The Aztec Museum Turns 50
By Dr. Jimmy Miller

This year marks the golden anniversary of the Aztec Museum.  The first fifty years were not without their challenges and detours along the way, but looking back we can see that our home town museum has come a very long way and is a major asset to our community.  With your continued support it will serve us well for many more years to come.

The earliest roots of local museum interest seem to date back to January of 1960.  A group of twenty-two concerned citizens met in Farmington to consider the prospect of creating a museum in San Juan County.  Dr. G. D. Walters was elected chairman of this planning committee.  Frank McNitt, Joy Noel, Ed Foster, Jack Echols, Vernon Bloomfield, Gilbert Maxwell, Harry Hadlock, Paul Nelson, and several others ably assisted him.  Ethel Mullins was elected secretary and Ed Hawkins became publicity director.  The group was disappointed but not deterred in their quest for a museum when voters rejected a $150,000 bond election to build the facility in April 1960.

The San Juan County Museum Association was formed in January of 1963 and later that year members persuaded the Farmington Town Board to let the fledgling organization display their growing collection in an available room at the Farmington City Hall.  In December of 1963 the San Juan Museum Association met with the Aztec City Commission and the two bodies agreed to establish a branch museum in Aztec at the old City Hall building at 125 North Main Street.   Aztec Museum is still at that location today!

In January1964 Harry Jackson of Aztec was elected president of the San Juan County Museum Association, Harry Allen of Farmington became vice president, Mrs. Ernest Boettcher of Aztec was elected treasurer and Mrs. Lyndall Butler of Farmington assumed role of treasurer.  The San Juan County organization was evenly balanced between its two largest cities at that time.

“Museum Week in San Juan County” was proclaimed by Mayor Floyd Davis of Farmington and Mayor Cliff Collins of Aztec when the Aztec Branch Museum at 125 North Main opened the weekend of November 21-22, 1964 and the Farmington Branch Museum opened a week later in a portion of the Farmington Public Library then located on the corner of Orchard and La Plata Streets.  The Farmington Museum remained there in the ‘Old Rock House” until the mid 1980s.

By January of 1965 the San Juan County Museum Association had reached a level of maturity and balance with a cast of officers that reflected the entire county.  Mrs. Bill Daniel served as president with Mrs. Harry Allen as vice president.  Mrs. Chris Murphy was treasurer and Mrs. Lyndall Butler was the group’s treasurer.  Harry Hadlock was the Farmington branch’s curator and Henry Jackson served in the same role in Aztec.  The offices of education chair, librarian, publicity chairman and membership chair rounded out the executive committee.

After working together with the San Juan County Commission for seven years to secure a permanent location for the San Juan County Museum, the two bodies finalized an agreement which would permit a bond election for $275,000 to finance a facility for the county museum.  The county would own the museum and grounds and would lease it to the Museum Association for $1.00 per year for ninety-nine years.  The facility would be an


archaeological research center to be built just west of Bloomfield, now known as Salmon Ruins.  Voters approved this plan in the bond election held in March 1971.

Meeting with the Aztec Chamber of Commerce and supporters of a separate history museum for Aztec. The Aztec groups asked to dissolve their connection to the San Juan County Museum Association.  That agreement was made on March 24, 1973 with Alton James, president of the San Juan County Museum Association, and Hans M. Doerfelt, representing the Aztec Chamber of Commerce in the formal dissolution agreement.  By all accounts the meeting and its result were amicably received by both parties.

Almost immediately following this development, the new Aztec Museum Association was organized and chartered on April 6.   Robert Osborn was elected the first association president with Mabel Lester selected as vice president.  Virginia Stephenson became secretary and Lillian Salmon treasurer.  Greg Hawk and Veronica Robinson rounded out the board of directors.  Forrest “Breezy” Atwood was named chairman for museum expansion. 

The board set a goal of $10,000 for Phase One of the new organization’s renovation and building.  A new roof, plumbing and heating improvements, bathroom renovations, refinishing the basement rooms and securing glass display cases took immediate priority.  By July 1973 the improvements were complete and the Lobato Room was formally opened.  The Lobato Room is still one of the most popular parts of the entire facility.

A fund drive was initiated in March of 1982 to build an addition on the west side of the museum.  By May of 1983 the Atwood Annex was opened to the public.  On September 13, 1984 the mayor of Aztec proclaimed the first “Founders’ Day” in Aztec.  The Aztec Museum and Pioneer village have carried on this Founders’ Day tradition for the past thirty years.

Between 1985 and 1996 the Pioneer Village evolved.  Some original buildings, such as the Cedar Hill Church, were moved onto the museum’s grounds and volunteers built other historic replicas.  Today twelve separate buildings which house fifteen different entities compose the Pioneer Village of the Aztec Museum.  Many hard working, loyal supporters of the Aztec Museum made this happen over more than a decade. 

Another major addition at the Aztec Museum began to evolve about this time thanks to the generosity and dedication of a long-time Aztec Museum Association board member.  Local oil and gas drilling and production pioneer, Tom Dugan, donated numerous equipment such as the Fort Worth “spudder” and a completely restored drilling rig and “dog house” and oversaw the installation of this exhibit in the Pioneer Village.  More recently Dugan financed the production of an eleven-minute documentary film entitled “Nature’s Gift to the San Juan Basin” which is now available for viewing at the Aztec Museum.

As we all observe another Founders’ Day this year, let us remember all the people of Aztec and surrounding communities that played a part in the first fifty years of the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village.  With your generous support the next fifty years can be even more productive and memorable as we work to preserve and explain the cultural heritage of Aztec and the surrounding area.

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