New Mexico History November 10, 2017
by Brandie Erisman This Quintessential New Mexico House Is One Of The Oldest In The Whole Nation
Santa Fe is a city of old. Officially settled in 1609, it is the oldest capital city in North America. The San Miguel Chapel is the nation’s oldest church. Along with the church, a tiny adobe on De Vargas Street is said to be the Oldest House. Whatever the building’s claim to fame, it has a long and curious history.
Built in 1646, this structure at 215 East De Vargas Street in Santa Fe is one of the oldest homes in the United States.
Today, the west part of the structure is the "Oldest House" museum while the east side houses a gift shop.
Santa Fe maps from the 1700s and 1800s designate the De Vargas house as the "Oldest Building in Santa Fe."
Shown above is a detail from the 1822 "bird's eye view"
map of Santa Fe
. To the right of the Oldest House (marked), you'll see the San Miguel Mission and St. Michael's "College" (a school set up by Bishop Lamy).
The house is in the historic Barrio de Analco. The barrio was settled by the Tlaxcala Indian servants who came to Santa Fe with Juan de Onate. (The mural below shows the Tlaxcalans greeting the conquistadors in Mexico.)
The barrio was established across the Santa Fe River from the main Santa Fe settlement. The San Miguel Mission was built by the Tlaxcalans, under the direction of Franciscan friars, to serve the Indians and others who lived in the barrio.
Long before the Spanish settled the area, an ancient pueblo had occupied the site (from ~1200 to 1435).
Above is how the building looked around 1885 when it was photographed by Santa Fe photographer Dana Chase.
In late 1800s, Bishop Lamy deeded the oldest house, the San Miguel Mission, and other land to the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
The "Christian Brothers" started St. Michael's College. Today the Brothers' legacy is known as St. Michael's High School.
The Oldest House was continually occupied by a cross-section of Santa Fe's settlers until the 1920s.
As well as Tlaxcala Indians, the building housed soldiers' families, Christian Brothers, and various Plains Indians. The house was even a short-term house for a territorial governor.
Aside from the size of the home and lack of modern amenities, the Oldest House is strikingly similar to some New Mexico homes of today.
Modern Pueblo Revival homes take their cue from structures like the Oldest House. Standout carry-over features include thick adobe-style walls, kiva fireplaces, built-in
banco benches, viga and latilla ceilings, and plaster walls.
You can walk by the Oldest House any time, but the inside and gift shop are open from 9 am to 6 pm, every day.
Have you been to the Oldest House? Do you think you could have lived there? Tell us what you think in the comments.
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