Foster’s Hotel, Chama, NM (Description of Interior)

The first floor of the south elevation of Section 2 has two large, two pane fixed windows. These windows are wood with a major horizontal mullion dividing the windows in an approximately 1/3 – 2/3 pattern. The second floor of the south elevation has four windows, three matching those on the second-floor east elevation, and one small single pane sash. This second-floor window pattern is repeated on the second floor of the north elevation. Two shed roof additions obscure the first floor of the north elevation. The west elevation of Section 2 abuts the east elevation of Section 1.

The first-floor interior of Section 2 includes a bar, storage and restrooms. Six now unused guest rooms and two bathrooms off a double loaded corridor comprise the second-floor plan. The corridors of Sections 1 and 2 meet at the stairway from the lobby.

Stairway to second floor guest rooms from lobby of original hotel.

SECTION 3 Section 3 of the Hotel (added in) is a two-story structure with an unfinished attic, and is attached to Section 1 by a narrow two-story stuccoed frame passageway. Section 3 is of cement stucco covered frame construction and has pitched metal roofs with an east/west ridge on the rear portion, and a north/south ridge on the front portion. The east (primary) elevation has a covered porch extending the full width of the first floor. Two commercial offices open onto this porch. The second-floor east elevation is composed of two double sliding wood windows (six panes per window) flanking a simple wood door which opens onto the central portion of the porch roof. A small, pitched roof gable interrupts the east roof slope over the door. The windows and doors are simply detailed with wood trim.

View looking southwest showing the 1927 adobe addition and the 1932 two story frame addition.

The north elevation of Section 3 provides windows and access doors to apartments on the first floor and windows to hotel guest rooms on the second floor. An attic window is centered in the gable end. Window and door detailing matches that on the east elevation. A wood board sidewalk extends the length of the north elevation.

The first floor of the west (rear) elevation has one window and three doors, the center door having been obscured by a later non-contribution shed addition. The second floor has two small windows flanking a wood door that most likely was access to a now removed exterior exit stairway.

The first floor of the south elevation has two wood doors flanking a window to the west of the connecting passage, and two windows to the east of the passage. The second floor of the south elevation has two windows west of the connecting passage, and two windows east of the passage, all servicing hotel guest rooms. An attic window at the south gable matches that on the north gable.

The interior of Section 3 is composed of 4 apartments on the first floor. Nine hotel guest rooms and two bathrooms are positioned off a double loaded corridor on the second floor. Access to the connecting passage to Section 1 is located at the center of the corridor. The Foster Hotel has maintained its existing appearance for over 50 years. In addition, each of its three major Sections continue to be readily distinguishable and allow easy interpretation of the systematic development and expansion of the Hotel between 1881 and 1932.

Second floor hall of 1927 adobe addition looking east.

Records show that as early as 1876, after congressional confirmation of the Grant, a substantial amount of the property was being conveyed to Thomas Catron. The first specific reference to the Hotel property occurs in 1882 when Catron transferred “Chama Lots 1 through 26 of Block A” to Pascal Craig by quit claim deed. A year later, Craig sold the same property to William F. Thornton.

Because of the documented 1881 arrival of the D & RG Railroad in Chama; the existence of two hotels to serve the new Chama line; and the southwestern frame portion of the Hotel appearing in an 1886 Chama photograph, the construction of the Hotel can reasonably be attributed to Catron. The original Hotel was built on Lots 1 and 2 only of the 26-lot parcel sold in 1882.

Between 1887 and 1904 the various Block A Lots were separated into a variety of ownerships. Lots 1 and 2 remained together since the Hotel had been constructed on both lots. In 1904, a Denver, Colorado corporation, The Chama Farm and Implement Company, began combining the Block A lots again, and by 1907 had purchased all 5 lots that now comprise the Hotel property. Warranty Deeds from 1920 and 1923 show the sale of Lots 1 through 4 and Lots 5 and 6 by the CFIC to Henry Foster. The 1920 deed refers to the “Card Hotel and a Cottage”, the latter evident to the north of the Hotel in early Chama photographs. Henry Foster changed the name of the Hotel to the Foster after his purchase of 1920, although the exact time of the name change is unknown. Servilia Johnson, the oldest surviving prior owner of the property, purchased the Hotel as the Foster from Henry Foster in 1947.

During the Foster ownership, the Hotel’s two major additions were constructed. A major fire in 1925 destroyed many of Chama’s early frame buildings including the Chama Station Lodge, a boarding house across 4th Street from the Hotel. The lodge had provided additional housing for the railroad workers. Within 2 years of the fire, Henry Foster had added the 2-story adobe section to the east of the existing hotel to expand his facilities to accommodate not only increasing railroad travelers, but also additional railroad workers.

