Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A children’s history museum is my idea for the Amador. What’s yours?

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — It’s been said if you think that history is boring, you don’t live in New Mexico.
History seems to have a drama and immediacy here in the Borderlands, where in a short space of real time, you can wander through lands that have seen thousands of years of diverse cultures and explore territory that has witnessed everything from multicultural settlements, wars and border raids to the birth of the atomic bomb and the space age.
That’s why I’ve done a lot of pondering since I was asked to give my input on the city’s new history museum.
Chuck Murrell, chairman of the Amador Museum Foundation Board, sent a letter explaining that the city and the foundation “have embarked on a transforming venture that will change the role of the historic Amador Hotel in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County.”
Their goal is to “create a first-class museum of history for the people of the region and add to the city’s status as a community at the ‘Crossroads of History.’”
They hope “to build a facility that would be an outstanding addition to the Las Cruces family of museums and a significant educational and cultural resource for local residents, tourists and citizens throughout the region.”
It’s a vast goal ... and there’s a lot of history to try to cover in such a small space.
And there have been some Herculean efforts to do so in our corner of southern New Mexico. Some of the most intriguing attempts at a broad-spectrum approach come from Geronimo Springs Museum in Truth or Consequences and at one of my all-time favorites in many decades as an international museum buff: Deming’s Luna Mimbres Museum, a sprawling slice-of-life emporium that offers everything from recreated Main Streets to an impressive collection of ancient pottery and artifacts, military memorabilia, vintage dolls and toys, automobiles, what has to be one of the world’s most impressive collections of themed liquor decanters and much, much more. T or C has a smaller, but similarly eclectic collection.
In fact, almost all of our regional museums have some impressive historical collections.
We can see collections of space age artifacts at three area museums: Space Murals Museum in Organ, the White Sands Missile Range Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Museum of Space History in Alamogordo. The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum covers much more than agricultural and ranching history in its permanent and rotating collections. The Branigan Cultural Center has a permanent Las Cruces historical exhibit and some nice historical collections featured in periodic exhibits. The Las Cruces Railroad Museum covers an important part of transportation history in a restored depot that’s an exhibit in itself. The New Mexico State University Museum also has an extensive collection of historical objects and artifacts and often focuses on historical and cultural aspects of our region in its exhibits.
The Mesilla Plaza home of J. Paul Taylor and his late wife Mary has been bequeathed by the Taylors as a state museum brimming with artifacts that will offer a vivid picture of how people have lived in the Mesilla Valley. The Gadsden Museum, San Albino Basilica, The Double Eagle and other sites make Mesilla itself a charming little walk through history. A New Mexico Veterans Museum is in the works. El Camino Real International Heritage Center and Ft. Selden Monument focus on other unique aspects of Borderland history. If I had more space and time, I could cite many more examples, from Ruidoso’s Hubbard Museum of the American West to War Eagles Air Museum in Santa Teresa to Cloudcroft’s Pioneer Village.
All this raises some obvious questions: Do we really need another museum that focuses on history? And if, so what’s left?
My answer is yes, and what I’d like to propose is a high-tech children’s history museum. It’s unusual enough to make us a tourist destination. And the size and layout of the Amador leads itself to small scale, intimate exhibits and displays that would appeal to kids.
And in a time when cultural tourism and arts and cultural marketing are hot topics, a children’s history museum could be a terrific focal point and model project to unite some diverse groups with common goals.
What the American Girls historical character dolls and books have done to introduce the historical lives of little girls (from 1764 Kaya of the Nez Perce to 1824 Josefina of New Mexico and Addy Walker escaping slavery in 1864) to new generations, our museum could do to introduce our fascinating Borderland history to the world.
A museum both for and about kids could draw on all the museums I’ve mentioned here and more.
Imagine a journey through kids’ rooms spanning hundreds or maybe even thousands of years, stocked with artifacts on loan from a dozen or more area museums. (A nice cross-marketing strategy to inspire other museum visits.) Think of periodic reenactments, lectures and dramatizations, vintage arts & crafts, historic dance and music, calling on resources of school and community theater and visual and performing arts groups.
And imagine recruiting students from NMSU’s Creative Media Institute and Doña Ana Community College’s film tech program to make dramatic vignettes to show onsite and stream to the world online. Think of teachers using our museum as a way to bring a bit of history alive in their classrooms. That’s the high-tech part, and an inducement to entice families to visit here and stay a little longer.

And I think it could be a great way to turn on new generations to the wonders of museums and history.
What do you think? If you have some thoughts and ideas about a children’s history museum or other suggestions for the Amador, let me know and I’ll pass them on. E-mail me at, write S. Derrickson Moore, Las Cruces Sun-News, 256 W. Las Cruces Ave., Las Cruces, NM 88004, or go to, click on blogzone, then Las Cruces Style and “comments” at the end of this column. (Or Post your name if you like, or click “anonymous.)
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at or
• Derrickson,

Thank you for your article on the Amador Museum and your opening the discussions on how to use it most effectively. The decisions we make now and during the renovation phase will help us prepare for meeting the ongoing needs and requirements of a dynamic and responsive history museum. The added benefit is the saving of an important landmark, the Amador Hotel, and developing it for reuse to continue serving the Southern New Mexico area.

The City accepted the transfer of the Amador from Dona Ana County some 2 years ago. We have been working with the City and State Legislators to develop the first phase. All officials have been encouraging and now we are starting the first step in the planning of the Amador Museum process.

As you know, the current City Museum system directed by Will Ticknor, has made giant strides in both facilities and exhibits over the last few years. The fact is, however, we have not had a museum solely dedicated to the history of the Las Cruces area and the Mesilla Valley. The individual stories of Prehistory, Spanish Colonization, the Territorial and Frontier period, and Nuclear development as they relate to this area all deserve to be told, preserved, and enjoyed.

The City of Las Cruces and the Amador Foundation have engaged the services of consultants to evaluate 5 areas specific to the Amador Museum restoration and development. Experts in the following areas will furnish a report in July of this year that will include:
Museum Site and Building Planning
Structural Engineering
Interpretive Planning and Exhibit Design
Mechanical Engineering
Cost Estimation

We are beginning that process now. Citizen input and financial support will be needed if we are to be successful. The interest in saving the Amador and the expressed desire on the part of citizens for a history museum has been encouraging. As we receive public input, finalize the plans and estimate the cost more information will be shared with the public when it is available.

We will campaign for funds for this project and trust the public will respond as they have in other worthwhile community projects.

Again, thank you for your interest and know that your invitation for public input is timed just right. As you receive that input you should know I will be more than happy to visit and share where we are in the consultant process.


Chuck Murrell

I read your tory about the Amador & what they could do with it.
I would like to see a Toy Box for Girls-Ladies for dolls, teddy bears, childrens games, doll houses, more fun things you played with some years ago.
I have some that I would like to see in a memory museum. There are others I think would like something like this here.

Nadene Schneider


Anonymous said...

Dear S. Derrickson Moore:

A children's history museum sounds like a wonderful idea!

Pat Bonneau-White

Linda Hammond said...

I've recently become aware of the Amador Museum Foundation and efforts to preserve the Amador Hotel. Is there a point of contact for persons wishing to help the Foundation with its goals?

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