New Mexico History / Plaza Hotel

Famous hotels are a real part of New Mexico history. Some of the most noteworthy were the string of Fred Harvey, Harvey House, hotels spread throughout the state.

plaza hotel in las vegas new mexico

Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas New Mexico

In Las Vegas New Mexico, the Harvey Company along with the AT & SF Railroad operated the very popular La Castaneda right alongside the Las Vegas train depot.

According to the book, The Trains Stop Here: New Mexico’s Railroad Lagacy, by author Marci L. Riskin, a Harvey House lunchroom was built in 1882 and the La Castaneda Hotel opened in 1899 at a cost of $110,000. The La Castaneda was furnished for $30,000 and was 25,000 square feet in size. Another very famous hotel in Las Vegas which is still in operation today and remains enormously popular is the Plaza Hotel on the north side of the Las Vegas New Mexico plaza.

Las Vegas Plaza and the Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel was originally constructed in 1882 by a company headed by Benigno Romero. The structure was made of brick. The hotel was built as a three story three story in an  Italianate design. When the hotel opened up it was referred to by many as the Belle of the Southwest.

The Las Vegas plaza which was generally used as a place to park wagons would be converted into a park such as it is today. The impetus for the remaking of the plaza area was the local newspaper the “Optic”. The publication basically cajoled the public into making the plaza something other than a large dusty lot. Donations were received from the citizenry and in the year 1880, trees were planted and the building of a bandstand and a picket fence occurred. The center of Las Vegas New Mexico would change forever.

An Historic Hotel

las vegas new mexico plaza

Looking east from the Las Vegas plaza

It’s interesting to note that many famous people of the time utilized the Plaza Hotel. Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders held their first reunion at the Plaza hotel in 1899.

Years later, Las Vegas New Mexico would be the site of Hollywood western movie sets. In fact, many scenes from some of Tom Mix’s westerns included the Plaza Hotel. Today, the Plaza Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The hotel holds the same high place in 1800’s history as the Driskill Hotel in Austin Texas and the National Hotel in Nevada City California. All of these hotels opened in the 1800’s and continue in operation today.

A Very Historic Plaza

One of the things that makes the Plaza Hotel so historic is the ground it sits on. So many historically noteworthy events occurred on the Las Vegas plaza prior to the hotel’s construction that the mere fact that this hotel resides there is a treat for tourists staying at the hotel.

In the year 1846 during the Mexican American War, Stephen W. Kearny gave a speech on the plaza declaring that New Mexico was now a part of the United States. Some decades later the Las Vegas plaza would be where Billy the Kid was marched off to the Las Vegas jail by Sheriff Pat Garrett. There’s much more about Pat Garrett and the Las Vegas jail and it’s early occupants in the excellent book, Gateway to Glorieta; A History of Las Vegas New Mexico, by author Lynn Erwin Perrigo, PhD.

Two related articles connected with Las Vegas that you should find interesting are the La Castaneda Hotel in the railroad district and a Visit to Fort Sumner New Mexico.

Also see our articles about a Visit to Fiesta Santa Fe and Navajo Rug Auctions

first national bank building in las vegas new mexico

First National Bank Building constructed in 1880

There was quite a disturbance when Billy the Kid and a few other prisoners were being transferred the next morning from the Las Vegas jail to Santa Fe via the railroad.

Garrett and his deputies averted a mob lynching of the prisoners in an armed standoff at the Las Vegas train station.

The photo right is the historic First National Bank Building directly on the plaza which now houses the offices of the West Las Vegas School District.

The Plaza Hotel was restored in 1982, one hundred years after it’s original construction and is now considered by many travelers as being the premier hotel in Las Vegas New Mexico. The hotel expanded into the building next door and now offers seventy-one guest rooms.

