Fading adobe buildings create historic legacy
As part of our Curious New Mexico project, UNM journalism professor Lillian Kelly asked about the oldest buildings in New Mexico, and specifically Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
The oldest buildings in New Mexico are the pueblos in Taos Valley, which date back more than a thousand years. In Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the oldest structures date back to 1610. Some are still standing and open to visitors.
Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico, but some of the structures in the city have been around since before the state was ratified.
The Palace of the Governors was built in 1610, when Santa Fe was the capital of the New Mexico Territory. The building is now a history museum, with free admission to school groups and New Mexico residents on Sundays (bring your ID).
For Grace Turley, a UNM anthropology student, the Palace of the Governors is more than just “some structure.” It was the focus of her essay in an anthropology of New Mexico course. She was surprised to learn it was not just one of the oldest “continuously occupied public buildings in the Southwest” but that it was also one of the first things constructed by colonial settlers in the area.
Though the Palace of the Governors dates to 1610, the official structure has been renovated and tampered with, according to Robert Martinez, assistant state historian. Martinez said it is difficult to truly find the age of some buildings since most structures dating back so long ago were made with adobe and “adobe disappears.”
First documented in 1628, but orally reported to have been built in 1610, the San Miguel Mission claims to be not only the oldest church in the state but the oldest church in the country. There have been many renovations and restorations done to the original structure, but the building is still there today. The church is still open to the public and holds mass every Sunday.
Chris Wilson, a professor of cultural landscape studies at the University of New Mexico and an award winning author, agreed that Palace of the Governors and the San Miguel Mission are the oldest structures in Santa Fe, predating the oldest structures in Albuquerque.
There’s more to the Southwest than tumbleweeds and more to Albuquerque than Breaking Bad. From Central Avenue to Rio Grande Boulevard and beyond, we discovered many interesting stories about some of the city’s oldest buildings.
Built more than 300 years ago, the San Felipe De Neri Parish still stands today. It collapsed in the summer of 1972, and was then rebuilt. Now a well-known element of the plaza in Old Town, the parish has retained most of its original structure and is open to the public.
Wilson said he believes that certain homes around San Felipe De Neri Parish are just as old as the church itself. Wilson’s main fields of study are landscape architecture, historical preservation and regionalism.
“The oldest in Albuquerque are likely portions of houses around the Old Town plaza dating to the early 1700’s,” Wilson said.
The parish is known for its Christmas Eve services. According to the church’s information office, more than 200 visitors come to see the church’s Christmas luminarias and attend services delivered in both Spanish and English. Charlotte Rohrbough, a UNM student and frequent Old Town visitor, attested to its popularity.
“We have been going to that church for Christmas Eve services basically my whole life,” Rohrbough said. She mentioned how often the number of church-goers overwhelm the number of pews available. “It’s clear that it means a lot to the people who go there,” she said. “Even if they have to stand in the back.”
Rohrbough also said that the building seems to represent not just the city, but the state’s culture. “The way that it’s built, the way that it’s decorated, it’s all very ‘New Mexican-esque.’”
Chuy Martinez, a historian for the City of Albuquerque, said there are other old structures in the South Valley.
Martinez described the penitentes, people who settled in the South Valley region of Albuquerque and built their own places of worship called moradas. These makeshift churches were made because so few priests were available to Albuquerque settlers. Although not directly sanctioned by the Catholic church, the moradas still supported the Christian people in the community.
Moradas can still be found to this day. Martinez said one is located on La Vega Street in the South Valley, near Bridge Street.
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