Aztec Ruins
Administrative History
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During the hard times of the 1930s, the United States government undertook programs to provide employment for its citizens by improving the facilities of all National Park Service installations in the Southwest. This included Aztec Ruins National Monument. As enacted, the legislation called for funded work to be completed within a very short period of time. Fifty years later many of the things accomplished then continue to enrich the public property.


The condition of the West Ruin needed prompt attention. The pueblo was falling into disrepair faster than the custodian could put it back together. After every severe storm, portions of walls collapsed, endangering weakened adjoining sections. In his first monthly report, Faris said, "Because of the heavy wet snows and freezing and thawing the walls of ruins are falling or giving away almost daily and repairs mounting steadily." [1] The soft sandstone masonry of the structure was decaying slowly from moisture seeped upward by capillary action. The earthen mortar used by aboriginal masons was being eaten away. Such hazardous conditions threatened the old house, as well as the safety of those walking through the ruins. Faris grossly underestimated repair costs, originally requesting just $300 per year. [2]

The townfolks of Aztec were concerned. The president of the Aztec Chamber of Commerce wrote New Mexico Senator Dennis Chaves urging repairs. "A few thousand dollars used now will insure the original architectural beauty and effect for generations to come," he said. The editor of the Aztec Independent sent a similar letter to the other New Mexico senator, Bronson Cutting. A more formal resolution from the Chamber of Commerce as a body followed (see Appendix I). [3] These appeals prompted little immediate action in Washington.

While not dangerous, the appearance of the monument was unsightly. Once the compacted rind over the West Ruin cracked, exposed detritus that collected over the centuries was released to cause disposal problems for excavators. At first, the bulk of it lacking archeological significance was carried away from the vicinity of the site in order to make digging easer. Dislodged building stones and timbers were stockpiled nearer at hand in anticipation of future use in repair or restoration. However, during sporadic work in the 1920s, quantities of culturally sterile debris merely were shoveled outside of walls, where they banked against the three sandstone masonry sides of the village or lay in hummocks in the courtyard. Heaps of meaningless earth and rocks strewn about made it difficult for visitors to comprehend the ground plan and grandeur of the Anasazi town. In addition, the roofed utility rooms in the southwest corner of the house block, the storage shed, cross fences and extraneous buildings left from the days when Aztec Ruins was an integral part of an operating farm, and a barren landscape devoid of trees or shrubs detracted from the monument's over-all attractiveness.

Various civic groups and private citizens launched a lobbying campaign in the belief that both the ruin and local taxpayers would be helped by some attention from the government. The case for ruin repair and face lift was indisputable. Local residents felt that perhaps Washington bureaucrats were less aware of the misery that filled the Animas valley in the early 1930s due to the Great Depression. For many, jobs to supplement uncertain farm income were vital for survival.

The preliminaries to getting a combination relief and improvement program launched were filled alternately with hope and discouragement. Early in 1933, Faris went to work on a list of immediate needs. It was approved by the Washington office and then forwarded to Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, administrator of the Special Board for Public Works. [4] In summer, word came that Congress had approved a large appropriation for Aztec Ruins National Monument. [5] Pinkley sent Faris a list showing that Aztec Ruins was to get $32,000 under the National Industrial Recovery Act. [6] Job applicants besieged Faris. Weeks passed with no official confirmation of the appropriation. Finally, in despair, F.M. Burt, head of the Aztec Chamber of Commerce, wired the director of the National Park Service, saying, "We were informed weeks ago that thirty two thousand dollars had been allotted for improvement Aztec Ruins National Monument. We have large and growing list unemployed no relief in sight and winter approximately only sixty days away. Therefore earnestly implore you start work immediately if at all possible." [7] A same-day reply contained the disheartening news that a lesser sum finally approved by Congress ruled out the requested money for Aztec Ruins National Monument. [8]

