The town of Clayton was established in 1887 as a railroad stop. It started as a tent town with three saloons, a livery stable, two small hotels of sorts and a general store. Clayton was a waypoint for trade caravans and homesteaders traveling on the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail. The first train arrived March 20, 1888, on newly laid tracks. The town became a livestock-shipping center for herds from the Pecos River and the Texas Panhandle.
The Herzstein Memorial Museum is run by the Union County Historical Society. The museum seeks to preserve the history of the city of Clayton and Union County. Named for the pioneering merchant family of Albert Herzstein, the museum is housed in a former Methodist Episcopal Church with a history of its own: The building also once served as a local community center with basketball courts, it housed the public library, and was the venue for many community gatherings. The Historical Society acquired the building in 1972. The museum opened the following year.
The museum is an official Santa Fe Trail Interpretive Center.
Exhibits include items given to the museum by the Herzstein family, memorabilia from local families, historic room settings and local history (including the capture and hanging of the notorious murderer and train-robber Black Jack Ketchum), and an exhibit on the 1930s’ Dust Bowl and its effect on Northeastern New Mexico.
In addition, the museum has taken on the exhibition of the WPA collection from Clayton High School. The Clayton High School campus is a living tribute to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and in particular the Works Projects Administration (WPA). The Clayton school buildings were constructed as WPA projects in the late 1930s. The buildings are in a Pueblo Revival architectural style. There are several buildings within the complex. Many Union County workers, artists, and craftsmen were involved in the building and furnishing of of the school as part of one of the largest WPA projects in the United States. Examples of the handmade furniture, hand-woven and embroidered draperies, ceramic dishes, tin work light fixtures, iron and copper work, and fine art made for the high school can be seen at the Herzstein Museum.
Location: Second and Walnut Streets, Clayton, New Mexico 88415
Phone: 575-374-2977 or 1-888-789-6641
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday. Winter hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Summer hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: By donation
Nearby, don’t miss Clayton Lake State Park, where you can see over 500 dinosaur tracks along the shore of the lake.