I don’t care how many forts or ruins you have seen, nothing can prepare you for the haunting emptiness of the structures which comprise Fort Bayard. There are 81 buildings lining the streets, dominated by the 145,000 square foot medical center. It is a u-shaped four-story giant of a building that takes up a whole block. And the medical center, like the other buildings in the 468 acre Fort Bayard, is locked and empty.
There are rows of empty two-story duplexes built for doctors, a movie theatre, nurses quarters, a quonset hut, an enormous water tower, and fifty other buildings all empty--silent except for the echo of life from the last 150 years. Though decaying and vacant, most of the buildings look eerily modern, like life just vanished one day not too long ago.
The medical center served as a long- term care facility for the Veteran’s Administration until 2010. Although structurally sound, asbestos problems, a difficult floor plan, and its enormous size seem to put it beyond any hope of survival. It’s destruction is anticipated within the next year as a cost-saving measure.
It is difficult indeed to say good-bye to such a facility. It was the very first VA hospital, built in 1922 to care for World War I veterans recuperating from the poison gas of trench warfare. Southern New Mexico’s sun and dry air were seen as important to their recovery. Many lived out their lives here. In fact, the Fort Bayard National Cemetery is right here as well.
Right after the Civil War, Fort Bayard was home to elements of the ninth and tenth cavalries, the famous Buffalo Soldiers. They were stationed here for twenty years until the capture of Geronimo. The graves of some of them can be seen in the older sections of the cemetery.
A large bronze sculpture dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers stands in the center of the parade grounds near the medical center. Specifically it memorializes Corporal Clinton Greaves who received the Medal of Honor in 1879 for saving the lives of “six soldiers and three Navajo Scouts” in action near Deming.
Fort Bayard is pretty remote, located about eight miles east of Silver City just north of the junction of N.M.152 and U.S.180. A museum is open Saturday mornings, with guided tours on the second and fourth Saturdays.
***A version of my story originally appeared in the April 1st edition of New Mexico Marketplace.