City of Dust: San Antonio, New Mexico

The Roots of Paris Hilton

Around the turn of the 20th Century, a boy would walk from his father’s mercantile store, which also served as a hotel, to the train depot (shown above), just a short distance away. This boy then carried the luggage of passengers newly arrived in San Antonio, New Mexico back to their rooms, which ran $2.50 a day and included meals. The boy met every train stopping in town, regardless of time or weather. In 1919, that boy, Conrad Hilton, now thirty-two years old, bought the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas and thus began the Hilton Hotels chain. Paris Hilton is his great-granddaughter.

Below is a shot of some almost 100-year-old graffiti from inside the depot. Note the infinity sign/hat brim. Could it be the mark of the original train-hopping Bozo Texino?

San Antonio can trace its history back to 1629 and the founding of the San Antonio de Senecú Mission. The Apaches succeeded in destroying the mission in 1675 and for over 100 years the burnt remains of the village, which had been inhabited by Piro Indians for a mere 700 years prior, slowly decayed out on the plains, a caution to travelers on the nearby Camino Real. Now those ruins have been fully reclaimed by nature and the exact location of San Antonio de Senecú is unknown. On the other hand, the Crystal Palace, below, was once a dance hall and then a much more dilapidated (and photogenic) auto garage, but someone eventually decided to kinda fix it up.

Hispanic farmers from northern New Mexico established present-day San Antonio in 1820 and, when the Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1880, the town shifted to be closer to the rails. While most of San Antonio’s 1,250 residents still raised livestock, made wine, or even kept bees, the railroad was soon extended 10 miles east to reach the coal mines of Carthage and Tokay. Stakes included a claim known as the Hilton Mine, owned by A.H. “Gus” Hilton, who used the money to found the A.H. Hilton Mercantile Store. Mr. Hilton’s son, Conrad, was born on Christmas Day, 1887.

For almost 50 years the mines paid out, the trains came and went, and stagecoaches ran between White Oaks, Fort Stanton, and Lincoln. However, by 1925, the mines were going bust and the railroad soon took up its tracks. Then two major floods in 1929 washed away a big chunk of the town and the surrounding farmland. WWII lured away most remaining young men and A.H. Hilton’s original mercantile burnt around the same time, which, incidentally, pretty much coincided with Conrad’s marriage to Zsa Zsa Gabor. However, Hilton’s wooden bar was saved and installed in the famous Owl Bar and Restaurant in 1945, where it is used to this day to support Tecate and green chile cheeseburgers. The Owl Bar itself was built by Brunswick Balke Collender Company. You might have used their bowling balls.

And that is largely where San Antonio is at today, except for the slight shift to the north, where most business is now conducted along U.S. 380. Not a true ghost town, you still won’t find any trains stopping at the marooned and badly listing depot. Of course, every ghost town aficionado hopes to discover something new, and, while it’s well-known that all that’s left of what could be considered the original Hilton Hotel is its foundation, located across from the old post office (now a restored private residence), I have been unable to find a single picture of the site anywhere. So, as is my wont, I took my own. In fact, I took two. The concrete shown here and below is all that remains of the birthplace of one of the greatest hotel chains in the world, without which Paris Hilton might be living in a trailer out in the Socorro County desert. However, the original ballroom floor from the hotel was reportedly installed in the Wool Warehouse building in Magdalena. It must’ve been part of a remodeling job as that place was built in 1913. Can anyone get me in to have a look?!

For those Paris Hilton fans wishing to tour the old ruins, I can be hired at a very reasonable price. Please wear sensible shoes and long pants and don’t expect much.

Info for this post came from Varney and Harris. Special thanks to the grandson of the owners of the San Antonio depot for the quick peak inside.

This post originally appeared on the City of Dust blog.


  1. This is a good article on the history of the original Hilton hotel. One of Hilton descendants was a lawyer in El Paso. I know that because I used him for a case I had to deal with in the early 1990’s. Not long after that he was in the El Paso Times and local T.V. For a weed bust and disappeared from the scene.

  2. I was born in 1939 in my home about a quarter of a mile from San Antonio, just beyond the arroyo (wash) on the farm to market road to Socorro, 9 miles away. I left San Antonio and SAn Antonio Grade School with my parents in the 7th grade at age 11 or so, and we stayed in Albuquerque until graduation and through college. When I could drive, however, I returned to San Antonio and since have written numerous stories about the village in magazines, newspapers, etc., on things such as the famous bars (Owl and Buckhorn), personalities (Hilton, Elfego Baca, etc.) Use key words to find some of them.

  3. Conrad Hilton wrote an autobiography called “Be My Guest”, which was reprinted in 1983, and is available on amazon. He tells about his youth in San Antonio.

  4. I have a picture of the Hilton mercantile store in San Antonio and the post office across the street.

  5. I happen to know that Conrad Hilton dated a local young woman Ms. Baca there is San Antonio. They were in love and wanted to marry. His parents forbid this relationship, promised to disinherit Conrad if he continued to date Ms. Baca. This did not sit well with Conrad and he tried to peruse his parents using the the fact that she and her family were Catholic. That did no good, so the next best thing was to make a child. That only angered the Hilton’s at which time Conrad was sent to Texas. Ms. Baca heartbroken gave birth to a beautiful little girl, who helped to mend her broken heart. To remind her of the love she shared with Conrad. Conrad visited the girl as often as he could. Every so often a big black car would arrive to pick up the child. When the child would return, she bore such lovely gifts. Which this loving child would share with other children in her family and community. When the girl was about 5 or 6 years old that big car arrived and took the child. The child was never returned. Ms. Baca died of a broken heart. The family has never seen or heard of the daughter of San Antonio who was stolen by the Hiltons.

    1. Melinda I’m not sure if you’ll receive this message but it’s my understanding that Ms Baca was my great grandmother……I would love to talk to you. My parents are from San Antonio, N M

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