By appointment, researchers and others may view and study objects from the Museum's collections that are in storage or encased in exhibits. Please make requests well in advance of your planned visit. Read more about the Museum Collection Policy and What We Collect
. For more information contact Jackie Becker
The Ailman House, home to the Museum
The H.B. Ailman House
, an 1881 Mansard/Italianate structure, is the Museum's home and its single largest artifact. Originally one of a pair of "twin" houses, it was built from soft, locally made brick and lumber milled from nearby forests. After two decades as a single-family residence, the future museum spent a quarter-century as a boarding house, a brief stint as City Hall, and 35 years as the town fire station. The history of the house is interpreted through label text, our color brochure, website, and guided tours. Much of our institutional attention through the years has been devoted to preserving and protecting this unique example of early local architecture, while also making it safe and accessible.
Our permanent collection of over 20,000 objects includes approximately 17,000 photos, the largest and fastest growing collection category. At the nucleus of our photo archive is the John Harlan Collection of some 800 local views from the 1870s-1920s, received in 1974. Many family collections as well as photos sought out from community members are used in exhibits.
The O.L Hinger Collection, a 1996 gift to the museum, includes more than 1,700 images from the 1930s and 40s. The collection expanded our documentation of people, buildings, and lifestyles in the region for the period before and during World War II. Community members helped us identify most of these historic photos.
The Museum holds over 5,000 household and personal objects dating from the late 19th through early 20th centuries. Artifacts representative of Anglo and Hispanic settlers include clothing and accessories, furnishings and firearms. Several hundred more objects represent the period between the World Wars, including personal, commercial, and work-related items. Our collection includes more recent history, including items from native son Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, former astronaut and U.S. Senator.
Several hundred items, including business records, newspapers, municipal records, and mining documents are held - materials that are available to researchers by appointment and with close staff supervision. We make these holdings (both photographs and documents) available to researchers in copy form when possible.
Native American Artifacts
Our Native American collection consists of pottery and lithic material from the Mimbres, Mogollon, and Casas Grandes peoples, ancient cultures located in (or connected by trade to) our region. From the post-European-contact period are a dozen Apache baskets, two dolls and a cradleboard, several Navajo rugs and blankets, and a few related artifacts. All Native American items were inventoried and reported under NAGPRA requirements. The Museum's collecting priorities include materials from the Chiricahua Apaches, the tribal group which occupied the area that now surrounds Silver City. Warfare and their forced relocation to Florida in 1886 have effectively destroyed this group as a societal unit, and their material culture with them - very few artifacts exist in museum collections.
Artifacts representing our mining heritage number at least 100. Our mining exhibits include the Tyrone Room, a period mining office containing equipment from the former company town near Silver City. Designed by architect Bertram Goodhue, Tyrone was an outstanding example of the Mediterranean-style architecture of the World War I era. Our 200-piece collection is nearly all that remains of the town, now engulfed by an open-pit mine. Another exhibit focuses on the Santa Rita mine and includes local mineral samples, assaying equipment, and miners' gear. Unfortunately, much industrial mining equipment is too large for our facilities to house, and its representation is usually limited to photographs and other documentary materials.
Ranching plays a vital role in the region. Although we have fewer than 50 ranching artifacts in the permanent collection, these are heavily supplemented by loans from the ranching community for exhibits. Donations of ranch gear are difficult to obtain; ranching is often a multi-generational family business and potential donors frequently want to keep artifacts in the family, or tend to use objects until they fall apart. However, some 200 photos in the collection depict mining and ranching activities, helping to interpret these topics in the absence of artifacts.