Ilfield warehouse

The Ilfeld warehouse is a Magdalena landmark.

"I would like to thank the people of Magdalena and the surrounding areas for all their years of buying at Alamo Plumbing and Eagle Supply. And I wish you all well. Thank you."

With those words, Clark Brown closes his hardware business, Eagle Supply Company, in the historic Charles Ilfeld Company warehouse.

Eagle Supply was the successor to family-run Alamo Plumbing, Magdalena's hardware dealer for 28 years. Alamo Plumbing and Heating opened in June 1980. For 22 years, it was known for having plumbing and heating materials, tools, building supplies, paint, and anything else a well-stocked hardware store would carry.

"My father, Charles Hector Brown, wanted a hardware store here in town," Clark said. He acquired the building on Main Street that formerly held a blacksmith shop and auto shop.

Ilfield main floor

Warehouse is topped with a raised skylight.

The hardware store was initially operated by two of Clark's sisters, but in the early 1990s, "my sister Betty and I took it over. We ran it for 22 years."

Over the years, they took care of customers from not only Magdalena but the Alamo reservation, Pie Town and as far away as Quemado.

"Alamo Plumbing was doing real good at the time," Clark said. "But over time it was getting harder and harder to order stuff. We were an independent hardware store where we could buy from anybody we wanted to. We'd order directly from the factory. A lot of our merchandise was like that. Directly from the factory, but we'd have to order case lots."

And that caused an overstocking situation. "For example, I think had on hand eight cases of pumice stone," he said. "And you know, pumice stone doesn't sell all that well. And I think we had 12 cases of Fogger."

In January 2016, his sister Betty retired, and Alamo would be closing its doors. That's when Clark chose a different option; moving everything over to the Ilfield warehouse, where he opened Eagle Supply Company.

Believing in supporting this rural community and its working people, he said. "I just didn't want Magdalena to be without a hardware store. That's all there is to it." So he kept the business going with Eagle Supply, selling plumbing, electrical, general hardware, heating supplies like stovepipes, paint sundries, and a few other odds and ends.

"And keys," he said. "Everybody liked the way I made keys."

"People I sold to would go to Socorro only if they couldn't find it at my place," he said. "And if you couldn't find it in the store, I could usually go down to the pump house, or wherever and I'd bring it up and sell it to you."

Besides that, the story of the building housing Eagle Supply - the Charles Ilfield warehouse - was as much a draw as the hardware he sold.

Charles Ilfeld, as one of the major retailers in the state, is an integral part of New Mexico's history. Ilfeld's story is one of determination and superior business acumen.

After immigrating from Germany, Ilfeld arrived in Santa Fe in 1865 with only $5 in his pocket, but through hard work and shrewd partnerships, he eventually became the sole owner of a chain of mercantiles by the mid-1870s. Ilfeld's business eventually grew into the largest mercantile firm in New Mexico.

By 1907, the company focused on wholesaling. Its motto became "Wholesalers of Everything." That motto is still emblazoned on the front of the warehouse in Magdalena, which opened for business in 1916.

Main Street 1935

Main Street in 1935. Ilfield at far right.

According to the New Mexico Office of the State Historian, "the history of Ilfeld as the company's letterhead proclaimed as early as 1896, it sold 'everything, wholesale, retail: fine and staple dry goods, fashionable millinery, gentlemen's furnishings, agency Butterick patterns, the Foster kid gloves, Jaeger underwear, furniture and carpets, crockery, hardware, groceries, ranch supplies, cattle, sheep, [and] country produce.'"

In Magdalena, Ilfeld did a brisk business and was sometimes referred to as "Tio Carlos" by the locals. That lasted until the mid-1960s.

By 1970 the Charles Ilfeld Company was shut down. Ilfeld had vacated the Magdalena building by 1965.

"My dad worked for the Charles Ilfeld Company 30 years as a salesman," Clark said. "And in 1968 he bought the warehouse and started Eagle Wholesale in the same building selling propane and natural gas heaters. He also started dealing in wood stoves that were sold all over the state, from Questa to Mora to Truches and just about everywhere. And my father would only deal with stoves made in the United States."

Reminders of Ilfield's glory days abound in the century-old building, including a walk-in humidor, antique Fairbanks scales, and a hand-powered elevator which was used to bring merchandise from the basement to ground level.

"The building was right next to Santa Fe railroad tracks, so when a delivery came in, it was easy to transfer all the goods right over to the loading dock, or through a chute to the basement," Clark said. The chute, although currently blocked on the outside, can be seen in the basement.

Clark Brown

Clark Brown was in hardward business for 28 years.

Other artifacts from an era gone by include fire hoses spaced along the length of the basement and a safe dating back to the 1920s.

"People would just come in, and their jaws drop, and they want to know when this was built and everything," he said. "I had one visitor who said, 'My grandfather worked here at one time.'"

"It was a business, yes, a hardware store, but I can tell when people come through the door, they want to know about the building, and I tell them what I can," Brown said. "They appreciate that."

Although added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1982, Brown said the roof is not historic. "Let me tell you why," he said.

"If you take money from the historical department, you have to do what they say. The original roof was corrugated, American corrugated. You could walk on that roof, and it doesn't go crinkle-crinkle," Clark said. "Japanese tin, you walk across it, it goes crinkle-crinkle. So I put on pro-panel. It will outlast me, and whoever gets this after I go."

Clark once said, "If someone came in here are offered to buy this warehouse, I would sell it. But it would be on my terms."

After running Eagle Supply by himself for four years, Clark decided it might be time to move on, "and I got to talking with Dale Armstrong, who heard that I wanted to sell the building."

"He came and looked around, and said he remembered coming in there as a little boy with his dad to buy stoves," he said. "That was back when we were in the stove business."

The future of the building remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure; it will continue to impress. And Clark Brown has agreed to stick around and look after the place.

"I don't have the store, but I'm not going anywhere," he said.