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If you were to look for the Silver City Museum expecting to find a square institutional building with a blank facade, you would be disappointed. If, however, you find yourself at a picket fence staring up at a charming red brick Victorian house with a three-story cupola, then you will have discovered the Silver City Museum.
Comments from the museum Visitor Log range from “Fantastic!!”, “Excellent!”, and “Very Interesting!”, to “This is among the finest house museums I have visited. All is so well preserved, and paints a great picture of what the town was like in its heyday.”
Built in 1881, the H.B. Ailman House, home of the Silver City Museum, has been tagged Mansard/Italianate for its bell-curved Mansard roof and fancy bracketed eaves. The visitor enters through double doors, stepping into a foyer with oak floors, period wall coverings, and an oak “hall tree,” a curiosity with a mirror, umbrella stand, and upholstered seat all rolled into one. The carved wood staircase disappears into the upper story. Restored Victorian rooms and a large modern gallery show visitors objects that, like the house itself, fascinate and inform.
The Ailman House is more than a lovely relic, holding within its walls a priceless archive and historic collection. It also embodies southwestern history in a very real way. Built by a man who struck it rich with a silver mine, the Ailman House has been preserved through the decades by the community that followed from those early silver strikes.
The relationship of the Silver City community to the H.B. Ailman House continues to be a special one. Volunteers helped restore the original interior and landscape the courtyard. The museum has only to make its needs known, it seems, and the community reaches into its pockets. Volunteers staff the front desk and the gift shop. Special events for which the museum is justly famous, the Fourth of July Ice Cream Social and Victorian Christmas, are made possible by the participation of volunteers.
The Ailman House survived more than a century to become a focal point of community pride. A private home from 1881 until 1908, it was used as a boarding house until 1926. That year the town bought it to house City Hall.
In 1931 the Silver City Fire Department moved in, eventually adding three garages for the fire engines. In 1967 local visionaries saw their opportunity and founded the Silver City Museum there. Here you will see frontier Victorian furnishings nestled into a bay window; objects illustrating settlement of the area; Mimbres and Casas Grandes pottery; a dollhouse mockup of the Ailman House; and a reconstructed office from the early 20th century mining town of Tyrone, New Mexico.
Another mining exhibit offers an overview of local mining history. Varying exhibits rotate through the galleries on a regular basis.
Rooms are set aside for other uses besides gallery space. A local history research library is available to genealogical researchers, writers, and students of Silver City and New Mexico history. Albums with copy prints of historic views of Southwest New Mexico are only a sample of the photoarchive of 11,000 historic images stored in the new curatorial wing in the rear of the building. Anyone can arrange access to this large collection by making an appointment.
The museum store is not to be missed. It offers a wide selection of books on southwestern history and culture, including Built to Last, the definitive history of Silver City; silk-screened t-shirts designed by local artists in all sizes and colors; and reproduction Mimbres pottery, among other things. The proceeds from sales in the gift shop go to the Silver City Museum Society, a non-profit organization which has played a pivotal role in making the museum what it is today.
It is impossible to imagine Silver City without the H.B. Ailman House, or vice versa. A visit to Silver City must include the H. B. Ailman House, home of the Silver City Museum.
The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:00 to 4:30; Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 to 4:00; it is closed on Mondays.