City of Dust: Encino, New Mexico

After the Depot

I spend a lot of time on US Highway 60. Not only do I travel the road for work, but I often explore its lonelier byways on my days off. Highway 60 once crossed the entire country and in New Mexico these two lanes of blacktop run through the central part of the state, from Texico to Quemado. US-60 essentially parallels I-40, but it’s usually at least 50 miles south and will take you maybe 5 times longer to travel. Sounds good to me!

If you drop “Encino” into your Google search engine about all you’re going to learn is that the population was 94 in 2000 and the town encompasses all of 2.0 square miles. Luckily, Dixie Boyle apparently likes Highway 60 as much as I do because she wrote an entire book about the New Mexican portion. Aside from the above facts, which are straight from Wikipedia, everything else in this post is from “Highway 60 & the Belen Cutoff: A Brief History.” Thanks, Ms. Boyle!

The name Encino, which means “oak” in Spanish, was derived from the scrubby trees that once covered the central plains of New Mexico. As is so often the case, Encino’s location can be traced back to a spring, long a well-known stop for thirsty travelers. Prior to 1900, something like a fort was built nearby to accommodate the dusty and weary for an evening or two.

Bonnie Salas was the first to homestead the land that would become Encino and, at that time, the few people in the area were mostly raising sheep or cattle on a fairly large scale. In 1905, the railroad announced plans to establish a depot in Encino and people took notice. This was another common story out on the plains, and one that usually ended similarly, as we’ll see.

The Bond family bought 40 acres from Bonnie Salas, some of which they’d soon sell to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway for the depot. That same year they also built the B.G. Bond Mercantile, which doubled as the depot for a bit and remained the only store in Encino until A.R. Cecil established a lumber company in 1908.

Encino’s post office opened in 1904 and both a Protestant and Catholic Church were built in the town, at least one of which doubled as a school. In 1910, the Encino Progress newspaper was founded and quickly went out of business. The Encino Enterprise gave the newspaper trade another shot in the 1920’s and managed to hold on for about a decade. Somewhere in there William’s Mercantile was built along Railroad Street and was later moved to abut Highway 60. Unfortunately, I arrived just a few years too late to photograph the long-vacant store.

The best known citizen of Encino is undoubtedly R.C. Dillon, elected the eighth Governor of New Mexico in 1927. While Governor Dillon was born in St. Louis and moved to Springer, NM when he was 12, he later worked at B.G. Bond’s Mercantile and eventually opened his own store, R.C. Dillon & Company. The building is said to still be standing and recognizable by its faded sign. But for some reason I didn’t see it. Maybe it, too, is now gone.

Dillon served two two-year terms and would sometimes have political friends over for dinner at his home in Encino. The Governor was also a big proponent of paving roads. Not a surprising interest to have given the muddy, bumpy tracks he would’ve had to travel. Highway 60 was originally a wagon route and it wasn’t until 1918 that it began to see some initial truck traffic. Even once cars became relatively popular, horse and buggy was often still the faster way to travel the area. While US Highway 60 was officially designated in 1926, parts of the route in New Mexico actually remained unpaved into the 1950’s.

In 1965, Encino’s railroad depot closed and few small towns could weather that blow unscathed. The high school closed in 1982 and many of the town’s adobe buildings are now melting back into the earth. However, it’s said that the old Works Progress Administration-built gymnasium still contains the southwestern-themed murals of Hallie Williams, which she painted for $20 a pop between 1939 and 1942. On my next trip through I may need to see if I can track those down. Can anybody confirm that they’re still there?

So, that’s about all I know about Encino. If you’ve got stories or recollections to pass along, please do! Clearly, much of Encino’s history is fading fast.

This article originally appeared on the City of Dust website.

33 comments

  1. Very interesting report. I’ve traveled HWY 60 across NM 2000-2007 several times. Enjoyed it.

  2. Encino holds very special place in my heart because my grandmother was born there. She is now 83. We still visit Encino every now and then but not as much as we would like to anymore. Sadly, many of her friends and family that lived there have passed on.

