Did you know that Santa Fe has a real railroad history? Due to the mountainous terrain around the city, the major New Mexico rail hub during the late 1800’s was actually in Las Vegas, NM, but a spur line was built to bring goods and services to the capitol city. And the advent of rail traffic into Santa Fe greatly enhanced the tourism industry that eventually became a mainstay of the city’s economy.
By the time the 20th century rolled around, train tourism to Santa Fe had become a big deal, especially with the famed Harvey Girls riding the train into town as tour guides. Locals visited the Railyard to pick wild lettuce and receive free meat during the Depression. In the colder winters of the past, there was ice skating, and in warmer weather, the expanse of the Railyard served as a central performance site when the circus cars rolled into town.
Gradually, however, as car ownership became a reality for more American families, rail travel to Santa Fe declined, as it did throughout the USA. Travelers whose destination was Santa Fe disembarked at the Lamy Station, some 20 miles south of the city, where one can still board the Amtrak Southwest Chief west to Los Angeles or the Empire Builder east to Chicago. The Railyard still saw trains pull in and out, but ridership became limited to daytrips between Santa Fe and the Lamy Station on the Santa Fe Southern Railway, on which you can still enjoy the New Mexico scenery from the windows of a historic train car during clement seasons of the year.
The vast and under-utilized acreage was just too tempting for the City Different to ignore, though, and in 1985, then-Mayor Louis Montano proposed acquiring the land for redevelopment by the city. By 2002, through many years of planning by a whole host of interested and committed parties, the Santa Fe Railyard Community assumed the responsibility for development of 37 acres of mixed-use space that eventually included artspaces, restaurants and retail shops, office space and live/work residential units.
Today, the Santa Fe Railyard is a vibrant hub of activity. Surrounded by a cluster of contemporary galleries, SITE Santa Fe anchors a cutting-edge arts scene. Nearby, local artists show their work at the Santa Fe Artists’ Market, and the Railyard Performance Center hosts a variety of dance and movement classes and performances. Warehouse 21 gives talented teens a home in which to express their creativity, and El Museo Cultural offers both art exhibitions and theater. The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market brings crowds of locals and visitors to sample and purchase fresh local produce and products, with demonstrations by local chefs and a summer movie series. The Railyard Park itself is a wonder of xeriscaping lovingly maintained by a cadre of dedicated volunteers. Its ambling paths and community gardens, site-specific sculpture and large lawn create a welcoming space for a variety of local events. You might even see a regular bocce or pétanque game!
And in one of those full circle happenstances so typical of the Land of Enchantment, real rail travel returned to Santa Fe in 2008 when the New Mexico RailRunner began daily service to the City Different, with stops from the capitol city all the way down to Belen!
Be sure to take time to see our Railyard while you are in Santa Fe; we are so proud of the hard work that gave us this blessing of open space!