Santa Fe is a treasure trove of historic places waiting to be discovered. The four hundred year old city, originally named La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis, (The City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi) is the oldest capitol city in the United States. It is also the highest at 7,000 ft. above sea level. A great way to get a feel for the history of The City Different is a walking tour around the historic Plaza area. Because of Santa Fe’s great weather (over 300 sunny days each year) and the dry climate, even when the temperature is in the 30s, walking is pleasant.
Here’s a part one of a Santa Fe self-guided walking tour that can be comfortably accomplished in under two hours.
Tour Old Santa Fe Trail
Start your tour on Old Santa Fe Trail (the terminus of the historic route that brought goods and settlers from St. Louis to Santa Fe in the nineteenth century) and De Vargas Street about two blocks south of the Plaza. This small street, one of the oldest in town, is little more than an alley crossing the historic Old Santa Fe Trail. The Barrio Analco is one of the oldest areas of town. On the west side of Old Santa Fe Trail you’ll find Gregoria Crespin House, believed to date to around 1720; the early 19th century Roque Tudesqui House, a mix of pueblo and Territorial style architecture and the the Santa Fe Playhouse the oldest continually operating theater west of the Mississippi River housed in an old livery stable. Cross Old Santa Fe Trail to San Miguel mission.
San Miguel Mission
San Miguel Mission, originally built in1610, is often cited as the oldest church in the US. Some dispute this claim for two reasons. First, it burned down in 1692 and was rebuilt and second, it is officially a mission and not a church. It is still consecrated and Mass is celebrated on Sundays at 2p.m. and 5p.m. (the 2p.m is in Latin).
(Just to the south of the Oldest Church is the Lamy Building. Now part of the New Mexico State office building complex, this was part of the campus of St. Michael’s College. Originally the College of the Christian Brothers of New Mexico, a prep school for boys, it started in an adobe hut in 1859.)
The Oldest House
The Oldest House is across De Vargas Street from San Miguel Mission. No one knows exactly when it was built. It appears on a 1675 map that is housed in the British Museum in London. Tree-rings on the vigas (the roof beams) date the house to 1647 , but it’s believed to be built on Native American ruins dating to around 1200 AD. Though the actual date is a mystery, no one disputes that it is old. This simple adobe home is a reminder of just how old the city is.
The next stop on the tour is the Loretto Chapel. Completed in 1878, it’s famous for its “Miracle Staircase”. The staircase’s has an amazing and even eerie story behind its existence. In a nutshell, the Sisters of Loretto needed a staircase to their very high choir loft. They were told, due to the chapel’s size and layout, it would be impossible to build one. The sisters, women of great faith, gave a Novena (a nine day prayer for special favors aka miracles) to St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of Carpenters. On the ninth day, a carpenter named Joseph arrived at the chapel pulling a donkey. He was there to build the staircase. His construction: a compact spiral staircase to the loft. When it was completed, he disappeared. No one in town, other than the nuns had seen him. It gets even stranger. The design is said to be architecturally impossible (it has two 360 degree turns with no visible means of support). It was built with three things: wood, hammer and saw (nary a nail in sight). Even odder; the wood used is not indigenous to the US and is believed to come from the Holy Land. The staircase has been featured on TV’s Unsolved Mysteries and in a made-for-TV movie. It is an amazing, not to be missed, stop on any visit to Santa Fe.
La Fonda- the end of the trail
Heading towards the historic Plaza from here you’ll pass La Fonda, the oldest hotel in Santa Fe. Records show that there’s been an inn on this corner since Santa Fe was founded. The current incarnation built 1922 became a Harvey House in 1926.
The Harvey Company brought in their Architect, Mary Jane Colter to redo the hostelry. Colter, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, drew inspiration from Santa Fe architecture. She is credited with being one of the innovators of southwest style. The lobby, with its ornate front desk is a trip back in time. Check out the renovated restaurant, The renovated La Plazuela dining room with its painted glass and glass ceiling and the unusual fireplace just beyond the back entrance to the restaurant are worth a stop.
This is the end of part one: Tour Old Santa Fe Trail. Treat yourself to a snack at La Plazuela or the French Pastry Shop in La Fonda or in warmer weather, grab a bite at the Roque’s Carnitas, the famous cart on the Plaza and get ready for the second segment of your Santa Fe walking tour.
If you are interested in a private tour of the the historic Plaza area, Canyon Road or any other place in Santa Fe, our travel planning and tour business, The Santa Fe Traveler can design a personalized for you.