  3. I remember as a child going to a summer wedding dance at the Encino high school and my parents staying in the motel. My brothers and I slept in our 1964 Chevrolet station wagon.
    My Dad ,Vicente Tapia was born in Pastura NM , east of Vaughn.

  4. My grandfather and grandmother managed the motel in the early 70’s.I remember helping clean the rooms. My mom has pictures of the motel, I will attempt to find them. We spent our summers in Encino until the mid 80’s.

  5. Very interesting, I have a picture from 1927 on what I believe to basically be on an early Highway 60. It shows a wide dirt road, barbed wire on both sides, my father’s old Maxwell automobile and a single, prominent mesa. I would give the fiver to discover where he was at the time. AT 16 he was driving his two sisters from Iowa to San Bernardino, Muscoy. I could send the picture on facebook or by email.

  6. I lived in Encino in 1968 to 1969. My husband taught English at the High School. I have the best memories of that town. Everyone was so friendly. My hustband’s name was Berkley (Buck) Birdeau. By now, 50 years later very few people would remember us. Maybe a few high school students that would be in their sixties. I loved looking at the old pictures of buildings. The grocery store ‘Tom Montoya & Sons’ I remember well. Tom’s son was the principal at the school. Frank Davila was the superintendant. I’d like to go back some day and just drive through the town.

    1. It is very sad now .. like Vaughn. All my cousins went to school at Encino ! Haldermans and Burtons I bet they will remember you.

    2. Teresa – I remember hearing Buck Birdeau’s name – I am Tom Montoya Jr’s daughter. I would have been 6 years old when you were in Encino. I have many items from my grandfather’s grocery store in my home, including two of the long bean counters.

      1. Hi Elaine,

        I am Mary Montoya’s grandson. She died in 1991 but I believe her father or grandfather was Tom Sr. My aunts visited the store recently and said that food and items were still on the shelf as if the store just closed.

  7. My Dad’s family were ranchers in Encino. Granddad was also publisher of the Encino Enterprise, a businessman and politician, and Grandmother taught school and from what I understand – ran the Methodist Church too! My granddad was E L Hinton and Grandmother was Troy Hinton. There were 5 kids (my father included). Their house was on the east side of town and the ranch on the west – where the highway curves north. My siblings and I spent several summers there and have fond memories of life in Encino.

  8. My wife and I traveled past this little town last week. We wondered how it must have started, and when the railroad must have been established. So nice to see this article and to verify what we figured was the early history of this village. I would love to take a metal detector with permission, and see what history can be revealed.
    So sad to see a once vibrant town filled with happy people return to the earth as it is now. I am sure that there are many happy memories surrounding this interesting spot.

  9. My parents Juan b Baca and Estefanita Cordova were raised in Encino. My dad graduated from Encino high. Juan and Estefanita married in Encino may 1943, then moved to portales, nm

  10. Is it ok to explore there? I’ve passed through on several trips to Santa Fe and have been very curious.

  11. I would ask a local first. Always get permission to explore, especially if using a metal detector. I bet the train depot would yield many great finds.

  12. I grew up in Clovis, NM and passed by Incino many times. I had was drafted into the army in October , 1968 and for some reason as a combat engineer was assigned to The Army Casualty Division in Washington, D.C. I was The final person in line processing death certificates, letters to next of kin, and Servicemens Group Life Insurance for soldiers killed in the Vietnam War. I did this from July 10,1967 to October,1968. This included Sargent Sam Tenorio who was killed in Vietnam and was from Incino. He had a wife and children and I have always wondered how life turned out for them. If anyone knows I would appreciate knowing.

    1. Thank you for the history. I just drove thru Encino for the first time and loved the old Adobe buildings.

  13. My grandparents were Albert and Hallie Williams. They ran the Williams Mercantile and she was an artist. She painted the murals on the gym walls. They also had a ranch south of Negra just west of Encino. I visited there many times growing up, and remember going to the Methodist Church. I have some memories of the mercantile from the 60’s but I was very young. My mother Carrie Lindsey has some pieces of plaster with the mural on them. She also has some pictures of the paintings. I don’t know if there anything left of the murals.