The adobe section added 6 guest rooms and 2 bathrooms to the Hotel. Still later, in 1932, Foster expanded further by adding the two-story frame structure approximately 25′ north of the existing hotel, connecting it to the existing hotel by a two-story passage. The detached frame section added 9 guest rooms, 2 bathrooms and 4 apartments.

Between 1947 and the present, the property has been under four additional ownerships:

1947 – H. Foster to T.H. and Servilia Richards

1970 – Servilia Johnson2 to Benny and Teresa Medina

1978 – B. and T. Medina to Fred Baker, dba Chama Hotel Corp., Inc.

1982 – F. Baker to Alice Nuno (present owner)

The original six Chama Townsite lots comprising the Hotel property since the Catron ownership were reduced to the existing Lots 1 through 4 arid the south 18′ of Lot 5 during the T.H. and Servilia Richards ownership. The 18′ of Lot: 5 was made part of the Hotel property because it constituted existing driveway access to the 1932 apartment addition.

Throughout its history, the Foster Hotel has managed to escape a series of disastrous fires that ultimately destroyed all the original commercial core of Chama, perhaps because of its somewhat removed location at the northern edge of town. Increased demand for hotel accommodations, particularly after the other hotels in town were lost to fire, resulted in a series of expansions to the Foster, the last occurring in 1932. After over 100 years of operation, the Foster is now witnessing a renewed interest and demand through increasing tourist and year-round recreational development in Chama and northern New Mexico



Title Abstract, prepared 1954, by Rio Arriba County Title Abstract

Company, Chama, New Mexico.

Title Abstract, prepared 1954,by Tierra Amarilla Title Abstract Company,

Rio Arriba County, Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.

Supplemental Title Abstract, prepared 1977, by Northwest Abstract

Company, Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.

Medina, Benny. Private interview held June 28, 1985.

Johnson, Servilia. Private interview held August 1, 1985.

Daggett, Elanor. Chama. Albuquerque. Starline Corporation, 1973.

Chapell, Gordon. “To Santa Fe by Narrow Gauge, The D&RG’s ‘Chili Line 1 .”

Colorado Annual. 1969, n.d.

Foster’s Hotel, Chama, NM (Paranormal claims)

The closed-off second story of the old hotel contains three areas believed to be haunted. The first is located on the southwest corner of the building.

In the late 1800s, a woman was elected as the local judge. However, several men of the town did not like the idea of a woman becoming a judge. They resolved the situation by sneaking into her hotel room and adding poison to a pitcher of water. She was found dead in the morning.

It has been reported that the sound of a woman choking and gasping for breath can be heard in the empty room. This is often accompanied by cold spots or a cold “gust of wind” in the room.

Across the hall is yet another room with a ghostly inhabitant who has refused to check out. Staff at the hotel believe that it is the ghost of a small girl who died of an illness there over a hundred years ago. The sound of her crying and calls can be heard from the room, often having the late-night staff in the bar below suspecting that children have broken into the building. However, a quick search of the second floor reveals that the building is secure, and no one is present in the area. No one alive, at least.

The third room of the old section of the hotel that has a haunted reputation is located a few rooms back on the south side. Rumor has it that this room is haunted by the ghost of a cowboy from the town’s railroad days. He is unidentified, but his footsteps are often heard walking around on the second floor by the late-night staff working on the floor below.

The newer section of the hotel has its share of hauntings as well. A previous tenant of room 21 insisted that someone had a key to his room. He would often see a dark figure moving about his room, often as the figure was walking towards the door. The figure would mysteriously disappear when the tenant investigated further.

People staying in Room 25 often report Hot and Cold spots. The areas of heat and cold are highly concentrated and move swiftly about the room for several minutes.

Foster’s Hotel, Chama, NM (History)

In the early 1800s, the town of Chama was not only exciting but downright dangerous. As the youngest of the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant’s historic villages, Chama was established at a time in New Mexico’s history when much of northwestern New Mexico was without adequate law enforcement.’

Outlaws and other disreputable types, along with businessmen and hard-working settlers, were drawn to frontier towns like Chama, which sprang up along the railroad path, in this case, the Denver and the Rio Grande.  One of the earliest descriptions of Chama appeared within weeks after the railroad reached the site, which was to become the new town. A March 9, 1881, article in the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican reported the little town of Chama was “Fast-growing a reputation for lawlessness.” Holdups, murders, and shootings were so frequent that few people paid attention to them.

In another newspaper story, this kind of lawlessness earned this fledgling railroad settlement the label of “The Hurrah town at the front of the Narrow Gauge.” In territorial New Mexico, the term “Hurrah” was not intended as a compliment. Foster’s hotel was in existence at this time.

