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Steeple

Every photographer who ever went to New Mexico has, from the looks of things, photographed this old church. (I’m guilty of it: here, here, here, and as recently as yesterday.)

The poor old thing looks worse every time I pass by, and I know for sure that one of these days, I’ll pull up and it will have fallen all the way over. On my last drive by there, I was traveling alone and my mind wandered around* and eventually settled on this Grand Idea: after the building does fall over, there ought to be a show of all the photographs made of the place. It’d take a big space…

Taiban, New Mexico
photographed 3.14.2019

*Yes, my mind does wander all the time. But a few hours into a solo road trip and it gets even more wandery.

Prairie Window

This old church is the main – some would say only – landmark in Taiban, New Mexico. It’s on the route between home and Albuquerque or Santa Fe, and I stop in nearly every time I’m through town. Last spring, the glassless windows were nice frames for a view of the prairie east of town.

Taiban, New Mexico
photographed 5.25.2018

Faith can have many layers

The weathered wood, glass-free windows, sunlight on the floor, the distant mesa, all layered up.

Taiban, New Mexico
photographed 5.25.2018

Tire and jet at abandoned church

Me (speaking in general terms about this place, which has been photographed a billion times): It’ll be a big service to the photographic world when that place finally falls down.

Me (approaching Taiban, New Mexico, on a recent trip): We HAVE to stop. I need to take some pictures.

Lesson: I cannot be trusted.

Taiban, New Mexico
photographed 5.25.2018

It’s hard to tell who won the war

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The First Presbyterian Church in Taiban was built in 1908 for $250, over half of which came from loans from “the ladies of the Baptist church and the Taiban Savings Bank.”* Hopes must have been high in Taiban back then: the railroad was there, newly relocated from a more northern route. There was a bank, a hotel, a school, and a contract to build 50 homes. There were already over 400 residents.

But then, trouble arrived, in the form of the Pink Pony Saloon and Dancehall. The town was broken into factions; periodic elections made alcohol legal one time, then illegal another, back and forth all the way into the 1930s. By that time, the effects of a long drought and the Depression, as well as the ongoing alcohol wars, took their toll, and the Presbyterian church held its final service in 1936.

After World War II, there were only about fifty residents. But with the church closed down, it looked as though alcohol had won: bars were the tiny town’s only successful businesses. People from surrounding dry counties in eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle would travel to Taiban when they felt a need to quench a certain thirst; the wealthiest patrons would fly in, landing at what became known as the Taiban International Airport.

But life was hard, dry-land farming harder. Passenger train service was gone, and the roads were necessarily hospitable. By the 1960s, only one business – a bar – remained in town.

Today, the bar’s gone.

But photographers take the time to pull off the road (which is more hospitable now) to take pictures of what’s left of the First Presbyterian Church. Somewhere along the line, concrete steps and a handrail were added to make for easier access. There’s graffiti now, on the walls – prayers and Bible verses and a sketch of Jesus with outstretched arms as if to say, “Write on these walls, my children.”

Taiban, New Mexico
photographed 9.20.2013

* Read more about Taiban’s history.

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