Mike’s Blog: The Heart of Santa Fe, The Plaza

Palace of the Governors oldFew cities are more inextricably tied to a central physical space than Santa Fe is to the Plaza. Santa Fe Plaza provided a definition and boundary between the state of ‘civilization’ for the Spanish and the ‘frontier’ without. In creating the Plaza and binding it with the central institutions of Spanish culture (the Church, the Palace of the Governors and the court), the colonists defined the space as the re-creation of their central identity. The Plaza symbolized the colony and in return, the colony became defined by the Plaza.

Santa Fe Plaza OldThe settlement of the Plaza was among the earliest acts of Don Pedro de Peralta’s establishment of Santa Fe in 1610. This consisted of a presidio (Fort) with a large surrounding wall. All the elements of Spanish civilization were present within the square, including: the prison, barracks, a chapel, the Palace of the Governors, and private residences. In a very real sense ‘civilization,’ as defined by the Spanish, thrived within a clearly delineated boundary.

The Plaza served as the grand end-point of the Camino Real during the peak of New Mexico’s colonization, which is significant because Camino Real marked the great North/South trade route that connected Mexico with the New Mexican colonies. Linking the interior of North America with the markets of New Spain and Spain proper ensured Santa Fe’s importance in continental trade. From its establishment in the 17th century until the development of the Santa Fe Trail, the Camino Real was the primary artery of trade.

Burro AlleyAs New Mexico was settled and Santa Fe prospered, the Plaza became the terminus of the famed Santa Fe Trail. Blazed in 1821, the trail was a difficult journey through unforgiving landscapes and hostile native tribes, and stretched all the way from St. Louis to Santa Fe. As New Mexico became part of the United States, the trail was crucial in the opening of The West and the settlement of the territory. The terminus is still found today in the Plaza, and a prominent stone marks the official end of what was once a vital mercantile artery. Elements of this mercantile still exist today. One of which is the historic ‘Burro Alley,’ and another, the former horse corrals on Camino Corrales. These streets were areas of unloading and stabling of livestock – important elements of overland trade.

Over time, the Plaza became a place of pulsing activity, further reinforcing its significance to the place and time. Historical elements, like the original Palacio (Palace of the Governors), remain and testify to the boundaries of the space. New structures, representing emerging architectural schools, sprung up around the space. Among the landmarks in the Plaza were the Civil War monuments erected following the war. One of the most notable was a controversial obelisk dedicated “To the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with Savage Indians in the Territory of New Mexico.” Controversy over the wording erupted in 1973 when the Santa Fe city council, responding to requests from the Governor and activists in the American Indian Movement, voted to have the monument removed. Resistance to the removal came from numerous sources, but it was the Federal Government’s threats to remove funding for the space (coinciding with the upcoming bicentennial) that settled the issue once and for all. The monument, with its inflammatory language, remained. The monument to Kearny (the ‘conqueror’ of the New Mexico territory) and the Indian Wars represents the ways in which the Plaza continues to define the identity of the New Mexican and the ‘dialogue’ between place and people. The word ‘Savage’ on the monument was scratched out following the resolution of its non-removal, and the unofficial vandalism exists as an informal compromise between the voices of the past and the needs and rights of the modern community.

Santa Fe BandstandThe Plaza continues to be a vital part of Santa Fe today. Native artisans display their wares along the old Palace of the Governors, an unbroken continuum of commerce and artistry stretching back five centuries. Young children run and play while older teens begin their courtship rituals or practice skateboarding or hacky sack. World-class galleries compete for space with the Five and Dime and the Tamale cart alike. Visiting the Plaza today emphasizes the continuance of Santa Fe, including the contradictions inherent in this dynamic city identity, and provides an opportunity to ‘live as a local’. Annual events like the Fiestas de Santa Fe, the Indian market, and the Santa Fe Bandstand continue to draw locals and tourists alike – and no visit to Santa Fe is complete without a trip to the Plaza.

Structures like the New Mexico History Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, and the Georgia O’Keefe Museum emphasize the arts and history that have always been a crucial part of Santa Fe’s identity. These artistic institutions form a link with the galleries of Canyon Road and Museum Hill, a pulsing vein of artistry that runs through this high desert land. The Palace of the Governors remains in situ, and has been called the longest continuously used seat of government in the United States. Over its long history, multiple flags have flown over, those of New Spain, Mexico, the Confederacy and the United States, but the one thing that has remained the same in both symbolism and historical significance, is the Plaza.

We at the Inn on the Alameda look forward to seeing you in Santa Fe soon, and please remember that when you stay at the Inn, that Enchanting Small Hotel in Old Santa Fe, you are only a five minute stroll away from the Plaza!

Joe and Michael Schepps

Mike and Joe

 

Joe’s Blog: Saint Patrick’s Day and the Importance of the Irish in New Mexico

 

Shamrock

Saint Patrick is the pre-eminent patron saint of Ireland whom we recognize annually every  March 17th. This annual day of celebration in remembrance of Saint Patrick is an important spring festival in its own right, except when Easter falls on this date which won’t happen again until 2060.