View looking west from D&RG Railroad tracks showing original frame hotel (left-center) on corner of 4th Street and Terrace Avenue with original two-story porch.


However, by the middle of March, a group of Chama’s more respectable citizens, fed up with matters, formed a vigilante committee. Members paraded around the town with a prominently displayed rope and explained to all the “bunko steerers, thieves and murderers” that they had two hours to leave. Apparently, they were persuasive, for most of the original element “left gratefully,” at least temporarily.

Another reporter who visited Chama later that month observed that although the roughest criminal element had left, many other undesirables remained. Large numbers of “soiled doves” and “tinhorn” gamblers were making themselves quite obnoxious, but fortunately, were generally too tame to be considered dangerous.

At that time, Chama was still a typical railroad town consisting mainly of tents. Except for a few railroad offices and some commercial businesses, one being Foster’s Hotel Bar and restaurant, every tent, and the building were utilized as a saloon or dance hall where the gamblers and “soiled doves” plied their trade.

As the town grew, other and more dangerous elements made their appearance, not only at Chama but at other towns further along the railroad, such as Bloomfield and Durango. Gangs led by desperadoes such as Ike Stockton, Charlie Allison, and other hardened refugees of the Colfax County Wars in northwest New Mexico vied for control, not only of the towns but for the entire northwest region of New Mexico. The situation deteriorated so severely that Governor Lew Wallace was forced to send Adjutant General Max Frost to Rio Arriba in early April 1881 to investigate. Frost’s report described Chama as “very lawless and disorderly.” It concluded that the average citizen risked his life simply by walking the streets in broad daylight. General Frost also reported that the situation was aggravated by a lack of local law enforcement. Chama itself had no constable, and very recently, a person appointed as deputy sheriff had been involved in the shooting of two railroad employees and had nearly been lynched.

One tongue-in-cheek report indicated Chama had no mosquitoes but that the bullets which passed through the tents at night served the purpose of keeping residents from sleeping as well as those little pests. The writer also suggested that if anyone was tired of life and had scruples about committing suicide, he could go to Chama and easily find someone quite willing to do the job for him. In the meantime, excitement remained the order of the day in Chama. It was reported that every man who dared walk the street in Chama had to be armed, and some were described as “walking arsenals.” The report added that most of the population “spend their time at night” rioting, gambling, drinking, loafing, and seem to take a particular delight in firing off six-shooters and Winchester rifles.

Foster’s Hotel was a known saloon, dance hall, and brothel during its past. The building has undergone several changes over the years. The most notable is the 1920’s when a second wing was added on. This second section is what houses the contemporary hotel. The second floor of the original building is closed to the public due to safety concerns. The wallpaper and several pieces of furniture date back to its “old west” days.


This article was prepared from material found in several of New Mexico’s historic newspapers. However, much of the information came directly from original documents found in the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe collections. It was written by Robert Torrez (Local Historian).

Foster’s Hotel, Chama, NM (Building Details)

The Foster Hotel is an assembly of the original circa 1881 frame building plus two later major additions constructed of frame and adobe. All three sections have moderately pitched corrugated metal roofs and are all in the Northern New Mexico vernacular style.

The overall structural condition of the Hotel is good to fair. The condition of the interior ranges from good to poor, the latter condition being primarily where the original hotel guest rooms have been closed. The interior detailing and finish throughout the Hotel are simple and non-decorative. Following the Hotel’s historic development pattern, each of the major building sections is described below separately.

View looking northwest showing the Hotel’s original frame section behind the 1927 two story adobe addition.

SECTION 1 The original section of the Hotel (circa 1881) is a two-story structure with an unfinished attic. It is cement stucco over frame construction and has a pitched metal roof with an east/west ridge. The primary elevation of this section is on the south. This elevation has a covered porch running from the east end of the elevation to a projecting five-sided addition at the west end of the first floor. The first floor of the south elevation has two entrances, one into a restaurant, and one into the hotel lobby. The five-sided addition has one wood, double hung, two-over-two sash window on each of four sides, with a glazed panel door on the southeast side. Five irregularly spaced windows exist on the second floor.

These windows are wood, double hung and have a two-over-two sash pattern. The second-floor window frames are of simple construction with beveled trim at the heads.

The west and north elevations of Section 1 were originally constructed as secondary, or rear, elevations and have minimal detailing. The first floor of the north elevation is obscured by a shed roof addition running its entire length. The second floor of the north elevation has four wood windows matching those on the south elevation. A fifth window has been enlarged to provide access to Section 3.

