Hometown History Day At Damsite

Immerse yourself in local history, Saturday, November 18, from 10 to 3 at Damsite Historic District. Elephant Butte Dam and Truth or Consequences (T or C) have a fascinating past, and here’s your chance to soak up the history of these areas as well as that of the Dam Kids, Fort McRae, the Jornada beast, and more. 

Elephant Butte before and after flooding.

Day-long guided boat tours will run between Damsite Marina and Marina Del Sur; a one-way trip takes about 30 to 45 minutes.  At Del Sur T or C historian Dimid Hayes will have on display artifacts and documents that are housed at the Geronimo Springs Museum and will tell you all about T or C’s past. Also on hand will be local authors’ history books to browse and purchase. Sip a cup of complimentary hot chocolate before boarding a boat back to the Damsite Marina. Ongoing boat tours run approximately every half hour; the last departs at 2:30.

At the Damsite Welcome Center, make your way to the lodge to join dam historian Will Dooley for the first walking tour at 10:15, titled “Dam Background and Construction.” Will tells of building the dam from 1910 until 1916. The resulting lake became New Mexico’s largest body of water and the dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for good reason: it was the first of its type–Hoover and Grand Coulee, among others, were modeled after it. The dam also created the world’s second largest irrigation reservoir.

The road that runs in front of the casitas was a part of the Santa Fe RR Engle spur line, which had a major role in dam construction. It transported everything from workers to lumber to boulders that were used to create the dam, some weighing up to eight tons. It also carried curious tourists who wanted to witness the construction to the hotel that was near the current lodge.

The next tour notes the dam’s involvement during WWI. Begun in 1910, this major undertaking required manpower, resulting in many jobs, which in turn created three camps (small towns) at Damsite and Paseo del Rio (now the National Fish Hatchery Campground) to accommodate the workers and their families. One of the camps, however, ended up under water in the reservoir and the others were simply disbanded. 

 “Life in the Damsite Camp” tour tells of how the 4,000 residents lived and worked in a camp, complete with hospital, theater, store, churches, and tennis courts. The town also boasted electric lights, something even large East Coast cities lacked at the time. 

This medieval-looking building was initially a powderhouse for dynamite during dam construction, then later served as the jail. The roughly 25-by-15-foot structure had four cells in it, their size alone a deterrent to crime. It’s visible from the road as well as from the fish hatchery campground.

Possibly the most unusual tour topic is “The Beast of the Jornada.” This was Elephant Butte’s own Sasquatch-type monster, reported to be a man-eating beast that lived in the Jornada desert just south of the dam. 

Don’t miss the tour for the Dam Kids reunion—history from those who lived it. From around 1950 to 1964, people still worked and lived here. Known as the Dam Kids, these one-time residents will tell what life was like as a Dam Kid and reminisce about living high on Winding Road. 

The 16 historic casitas built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1940 are being restored to their rock structure. All are available for nightly, weekly, and some longer-term rentals. They feature a kitchenette, bathroom, and one or two bedrooms, all with a view of the lake.

Damsite staff are excited about the new signs installed by Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) that point the way, making this great event even easier to find. Be sure to check out the interpretive signs at the dam overlook and fish hatchery on your way. And there will be food: chicken green chile soup, posole, and Santa Fe soup (vegetarian)—donations encouraged. 

The dam overlook, just off Route 51, now has interpretive signs. Be sure to check them out while admiring the view.

Ongoing throughout the day are slide shows and hourly door prizes. So join us and see just how exciting history can be. 


Photos provided by Damsite Historic District and Durrae Johanek


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Durrae Johanek
Durrae Johanek

Durrae Johanek is a Pennsylvania native, transplanted to Montana in 1992, who has fallen in love with T or C, where she snowbirds with her husband, John. To keep her off the streets, John forces her to create art for his ZIA Gallery. In a shoebox under her bed is a diploma from Kutztown State University (yes, that’s a real school) that says she was qualified to write 4 books on Montana and work as an editor for Bird Watcher’s Digest and assorted medical publishers for way too long.

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