The Big Ditch - Atlas Obscura

The Big Ditch

This small canyon park was once the main street of Silver City—until a flood washed it away.  


In Silver City, New Mexico, there is a long public park, lined with trees and home to a small brook. The floor of the park is located below the surface of the town, providing a cool spot to rest in the arid climate of the Southwest. In such a nice environment, one might wonder why the park is given the somewhat derisive moniker. The answer comes from the gulch’s history, for this small chasm was not always a pleasant forested park. It began as the central business district of Silver City.

Silver City was founded as a mining boomtown in 1870, with little planning given to the long-term health of its infrastructure. One casualty of this lack of planning was the town’s main street. Over time, the unpaved road was slowly stripped away by rainwater, and made worse by logging and soil collection that left the surrounding ground unable to absorb excess water. With each rainfall, Main Street sunk. In 1895, the destruction was made complete with a flood that transformed Main Street from a gully into a gorge. At this point the townspeople gave up on their old main street, building footbridges to cross the new arroyo.

After it was abandoned as a street, the Big Ditch became a contemptuous place, used as a makeshift dump and sewer. For a time, proposals were considered to fill the ditch with culverts and cover it up, using it for parking space. However, after the demolition of the Silver City rail depot in 1975 spurred a movement in the city to preserve its remaining historic structures, The Big Ditch, which at this point had its own creek running through it, was transformed into a beautiful public park. Today, it is the perfect place to eat breakfast, read a book, or just relax in the shade.

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