Visiting Las Vegas New Mexico is a trip into history and the elegant and historic Plaza Hotel is a great stop on your western road trip travel planner. Lots of history and some great photo opportunities await you in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Las Vegas is about 55 miles east of Santa Fe New Mexico.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

Susanna Dickinson / The Alamo Story

The story of the Alamo and Santa Anna’s victory at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 is probably the most publicized story of Texas’ fight for independence. The Alamo story is also the story of a woman by the name of Susanna Dickinson who survived this epic battle. Susanna Dickinson was among the women inside the Alamo mission during this March 1836 battle and it is from her memoirs that the world learned of just how this battle unfolded. In fact, Susanna Dickinson had the distinction of being one of only two survivors among the Alamo’s Texan defenders.

Susanna Dickinson, public domain photo

Susanna Dickinson was present at the Alamo with her husband, Captain Almaron Dickinson. The Dickinson’s had relocated to Texas from Tennessee in 1831. Captain Dickinson was among many Texans who felt war with Mexico was inevitable. After their expulsion of the Spaniards from the North American continent during the early 1820’s, the Mexican rulers were trying to consolidate their possessions into a central government. This decision from Mexico City made war with the Anglo Texans a matter of not if but when.

After the Alamo defenders were defeated, Susanna Dickinson was personally interviewed by Santa Anna. In an effort to send a warning to the Texians to the east, Susanna Dickinson was allowed to go home to Gonzales to tell the story of what occurred at the Alamo. Santa Anna wanted Dickinson to tell her fellow Texians that Santa Anna’s army was too big to fight against.

Susanna Dickinson Home and Museum

The result of allowing Susanna Dickinson to go free did indeed initially work in Santa Anna’s favor. Sam Houston ordered Texian settlers and his 400 man force to further east to avoid the Mexican army. The retreat of course was only the beginning of what would become the legendary war for Texas independence which would end at the Battle of San Jacinto and the defeat and capture of Santa Anna himself. Santa Anna’s ploy probably did more than anything to galvanize the resistance against Mexican rule and fostered the creation of the famed battle cry, “Remember the Alamo“.

The story of Susanna Dickinson is significant in the fact that this woman was able to survive the Battle of the Alamo to relate it’s details for posterity. Because Susanna Dickinson survived and was allowed to return home, we have detailed knowledge today of what took place in San Antonio during early March of 1836.

During her life after the Alamo and the Texas War of Independence, Susanna Dickinson married several times before her last marriage to a merchant named J.W. Hannig. She was married to Hannig until her death in 1883 and is buried in Austin Texas. It is the house built for her by Hannig that sits today in Austin Texas as the Susanna Dickinson Museum. Susanna Dickinson’s historical significance was a simple product of fate. She essentially was used as a messenger for Santa Anna and this splendid museum in Austin Texas is dedicated to telling her story. The museum has many programs for both adults and children and features a library of over 500 books.

Susanna Dickinson Home on Fifth Street in the heart of Austin Texas

The Susanna Dickinson home and museum is next door to another Austin Texas historic tourist attraction, the O Henry Museum. This museum of course tells of the somewhat strange life of O Henry who at one time resided in Austin.

Today’s Austin Texas tourist will find the Susanna Dickinson Museum right in the heart, as you can see from the photos, of Austin Texas at 411 East Fifth Street.

There are two other very good Austin Texas stops to put on your trip planner, also in the downtown area of Austin. These are the Driskill Hotel which is an 1800’s architectural and historic masterpiece as well as one of Austin’s most popular hotels. The other is the Texas state capital building, just a few blocks north of the Driskill, which was built in the 1880’s with revenue received from selling over 3 million Texas Panhandle acres for what would become the famed XIT Ranch.

You may also enjoy our trips Into History article…The Resting Place of the Alamo Defenders

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos of Susanna Dickinson Museum are from author’s private collection. Photo of Susanna Dickinson is from the public domain)

Historic Hotels of America


The National Hotel, Nevada City California

Some of the best representations of the 1800’s are the historic hotels of America that are spread all over the United States. Many if not most of these hotels are still in operation and are very popular with tourists. Restored and refurbished, these historic landmarks offer the vacationer and traveler a comfortable and historic experience. As an added advantage, most of these hotels, because of their age, are located in the town center and make sightseeing very convenient.

