to its original name (Cañada Alamosa, which translates to Valley of the Cottonwoods), Monticello and its residents enjoy plenty of shade from the majestic cottonwoods that still dominate the town’s landscape. 

Monticello is home to just a few dozen residents today. One might think living in a remote community such as Monticello would be restrictive, but one might also reserve judgment until visiting this peaceful community with beautiful homes and a serene lifestyle that can be surprisingly alluring.

Historic Reminders

Monticello Ghost Town

While the restored homes in Monticello offer a glimpse into a time long past, even more so do the ruins of several period homes standing on the outskirts of town. The same holds true for the colorfully-rusted old cars, trucks and farm equipment dotting the hillsides.  San Ignacio Catholic Church (built in 1867 in Monticello) and San Lorenzo Catholic Church (built in 1916 in Placita, just a couple miles south of Monticello) both stand as picture-perfect reminders of days gone by, with both still used for mass today.  And you can still see the entire façade of the Monticello Public School (built in 1935 as a WPA project), just a short walk from the Monticello Plaza. Rumor has it that the school burned when a chemistry student’s experiment didn’t go as expected.

A Ghost Town

Monticello Ghost Town

Once home to over a thousand people, Monticello is considered a ghost town today and has at least one “ghostly” story.  It is said that visiting San Ignacio Catholic Church when it’s quiet and empty might just provide a glimpse of the mysterious “Monticello Light” –  a ball of light said to have followed a parishioner home.

The Flavors of Monticello: World-Class Balsamic Vinegar

Monticello Ghost Town

Monticello is noted known for its organic farms. One of these farms produces some of the world’s finest balsamic vinegar – Traditional Aceto Balsamico of Monticello. This sublime $36/oz balsamic is among the most coveted US-made products, so special that Paul Bertolli, a James Beard Award winner, has hailed it as “the best and most authentic of the New World Balsamics”. Does your mouth water at the thought?

The Haunting Graveyard: A Window into the Past

Monticello Ghost Town

The local cemetery, with gravestones dating back to the 1800s, echoes the tales of the town’s earliest inhabitants. Though the visit may be challenging, it offers a profound connection with the town’s past.

Conclusion

A visit to Monticello provides an intimate look at one of New Mexico’s hidden jewels. With its rich history, unique culture, and the charm of a ghost town, Monticello is an experience that lingers in your mind, much like the taste of its world-class balsamic vinegar. Echoes of the past resonate through the old adobe structures, shaded by towering cottonwoods, giving you reason to pause, breathe deep and take in the peaceful, unplugged, natural beauty of this historic town.

FAQs

1. What is Monticello known for? Monticello is known for its historical significance, organic farms, and world-class balsamic vinegar.

2. How did Monticello get its name? In 1881, the first postmaster renamed Cañada Alamosa as Monticello.

3. What is the “Monticello Light?” The “Monticello Light” is a mysterious ball of light said to have followed a parishioner home from the San Ignacio Catholic Church.

4. What is the architecture of Monticello like? The town of Monticello was built around a plaza for protection against Apache raids, with thick adobe walls built with gun holes. Many of the historic adobe homes surrounding the plaza have been beautifully restored and are lived in today.

5. How many people live in Monticello today? Today, fewer than 100 people reside in Monticello today.


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