The most major alteration to Section 1 occurs on the east, originally the front, elevation, Early photographs show a wood two story porch on this elevation which was removed to allow for construction of Section 2.

The first; floor interior of Section 1 includes a kitchen, restaurant, hotel lobby, storage and rest rooms. A stairway leads from the lobby to the second floor at the northeast corner of Section 1, with an intermediate landing at the access hall to Section 3.

South elevation of original frame section of Hotel.

SECTION 2 Section 2 of the Hotel (added circa 1927) is a two-story structure with unfinished attic. It was constructed of cement stucco over adobe and has a pitched metal roof with an east/west ridge. The roof ridge of Section 2 does not align with that of Section 1. The primary elevations of Section 2 are on the east and south. The east (front) elevation has a full-length two-story porch supported by six heavy square tapered columns that rest on square bases. Four of these columns are free standing and two are engaged at the east elevation wall. Shallow stucco arches fill in between the columns at the second-floor level. The second floor of the porch is covered with a corrugated metal shed roof that is probably an altered version of an earlier shed roof treatment. The first floor of the east elevation has two doors and a window which have been replaced with newer doors and sash. The second floor has two windows and a door all of which are original. The door has a single paned window with one horizontal wood panel above and three horizontal wood panels below. The second-floor windows are wood, double hung and have a one-over-one sash pattern. The window frames are simple wood construction with no detailing of note.

View looking northeast showing rear (west) elevations of original Hotel section and 1932 frame addition.

The Foster Hotel is significant as one of the first commercial facilities in Chama, New Mexico, and as the only commercial survivor of several disastrous fires that have eliminated all other original commercial structures in town. The Hotel was constructed circa 1881 to help satisfy a sudden need in Chama for facilities to support the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad’s construction, ongoing maintenance and operation. The railroad passed through the northern New Mexico Territory on route from Denver to Santa Fe, opening this portion of the country to trade and commerce for the first time. The Hotel stands today as the only commercial structure in Chama dating directly to the construction of the railroad and the settlement of Chama that is not directly part of the railroad yards. Since its construction, the Hotel underwent continuous improvement and expansion until 1932, when the last of a series of additions was constructed. While serving as a major community landmark in its present form for approximately 53 years, the original portion of the hotel has been a landmark in Chama for over 100 years.

The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad system of the 19th and 20th centuries was the result of an ambitious project to connect Denver and Mexico City by rail. Although the southern terminus of the proposed system only reached as far as Santa Fe, New Mexico, the construction of the railroad opened the northern New Mexico Territory and southern Colorado to trade, commerce and visitors for the first time. Along the routes of the various branches of the railroad line, numerous small towns and villages were settled to accommodate the construction and maintenance needs of the railroad, in addition to providing services for railroad travelers. Chama was settled as one of these towns and the Hotel was established to help satisfy these needs.

The Hotel was one of two permanent hotels built during the original settlement and development of Chama. Records show that these two hotels initially provided housing facilities for the construction workers building the railroad. Prior to the construction of the hotels, workers lived in ‘tent cities’ provided by the railroad, and in privately owned cabins. Following the completion of the railroad and its associated yard facilities in Chama, the Hotel began providing more typical hotel accommodations and dining facilities for travelers on the railroad, in addition to continuing services to railroad personnel. A surviving previous owner of the Foster Hotel verifies that she maintained annual contracts with the railroad company to house and feed the railroad crews.

Interior of first floor bar in 1927 adobe addition.

The Hotel property consists of Lots 1,2,3,4 and the south 18′ of Lot 5, Block A of the Chama, New Mexico Townsite. The Chama Townsite falls within the original boundaries of the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant, an area of 594,515.55 acres in the northern New Mexico Territory and southern Colorado, petitioned for by Manuel Martinez in 1832. The Tierra Amarilla Grant was recommended by the Surveyor General of the Territory of New Mexico on September 10, 1856, in favor of Francisco Martinez (and his heirs and assigns) as the son and heir to Manuel Martinez who died |n J844. The land Grant was subsequently confirmed by an act of Congress on June 21, 18&0, and patented by President Rutherford B. Hayes on February 21, 1881. Francisco Martinez died in 1874 before the land patent was issued.



Title Abstract, prepared 1954, by Rio Arriba County Title Abstract

Company, Chama, New Mexico.

Title Abstract, prepared 1954,by Tierra Amarilla Title Abstract Company,

Rio Arriba County, Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.

Supplemental Title Abstract, prepared 1977, by Northwest Abstract

Company, Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.

Medina, Benny. Private interview held June 28, 1985.

Johnson, Servilia. Private interview held August 1, 1985.

Daggett, Elanor. Chama. Albuquerque. Starline Corporation, 1973.