Born an Englishman in the 6th century, Patrick (or Padrig or Padraig as he would have been called) was kidnapped from England at the age of 14 by the Irish. After six years of slavery, he walked to the coast and escaped back to England. Later when he had become a Catholic Bishop, he had a revelation that he should return to the land of his captors to bring the teachings of Christ to the polytheistic Irish.  Though a historical figure, many myths concerning Patrick were established such as his expelling the snakes or the usage of the prevalent Irish three leafed clover or shamrock as a way to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Though Rome sent subsequent missionaries to Ireland, St. Patrick has always been the most recognizable and important evangelical missionary of Christianity in Ireland.

general_stephen_watts_kearney

 

In the mid-1800’s, Ireland suffered a devastating famine that all but decimated the population. During this period, many Irish left for the New World and came to America. While some settled into existing Irish immigrant communities in cities like Boston and New York City, others headed west to find a more Catholic tolerant populace and the opportunity of owning land, something rarely achieved in Ireland. Since Mexico controlled the Southwest, Irish immigrants gravitated to this part of the New World. This region was filled with Catholics who had been established for centuries, in stark contrast to their contemporary Protestant neighbors in the United States. As with the original British and Dutch colonists in America, the Irish sought their right for religious freedom which led them west, away from the cultural and religious tensions found in the larger cities of the East Coast.

In 1846, on the verge of the outbreak of the <!– –>Mexican-American War<!– –>, the Irish-American General Stephen Watts Kearney led an expedition of American forces into Santa Fe where he declared New Mexico a U.S. possession. Many of  Kearney’s soldiers were Irish due to the practice of  when Irish and other immigrants arrived to the US, the army greeted them at the boats and immediately enlisted them with the promise of free land and good pay. However, as US soldiers in the Southwest, the Irish were denied Mass and again felt the sting of anti-Catholic sentiment. As a direct rebellion from the US military, a soldier named John Riley formed the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, whose Irish and other European soldiers deserted and joined forces with the Mexicans.

irish_brigade flagThe Batallion de San Patricio remains a fascinating chapter in history. Several hundred Catholic immigrants, primarily Irish but including Germans, Poles and Italians that were  motivated by religious fervor,  fought for the Mexican army thus deserting with United States equipment, artillery and knowledge.  Later those “deserters” were captured, tried as traitors, and many were hung after the War.  However, on a brighter note, just 64 years later when New Mexico became a state in 1912, the first governor was an Irishman named William G. McDonald. Later, one of New Mexico’s most popular governors, David Cargo was Irish and among many other accomplishments, started the New Mexico State Film Commission.

The expansion of the West provided an opportunity for the Irish to find employment in the construction of the railroads, where they were the largest ethnic group of workers for the Eastern Pacific railway.  At Santa Fe’s Bishop Lamy’s request, Irish Sister Catherine Mellon and the Sisters of Charity relocated from Cincinnati to Santa Fe in 1865 to act as nurses for the Irish workers. The Sisters’s  successful  missions included the establishment of St. Vincent’s Hospital and Orphanage and the Saint Elizabeth’s Shelter for the Homeless, both still in existence today in Santa Fe.

Billy_the_Kid_correctedOf course, no New Mexican Irish tale can leave out Billy the Kid, himself an Irishman born William Henry McCarty. Orphaned at an early age in Silver City, over time he became known for his “neat” clothing attire and friendly nature, and of course his legendary murderous behavior. A little like Robin Hood, “The Kid” was regarded as both an outlaw and folk-hero. Shot in the back by Sheriff Pat Garret after the Governor put a price on the Kid’s head, his legacy is still known throughout the State and many parts of the country.

the-metropolitan-museum-of-art-georgia-okeeffe-1366167460_b

How could anyone leave out Georgia O’Keeffe in a blog about St. Patrick’s Day in New Mexico? This most talented of women was herself the daughter of an Irishman. She was later drawn in the second half of her life to Abiquiu, NM, north of Santa Fe. There she found a quiet life to develop her painting style and to experience an artistic life that was not centered around the East Coast and its big cities. Georgia O’Keeffe is arguably the most successful and famous female artist of the 20th and 21th Centuries, and Santa Fe is fortunate to have the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the only museum solely dedicated to her work in the world.

There is no doubt that New Mexico should always celebrate this day in gratitude and recognition of the Irish. So on March 17th, remember General Stephen Watts Kearney, Sister Catherine Mallon and the Sisters of Charity,  Irish Governors McDonald and Cargo,  Billy the Kid, and Georgia O’Keeffe.  Keep the Irish in your thoughts and something green on your person as a salute to the Shamrock and the many contributions made by the Irish to our country.

From the entire staff at Inn on the Alameda, Mike and I, we give you a little luck o’ the Irish!

Joe and Michael Schepps

Mike and Joe