Established in 1607, Santa Fe is the second oldest city founded by European colonists in the United States. Only St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565, is older. Built upon the ruins of an abandoned Tanoan Indian village, Santa Fe was the capital of the “Kingdom of New Mexico,” which was claimed for Spain by Coronado in 1540. Its first governor, Don Pedro de Peralta, gave the city its full name, “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís,”or “The Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi”.
San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe is the oldest church in the United States, constructed around 1610. The Palace of the Governors was built between 1610 and 1612 and is the oldest government building in the country.
During the next 70 years, the Spanish colonists and missionaries sought to subjugate and convert the some 100,000 Pueblo Indians of the region. However, in 1680, the Pueblo Indians revolted, killing almost 400 Spanish colonists and drove the rest back into Mexico. The conquering Indians then burned most of the buildings in Santa Fe except for the Palace of the Governors and the San Miguel Chapel. The Pueblo Indians occupied Santa Fe until 1693, when don Diego de Vargas reestablished Spanish control. Santa Fe remained Spain’s provincial seat until 1821, when Mexico won its independence from Spain and the city became the capital of the Mexican territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo México.
Trade was no longer restricted as it was under Spanish rule and trappers and traders moved into the region. In 1821 William Becknell opened the 1,000 mile-long Santa Fe Trail bringing hundreds of new settlers to the area.
On August 18, 1846, during the early period of the Mexican American War, an American army general, Stephen Watts Kearny, took Santa Fe and raised the American flag over the Plaza. Two years later in 1848, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceding New Mexico and California to the United States. For 27 days in March and April of 1862, the Confederate flag of Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley flew over Santa Fe until he was defeated by Union troops.
With the arrival of the telegraph in 1868 and the coming of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880, Santa Fe and New Mexico Territory underwent an economic revolution. Corruption in government, however, accompanied the growth, and President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Lew Wallace as a territorial governor to “clean up New Mexico.” Wallace did such a good job that Billy the Kid threatened to come up to Santa Fe and kill him. New Mexico gained statehood in 1912, with Santa Fe remaining as the Capitol City.
Though not everyone knows it, Route 66 went though Santa Fe during its early years. Following the Old Pecos Trail from Santa Rosa, the path wound through Delia, Romeroville and Pecos on its way to Santa Fe.
Beyond the capitol, the Mother Road continued on a particularly nasty stretch down La Bajada Hill toward Albuquerque. One of the most challenging sections of Route 66, the 500 foot drop along narrow switch backs struck terror in the hearts of many early travelers, so much so that locals were often hired to drive vehicles down the steep slope. Although plans were that Santa Fe would continue to stay on the route of the Mother Road, it was not to be, due to political maneuverings of the New Mexico Governor in 1937. Having lost his re-election, Governor Hannett blamed the Santa Fe politicians for losing and vowing to get even, he rerouted the highway in his last few months as governor. So hastily was the road built, that it barreled through both public and private lands without benefit of official right-of-ways.
By the time the new governor was in place, a new highway connected Route 66 from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque, bypassing the capitol city and its many businesses. The new route was more direct and reduced some of the more treacherous road conditions. It was along this path that I-40 would be built many years later.
For many years this picturesque city has consciously attempted to preserve and display a regional architectural style. By a law passed in 1958, new and rebuilt buildings, especially those in designated historic districts, must exhibit a Spanish Territorial or Pueblo style of architecture, with flat roofs and other features suggestive of the area’s traditional adobe construction.
In addition to serving as the state capital, the city depends economically on art, tourism, construction, and real estate development. Set at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the city’s climate and cultural attractions have drawn an influx of new residents with an above average income and educational level. Restaurants, boutiques, and galleries line the streets of the city center and Canyon Road.
The growth boom flagged temporarily in the mid-1990’s when Debbie Jaramillo, who opposed the focus on tourism, was elected mayor. Although she was voted out after serving one term, the city continues to face the challenges of continuing drought conditions and a widening divide between locals and recent arrivals. Still, art and tourism remain Santa Fe’s biggest industries.
Nestled at 7,000 feet in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe boasts a population of almost 65,000. While in Santa Fe, be sure to visit the La Fonda Hotel, which has been providing a restful place for weary travelers since 1920. In 1926 the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad acquired the hotel, which they leased to Fred Harvey. From 1926 through 1969 the La Fonda was one of the famous Harvey Houses. Reportedly the La Fonda also hosts a resident ghost.
You will also have the opportunity to see the historic Palace of the Governors, the San Miguel Mission Church, visit Santa Fe’s many museums, and stroll through numerous galleries and boutiques while visiting beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico.
One other interesting note is that Santa Fe is reportedly extremely haunted. It is one of the few cities that offers a full schedule of “ghost tours” and “ghost walks” year around, with as many as five operators conducting tours from Santa Fe’s historic plaza. These tours primarily focus on the ten block historic area of Santa Fe, featuring such places as the La Posada and La Fonda Hotels, the Grant Corner Inn, Palace of Governors, the oldest house in the nation, and other historic buildings. Some tours also include area superstitions, as well as Santa Fe’s history of vigilantes, gunfights, murders and hangings.
From Santa Fe, Route 66 travelers will continue southwest through several small towns. La Bajada Hill is in La Cienga, but is difficult to find, so you will needs some good Route 66 maps and if you want to drive it, a high-clearance 4×4 is required. Continuing, you’ll soon arrive in Domingo where one good stop is Fred Thompsons’ Indian Trading post. A side trip opportunity also presents itself here, to visit the Santa Domingo Pueblo just a few miles west. Called home to more than 3,000, Santa Domingo Indians have lived here for centuries. Here, you will see many roadside stands with jewelry, pottery and silverwork. The pueblo also offers a cultural center and small museum for visitors.
Returning to Route 66, the road winds through the small towns of Algodones, Bernalillo and Alameda before rejoining with the later alignment in Albuquerque.