THE CAPITALS OF NEW MEXICO
Articles by Marc Simmons
Over the years, New
Mexico has had a series of historic buildings that have served,
each in turn, as the state capitol in the ancient city of Santa
Fe. The story of these interesting structures is not familiar
to the average citizen today.
We believe that in
1610, with the formal establishment of Santa Fe, foundations were
laid for the Palace of the Governors, as the Spaniards initially
called it, La Casa Real (the Royal House, or Government House).
For more than two centuries,
that unlovely adobe building with packed-dirt floors housed Spain's
royal governor and his family, along with assorted administrative
offices. After 1700, it was incorporated into the complex that
formed the military prsidio.
Under colonial rule,
59 Spanish governors used the Palace, or capitol building. Another
14 occupied it under the Maxican flag between independence from
Spain in 1821 and the U.S. conquest of 1846.
Thereafter, a succession
of American territorial governors put up with the old, rustic
structure and its leaky adobe roof. One of them urged that the
Palace be given up and demolished, but happily that was not done.
Gov. Lew Wallace, abaout
1880, proposed a complete renovation of the building and the adding
of a second story. He estimated the cost at $30,000. Congress
refused the appropriation, thereby saving the historical integrity
of the Palace.
In 1885 New Mexicans
passed a bond issue to fund construction of an entirely new capitol,
south of the Santa Fe River. Finished the following year, it had
three stories and two small domes. A territorial newspaper described
it as "a noble structure of yellow sandstone, richly ornamented
inside and out."
The pride of citizens
from Las Cruces to Taos, the building survived a mere six years.
On the evening of May 12, 1892, smoke billowed from the capitol
dome, and 5,000 residents rushed to the scene to observe the conflagration.
Among them were government
officials who dashed into the building to save what they could.
Furniture, rugs, paintings and business records were hauled outside
and loaded into Army wagons hastily driven to the scene by soldiers
from Fort Marcy. Also rescued were the Spanish and Mexican archives.
The next day Gov. L.
Bradford prince wired the secretary of the interior, saying that
"the beautiful territorial capitol burned last night."
The structure had been uninsured, so he pleaded for a congressional
appropriation to replace it.
But once more, money
from Washington was not forthcoming. The territorial legislature
in 1895, therefore, authorized a bond issue to pay for a new capitol
to be placed on the site of the one destroyed.
along for another five years, the slow progress probably caused
by the use of convict labor. Daily 50 inmates of the penitentiary,
then located on Santa Fe's south side, were marched in a body
to the work site. Master carpenters and masons supervised them.
Finished in 1900, the
building had a central dome that flew the American flag, and at
its stately entrance were six Greek columns supporting a triangular
Dedication day, June
4, featured a spectacular parade that included Gov. Miguel Otero
and Archbishop Peter Bourgade riding together in a horse carriage.
A Fort Marcy troop filed past the Palace on the Plaza at present
arms, "thus bidding it a farewell forever as the seat of
official government in New Mexico," said the press.
A capitol makeover,
1950 to 1953, saw removal of the dome and columns and redesign
of the exterior in territorial style with brown stucco. Renamed
the Bataan Memorial Building in honor of New Mexicans on the Bataan
Death March, it was superseded by a new capitol building, which
opened in 1966.
After it surrendered
its role as the capitol, the famous old Palace briefly had some
of its rooms occupied by the U.s. Post Office, the territorial
library and the New Mexico Historical Society. In 1909 it became
home to the newly formed Museum of New Mexico.
As our tourist brochures
like to say, the Palace of the Governors is the oldest public
building in continuous use anywhere in the United States. So far,
no one has successfully challenged that claim.
To order New
Mexico: An Interpretive History or other books by Marc
Simmons, visit Amazon.com
Marc Simmons's "Coronado Land: Daily Life in Colonial New Mexico"
(University of New Mexico Press). Amazon.com
Articles by Marc Simmons