Old stuff out west: The Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe


From Wikimedia Commons.

When we think of old buildings in the United States, we think of the east: Boston, Philadelphia, Jamestown. Instead, we should think of the Southwest. Taos and Acoma Pueblos are pre-Columbian and still occupied today. And the New Mexico Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe was built in 1610 and housed local leaders until 1909.  By contrast, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello was built in 1772. The Palace of the Governors has a century and a half on it. New Mexico is the fourth youngest state, gaining statehood in 1912. I’ve always thought of the southwest as a new area, barring poorly recorded native activity, a region discovered in the era of Cowboys and Ranches and the Indian wars of the 1800s. Visiting the Palace of the Governors reminded me what a rich history our southwest has.

The Spanish came to New Mexico in 1598. They established the capitol in Santa Fe in 1609, building the Governor’s Palace in 1610. New Mexico was a part of Spain until 1821. It was then part of Mexico until 1848, when it became a part of the United States following the Mexican-American War. So New Mexico was a part of Spain for half a century longer than it’s been a part of the US.

Much of this tumultuous history revolves around the Governor’s Palace. In 1680, the Pueblo Indians’ revolted against Spanish Rule and took the Palace for 12 years. Governor Lew Wallace wrote Ben Hur as the sitting governor of New Mexico Territory in the Palace. This video tells the tale of Bernardo López de Mendizábal, territorial governor from 1659-1660, and his wife, Teresa de Aguilera y Roche. After criticizing the Spanish government, the Inquisition arrested them on suspicion of being crypto-Jews (this term is another wild piece of history all by itself). He died quickly in custody in Mexico City, Teresa wrote about her life in New Mexico.

Today, the palace is a history museum. You can see the various ways the palace has been modified over the years. You can look at the exhaustive list of governors that ruled from the palace. It’s impossible not to feel the immensity of the history in that list. New Mexico was the frontier for a long time, not just in the United States. And living in New Mexico today one feels that spirit.

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