  14. I just moved to Encino a couple weeks ago! I bought a lot on the west end of town to rebuild, restore, customize, and eventually run a Air BnB artist retreat out of…this article is so Key, helpful in just knowing a little more about this hidden gem I now call home

    1. It was nice to hear that someone will be moving to this wonderful little town. I foresee a reawakening for Encino, and more people wanting to be there as it slowly grows back to it’s heyday! A well advertised B&B is a perfect spot on this long road.
      I would have loved to see a sign up the road a few months ago as I traveled thru that advertised a nice B&B that catered to artists. May I suggest a “family style” art colony B&B? you never see children entertained this way in this kind of setting….

      My very good luck to you, and as I ramble thru again, I will look for any progress in your endeavors!

    2. you will love Halloween there ! I went to Elementary there. Tom and Fanny were the admin for the schools when I was there. My family was the majority of the school having 5 of us attending in the late 70’s. The people are still down to earth. I don’t live there but visit when I can. My mom had a restaurant there while we were in school and it was super busy all the time.

    3. Are you still living here? I’m considering buying some land there. Do they have electricity and water? Contact me at Leslie Ames in Tyler, Texas on Facebook
      Thanks
      Leslie

    4. We just drove through Encino today and I want return and explore more. How is the b&b project going?

  15. My daughter and I are the return leg of a cross country loop visiting colleges back east and had the fortune to drive through Encino not 4 hours ago. It struck me how at some point it was a thriving little town. I just spent some time googling what I could and truly hope to make it back from the Bay Area of California some day to find it revitalized. Best wishes to Encino, New Mexico

  16. I drive through this town sometimes and it’s just a modern day ghost town. Wish I could see places like this in their Hay Day. Population has gone down to 82. I’ve never stopped their. Vaughn has nice gas stations. I don’t know if there’s any businesses there now. Hard to see that town ever thriving again.

  17. This posting is a request for information–in about early February of this year a house fire is supposed to have occurred in Encino New Mexico and a resident of Encino lost his life. His name was Richard Sandoval. I have searched obituaries in many papers in that area and I am not able to find any information regarding this event. If you have any information could you contact me at ldav2k9@gmail.com.

    1. Lorenzo P Davalos, the name Richard Sandoval actually rings a bell in connection with Encino. Let me see if I can look into it a bit. In the meantime, I have some posts on Encino at the
      City of Dust Facebook page and a comment there might also get some information.

      And I apologize for the delay in responding. I’m afraid your comment got past me for a bit. JM

  18. I drive through Encino on Hwy 285 when I drive to Albequerque from Roswell a few times a year. If I make a stop in the area it’s always in Vaughn. That’s the case for alot of motorist traveling Hwy 285. I’m always up for stopping for some good food in small towns but I have never seen anything advertised along the highway. In the good ole days before tgere ever was a Motorola brick phone. Small town stops like that had some appeal as a stopping point to stretch the legs and let kids burn off some pent up energy from a long road trip full of “Are we there yets” these days all kids need is a charged up smart phone and they good to go. Encino is just a small representation of what’s happening to alot of small towns/villages across the USA. I think Encino would be a good place to host a homesteading workshop.

    1. Shane, what you say is certainly the truth. There was a restaurant in Encino that was trying to make a go of it recently, The Encino Firehouse and Mercantile. They filled the inside of the restaurant with local photos and memorabilia, and I heard the food was great. I was always hoping to pay a visit, but it never worked out. Now, sadly, I guess I won’t get the chance as they couldn’t make a go of it in the long run. Such a common tale, unfortunately. But I do like Penny’s Diner in Vaughn!

      Here’s the remaining evidence: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g47024-d10335829-Reviews-The_Encino_Firehouse_Mercantile_and_Deli-Encino_New_Mexico.html

      Safe travels! John

  19. My Grandparents lived there until 1967 or 68, I would go in the summer with my mom and brother and visit them, I remember going and watching movies at the Fire Station. I love reading about the people memories of living there!! Would love going back again.

  20. I passed through this very quaint town on Veterans Day 2021. I stopped to relieve my dogs at the city main building and library. I met a wonderful gentleman named Timothy who runs the library and was kind enough to let me inside. I learned a little bit about the history of his decision to move to Encino and found this town although seemingly disappearing very quaint.

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