Lesser-known than nearby Dawson, Van Houten began in 1902 as the mining camp of Willow, New Mexico. That same year the post office name was changed to Van Houten after the president of the coal company. The post office was discontinued in 1952, and by 1954 the mining was stopped entirely.
Nearly all of the structures were demolished, but there is still plenty to see at the site of Van Houten. The house foundations remain intact, laid out in careful grids, marking the neighborhoods where 1,500 people once lived. One house remains standing. Industrial foundations, at least one original mine entrance, and the mule barns are also visible.
Of the several mine entrances visible around the Van Houten area, this one remains intact, including the ironwork and stonework, and is still in use as a storage shed.
The mule barn:
The last house standing at Van Houten:
The remnants of a large building:
The building style is evident from debris and artifacts; this typical Van Houten house had a poured concrete basement with a main story made from hollow blocks.
Visible in satellite photos as neatly laid-out neighborhoods, most of the foundations are in very good condition.
The artifacts and domestic features in Van Houten provide important clues to the lifestyle of it’s inhabitants.
Van Houten is a rarity in New Mexico ghost towns; it is in excellent condition, is being carefully preserved as-is by the current owners, and is open to the public on a conditional basis. The town site is located on the N.R.A. Whittington Center property and is accessible with permission, which generally involves checking in at the visitor center and signing a waiver at the security gate. Some areas of the town are off-limits for visitor safety on account of the nearby shooting ranges. The entire town site can be off-limits during certain times.
In addition to visiting the town of Van Houten, the Whittington Center is home to the Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest, which is free and open to the public. The ruts of the Santa Fe Trail are also visible on the property.