A few examples of hotels with a lot of history attached to them include the National Hotel in Nevada City California. The hotel is also referred to as the National Exchange Hotel. This hotel takes you back to the days of the California Gold Rush of the 1850’s. The hotel also happens to be located in one of the most scenic areas of the Sierra Nevada foothills, north of Auburn and Grass Valley California.

The National Hotel opened for business in 1856. Historians will point out that the National Hotel in Nevada City California is one of the oldest continuously operated hotels west of the Rocky Mountains. The hotel burned somewhat in a fire in 1863 but reopened shortly after. The national Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being a California Historical Landmark. Another must stop when you are visiting Nevada City is the Nevada Theater which is the oldest continuously running theater in California and featured many famous 19th century performers such as Mark Twain. Nevada City is about a one hour drive east of Sacramento.and about two and one-half hour drive from San Francisco.

holbrooke hotel in grass valley

The Holbrooke Hotel, Grass Valley California

Another historic old gold mining town not far from Nevada City is Grass Valley California. Grass Valley turned out to be the site of one of the larger gold strikes. Grass Valley is also the site of the Empire Mine State Historical Park. The Empire Mine has been recognized as the largest and richest gold mine in California. The Empire Mine operated for 106 years, from 1850 to 1956. It produced a total of 5.8 million ounces of gold. Hikers will be please to find an abundance of trails at the Empire Mine State Park which covers some 845 acres.

Today, when you visit Grass Valley you’ll no doubt see the Holbrooke Hotel located at 212 W. Main Street. This is another historic hotel of America. The Holbrook was originally built in 1862 and at that time was given the name Exchange Hotel. The name reportedly was given due to it’s close proximity to the Gold Exchange. A couple by the name of Holbrooke purchased the hotel in 1879 and thus it’s current name as the Holbrooke Hotel. Although Mr. Holbrooke passed away in 1884, his wife Ellen operated the business until 1908.

The hotel building itself was fairly neglected through the 1900’s until interest arose in the 1970’s and a project started to restore the building and it’s former hotel rooms. This was completed and the Holbrooke opened in 1982. Rooms were added to the original hotel when the adjacent building was purchased. The Holbrooke Hotel during the 19th century was visited by many prominent figures of the era such as Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, James Garfield and others. The Holbrooke Hotel is an excellent place to stay while visiting Grass Valley and it also features a very good restaurant. Grass Valley California is located about 4 miles southwest of Nevada City on Hwy 49/20.

driskill hotel in austin texas

The Driskill Hotel, Austin Texas

Our next historic hotel of America is far from the California gold country. The Driskill Hotel located in downtown Austin Texas at 604 Brazos Street is arguably the most famous hotel in the state. The Driskill was built in 1886 and is well known for it’s beautiful architecture. The hotel was built by Jesse Driskill, a very wealthy Texas cattleman who set out to construct the best hotel south of St. Louis. The tale that goes along with the Driskill is that due to economics, Jesse had to close the hotel just after one year and reportedly lost the hotel shortly afterwards in a poker game. At least that’s the story handed down. After that, the Driskill went through many different ownerships but remained ab absolute gem of a hotel. The Driskill was also used at one time in the 1880”s as the Texas state capital while the current capital building was being constructed.

Today, the Driskill Hotel is one of Austin’s premiere hotels as well as an historic landmark. The Driskill was made a National Historic Landmark in 1969. The hotel is the venue of many Austin events. Early in his career, former President Lyndon B. Johnson used the Driskill as his headquarters during his campaigns for Congress. When you visit Austin Texas and see the Driskill Hotel be sure to go inside because the interior is absolutely stunning, especially the large staircase from the lower lobby. Both the exterior and interior of this famous hotel exude 19th century elegance.