The next ray of hope was a supplemental bill before Congress budgeting $10,000 for an administration and museum building at the monument. [9] The opportunity for the National Park Service to proceed with that improvement arose during the year when Morris moved out of the stone house to return permanently to Boulder. Because the tourist traffic through the yard disturbed him, Morris forfeited three years of his lease. Still pleading the cause for immediate employment of local men, Burt pursued this new proposal with another telegram to Washington. "Permit us, therefore, to urge with all the earnestness at our command and in the name and behalf of humanity that nothing be permitted to delay starting work at Aztec Ruins National Monument at the earliest possible moment and before winter comes." [10]

The next week the $10,000 appropriation passed, but it hit a snag. Since there was a statutory provision that no building in excess of $1,500 could be built in any federal park or monument, the Attorney General had to rule on its legality. At last, in October, a favorable decision was reached allowing expenditures to be made.

Still trying to get all he could for his monument and his neighbors, Faris aggressively went directly to the top of the Civil Works Administration hierarchy with a personal telegram to Ickes requesting further funding for improvements. As he wrote Morris, "The main idea of the work this fall is to create good feeling among the local people as much as possible." [11] In particular, Faris wanted to accomplish two immediate objectives by clearing away unwanted debris around the site and using it to fill quagmires in his hated "cowpath" of an entry road. The county road department agreed to this plan. [12]

Two weeks later Faris was informed that an allotment of $17,175 was available for Aztec Ruins National Monument through the Office of National Parks, Buildings, and Reservations. This grant came under the provisions of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (FP 503). [13] The amount was about half what originally was planned for the monument. The Farmington Times Hustler promptly reported the news: "Custodian Johnwill Faris, upon receipt of word that $17,175 had been allotted for repair work on the Aztec Ruins, has commenced plans for preliminary work to begin as soon as the funds are placed to the credit of local officials. Mr. Faris has stated that much of the repair work cannot be done until spring, but that he expects to work fifteen men for a period of six weeks this fall and hopes to have the men on the job before another week passes. Minimum wages will be 45¢ per hour, working a five day week of six hours a day. This is the first relief appropriation Aztec has received and is expected to give needed employment to a part of the jobless of the county." [14]

Even though he lacked authorization to do so, Faris wasted no time in hiring a crew of 16 men. With alarm over Faris's penchant for crashing onward, Superintendent Pinkley tried to clear this hasty action with the National Park Service director. The director on the same day returned instructions to have Faris stop work immediately. [15] At the moment, officials in Washington were trying to engage the services of Earl Morris, on loan from the Carnegie Institution, to direct the repairs for which the funds were intended. Faris remained determined to provide some employment. On November 22, he wired Director Hillory Tolson that he was acting on advice from Morris as where best to put his crews to work cleaning up the grounds and gathering stone for planned restoration. He pleaded that he be allowed to keep the men at work while the weather continued good. [16] Financial relief was desperately needed. A return telegram gave him that permission. [17]

The Civil Works Administration program for Aztec Ruins was in effect from December 6, 1933, to April 12, 1934, a relatively brief time for work contemplated. The total allotment amounted to $23,880, of which $20,165.24 actually was committed (see Table 7.1). [18]

Table 7.1. Civil Works Administration Program
Aztec Ruins National Monument
December 6, 1933-April 12, 1934

Statistical Summarya


1.Barn removal$ 829.58
2.Fencing monument1,769.67
3.Parking area8,742.81
4.Clean-up and landscaping7,722.03
6.Archeological work1,101.15

Total$ 20,165.24

a National Park Service: Aztec Ruins National Monument files at the National Archives, Washington.

Two weeks after Faris received authorization to proceed beyond his initial hiring, 63 men and two women were on the payroll. Washington questioned the large number of employees because some of the work was on a road off the monument. [19] Instead of full-time employment as expected, the government imposed a 15-hour weekly limit so that more individuals could share the available funds. The number of employees declined as various assignments were completed until, at the termination of the program, there remained just a seven-man crew. Pinkley and Faris praised the diligence with which individuals responded. Everyone was grateful to be gainfully employed. [20]

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006