You will also be interested in the Trips Into History articles on Old Town Sacramento California and the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe New Mexico, an old Harvey House hotel.

There are a great many historic hotels all around the U.S. and many if not most are still in operation with their original name. Most are on either state or national historic registers or both. We will be featuring more historic hotels of America in future articles on Trips Into History. I hope you have an opportunity to visit one of these excellent hotels.

The Tsunami of Crescent City California / A Natural Disaster

Since the devastating Japanese tsunami of 2011, many people came to realize just how damaging an event like this is to a country’s infrastructure. There is a scenic coastal town in far northern California, very near the Oregon border, that was the scene to one of the worst tsunamis on United States soil. Crescent City California unfortunately is situated at a point where the seabed itself magnifies wave action that can turn a tsunami into a ravaging tidal wave that can engulf almost the entire town. The story of why this is so and the havoc and loss of life it delivered is an interesting story. The year 1964 was a year residents of this coastal community never forgot. At the time it made headlines the world over.The story of Crescent City California is an interesting one.

crescent city california harbor

Crescent City California harbor, Courtesy U.S. Army Corp of Engineers

An earthquake near Anchorage Alaska in 1964 changed the history of the coastal town of Crescent City forever. Wave cycles that were larger than eight feet virtually destroyed this town. The Crescent City Ca tsunami was one of the worst in America’s history. West coast tsunamis have been a danger to contend with ever since the area was settled. All west coast states place great emphasis on tsunami warning systems.

What is a tsunami ? A tsunami is generally defined as a long period wave, or seismic sea wave, caused by an underwater disturbance such as a volcanic eruption or earthquake. A reason was discovered as to why this particular tsunami in 1964 had the devastating effects it delivered. The seafloor around Crescent City is shaped as such that tsunami action is actually focused and magnified. When the earthquake occurred in Alaska, a tidal wave effect not only traveled across the Pacific Ocean but swiftly traveled down the North American continent west coast as well. In a matter of a bit more than three hours the effects of the tidal wave were felt in Washington state. About one and a half hours later the waves were striking Crescent City California, about twenty miles south of the Oregon border. In reality, any seismic event anywhere in the Pacific region, whether it is 1,000 miles or 6,000 miles away, can affect any city or town on the United States west coast. When warning system sensors detect certain undersea pulses after a seismic event, you can count on west coast tsunami warnings to be put in effect.

The devastation at Crescent City was reported as follows. Two hundred and eighty nine buildings were totally destroyed. An enormous one thousands automobiles and twenty five large fishing boats were literally crushed. Twelve people were initially confirmed as dead, one hundred were reported injured and there were many people missing. A total of sixty city blocks were flooded and thirty blocks considered destroyed. Never before had a tsunami wreaked this kind of damage to an American city. The tsunami continued down the California coast but fortunately not with this type of devastating effect. Over the years, west coast tsunami damage has been experienced in many communities in addition to Crescent City.

crescent city jetty

Crescent City harbor jetty, Public Domain photo

So what effect does the seafloor off Crescent City California have with tsunami waves? To understand this you need to recognize that the seafloor is not flat. It varies as much as the topography on dry land. There are deep shallow spots, canyons and tops of mountain ranges, all below the waters surface.This undersea layout affects the amount of energy at the various locations as the original tsunami wave gets variously reflected and diffracted on the way. You may already be familiar with the way the water retreats before the tsunami wave hits the shore. Many people have lost their lives by wandering out to areas on the beach that have been exposed by the waters retreat. This is the trough before the wave arrives, and this can cause problems if people go out into previously covered areas when the water retreats before it comes back with considerable force. There are newsreels that have shown this type of water retreat as well as the ensuing large wave that strikes shortly after. Tsunamis are sometimes quite confusing to anticipate from the shoreline. The wave action and massive force involved occur underwater. In other words, it’s not like looking out at the horizon and seeing a giant wave thirty feet high in the distance. The force is underwater and as it approaches the shallower seabed off shore, the level is forced to rise as it is being pushed up higher and higher because of the seabed. It appears more like a constant water level rising than a towering wave.

del norte county california

Crescent City area within California, public domain image

The effect a tsunami has on boats actually illustrates this. It’s common knowledge that a vessel can ride out a tsunami much better being out at sea than tied up at a dock. At sea, the boat will generally feel a rising of the water as the powerful wave travels underwater beneath it’s hull. If that same vessel was tied up at a dock when the wave hit the shore by rapidly rising, the boat would most likely be destroyed by the severe tossing around and would likely break away from it’s lines. Most observers conclude that a vessel at sea is almost under no threat. By the same token, it is never advisable to try to launch a boat from the dock while a tsunami is already in progress. Five people died in Crescent City in 1964 when they launched a boat near the crest of the fourth wave and were caught in the strong outflow. In fact, it is strongly suggested not to even try to go to a dock to try to secure your boat after the tsunami action has already started. Since the wave action comes in cycles, your chances of being caught in the dock area when another wave cycle comes ashore is great.

As far as warning and preparedness against tsunamis, much has changed since the Crescent City California disaster of 1964. Being educated about what a tsunami really is and it’s characteristics many feel is key to knowing what to do and what not to do. Tsunamis can be misleading because they last for a long time. They usually are not one quick event. There was a large tsunami that hit the California coast in the year 1946.This Aleutian generated tsunami produced waves heights of 12 to 16 feet at Half Moon Bay, Muir Beach, Arena Cove, and Santa Cruz. In Crescent City in 1946, half the deaths happened because they went back too soon. The 1946 Aleutian Tsunami crossed the Pacific, producing waves up to 30 feet high in some locations at the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, and even had the power to damage fishing boats in Chile. During the tsunami of 2006, Crescent City almost had some deaths because people went back to check on the boats. They didn’t fully understand that subsequent underwater waves were still lurking offshore. Simply put, the best action to take is to head for high ground and then stay there.

tsunami evacuation road sign

Tsunami Evacuation Sign, public domain photo

As most people are aware, we now have in place a Pacific Ocean wide tsunami alert system. This system employs undersea sensors that measure the magnitude of underwater wave action. Along with this and to take advantage of the timely information, a communications infrastructure has been established to issue timely alerts to permit evacuation of coastal areas. Tsunami alerts that might be issued for the west coast of the U.S., Alaska and Canada originate from the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer Alaska. Obviously, the best way to save lives in a tsunami is to be able to give out warnings far in advance and this is the goal of the current warning systems. The west coast tsunami warning system is today quite extensive.

Warnings of course work best when the initial seismic event that causes the tsunami is far away. When an event occurs across the Pacific, the time a wave would take to reach the west coast of the U.S. is measured in hours. When an earthquake occurs around Alaska, the time to prepare is much much less.

Because of the seabed topography around Crescent City California, the threat of a tsunami will always remain but the much improved warning system in place, both across the Pacific Ocean as well as in the city in particular, will go a long way in providing adequate warning if and when another threat presents itself. The northern California coast is a very beautiful place to visit and Crescent City, along with it’s close proximity to the Redwood National and State Parks remains a very popular tourist attraction. If you’re vacation plans include far northern California, it’s a great addition to your trip planner.

Santa Fe’s La Fonda Hotel and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad

There is probably no better example of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad’s early promotion of Santa Fe as a tourist destination than the La Fonda Hotel. Located directly across from the southeast corner of the plaza, The La Fonda Hotel, a glowing example of Santa Fe’s unique adobe architecture, remains one of Santa Fe’s busiest hotels. One of the hotel’s most famous attributes is that it is located at the end of the Santa Fe Trail. Across the street from the hotel and near the southeast corner of the plaza is a plaque demarcating the end of the Trail.

la fonda hotel santa feThere had been an inn at the current La Fonda location since early in the 1800’s. In fact, when General Kearny took over Santa Fe during the Mexican-American War in 1846, he stayed at the inn which was then named The United States Hotel. At a point years later the hotel was renamed the Exchange Hotel. Later, a group of local Santa Fe investors took over the hotel and named it La Fonda. 

Real changes came to the hotel in 1925 after it was sold to the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The hotel that the AT&SF bought was reconstructed in 1922 but when the railroad took ownership they expanded the building once again. By the latter part of the 1800’s the main way people traveled to the American southwest was by train and the AT&SF was the first rail line to enter New Mexico. The year was 1878. Railroads had a history of using their natural influence with travelers to promote destinations. The Southern Pacific did this with the Del Monte Hotel in Monterey California. The Northern Pacific did the same thing with it’s rail line crossing the southern end of Glacier National Park. The Canadian Pacific was quite successful promoting the natural scenic beauty of western Canada. The railroads had active advertising departments that could tap into the adventurous spirit of the turn of the century tourist.

atchison topeka and santa fe railroad engineThe AT&SF along with the hotel/restaurant management skill of the Fred Harvey Company. Fred Harvey’s company made Santa Fe their top priority. What’s interesting is that the city of Santa Fe does not lie directly the the AT&SF line but is connected to it by an eighteen mile spur line to it’s station in Lamy New Mexico. Most historians agree that besides being part of the railroad’s name. the town of Santa Fe and it’s surrounding area was the obvious area to promote. The railroad as well as The Fred Harvey Company contributed greatly to the promotion of Santa Fe as an art community. When the rail spur was completed from Lamy, artists in great numbers traveled to Santa Fe and started putting the areas scenic beauty on canvas. Additionally the railroad commissioned several artists to create artwork highlighting the unique features of the region. Adobes, mesas, mountains, beautifully colored rocks..all  the things that make Santa Fe stand out. Many of these paintings ended up adorning AT&SF stations along their line as well as the Fred Harvey restaurants and hotels. AT&SF brochures captured the architectural distinctiveness of Santa Fe as well as articles put out by the advertising department. All of this promotion resulted in more and more people traveling to the area. Many people credit both the AT&SF and Fred Harvey with literally inventing southwest tourism.

hotel la fondaAnother first for Santa Fe was the “Indian detour” escorted trips by specially equipped cars and buses. These motor tours typically started at the La Fonda Hotel lobby and took travelers to surrounding areas of interest including Indian pueblos and other scenic sights. Often there would be informative lectures about the sights to see in and around Santa Fe by well informed Indian detour guides. Many of these lectures would take place at AT&SF’s La Fonda. Indian detour was a very successful endeavor which was owned by the AT&SF and managed by the Harvey people. The highpoint of motoring lasted from the mid 1920’s through the 30’s. The start of World War Two put a halt to sightseeing tours and the improvement of roads such as with Route 66 and the fact that more and more people were driving their own vehicles started the decline of these type of ventures. Fred Harvey as many know also had great success with his Harvey motor tours at the Grand Canyon. That was another AT&SF/Harvey venture.

The AT&SF took advantage of Santa Fe’s multicultural uniqueness, both with it’s people and it’s architecture, and was very successful in urging visitors to a region they had only previously read about in the eastern papers. The railroad was responsible for the building of a burgeoning art community and also for the promotion of Indian artwork and jewelry products to the traveling public. The railroad brought a market right to the doorstep of Santa Fa natives. That doorstep as far as the railroad was concerned was the La Fonda Hotel, recognized by many as Fred Harvey’s most famous Harvey House.

What the railroad did in essence was to highlight the attributes that really were in Santa Fe and the surrounding area all along. When looking back now after over a century, the success that the AT&SF had with helping to make Santa Fe a national tourist destination is an amazing story.