The Spanish Mission of San Rafael California

One of the most interesting stories pertaining to the old Spanish Missions of California regards Mission San Rafael Arcangel in San Rafael California. This is a very convenient  mission to visit being located just about twenty miles north of San Francisco along U.S. Hwy 101.

san rafael arcangel

San Rafael Arcangel, San Rafael California

If your vacation plans include San Francisco, make certain to head north over the Golden Gate and visit historic San Rafael.

Mission San Rafael Arcangel Replica 

The original mission replica you’ll explore today, the one dedicated in 1949, was built according to original specifications known at the time.

There were no photos of the original structure therefore the replica was built based on what was known with some variations. The small church building faces west whereas the original faced east. The site location is next to the St. Raphael Parish of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The replica site is approximate since other church buildings had been built adjacent prior to 1949.

Today’s visitor will notice that the old mission replica is in no way adorned as are most all  other California missions. This was because, as mentioned above, Mission San Rafael Arcangel was not originally planned to become an official stand alone mission. Built as a branch of Mission Dolores, the church building was a fairly plain unadorned structure.

san rafael arcangel bells

San Rafael Arcangel historic bells

The Problems at Mission Dolores

The realities at Mission Dolores in San Francisco were such it’s believed that 5,000 Native Americans were buried at the mission cemetery. Disease ran rampant at the mission site and as was the case with much contact between Europeans and Native Americans, the Indians were easily affected by European bred diseases. This phenomena began from the very first contact between Native American and European. This problem continued into the 1800’s all across the western frontier.

A Change of Climate

The site of Mission San Rafael Arcangel was chosen for a reason. The area which in present day San Rafael California had much more sunshine and much less fog than the San Francisco peninsula to the south.

mission dolores san francisco

Original Mission Dolores, San Francisco, CA

The mountains to the west of San Rafael acted as a buffer to the weather coming off the Pacific Ocean. The regular fog and damp conditions caused illness. The San Francisco peninsula lacked the natural barrier that San Rafael enjoyed.. The added sunshine and generally milder weather was sought to help the healing process. The move to establish the mission in San Rafael seemed to work quite well. Ailing Native Americans seemed to recover very well at this new more sunny and mild location.

Visiting Mission San Rafael Arcangel 

A day trip north of the Golden Gate Bridge to Mission San Rafael Arcangel is an excellent addition to a Bay Area trip planner. The story of the Spanish Missions is really a vivid story of the very beginnings of California settlement. There’s much to learn visiting any of the old missions and Mission San Rafael Arcangel tells us a very unique part of that story.

st. raphael arcangel catholic church

St. Raphael Arcangel Catholic Church


From San Francisco, drive north on U.S. Highway 101 from the Golden Gate Bridge about fifteen miles and exit at Central San Rafael (Exit 452). The mission is located at 1104 Fifth Avenue about four blocks west of the freeway.

Driving to San Rafael from the east bay area allows you to cross the bay via the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge. After you merge onto U.S. Hwy 101 northbound take exit 452 as described above.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Last Days of the California Stagecoach

World War Two Attacks on the West Coast

California and the Old Spanish Missions

sonoma barracks

Old Sonoma Barracks

For those making a trip to the Sonoma wine country from San Francisco can easily visit both Mission San Rafael Arcangel and the Sonoma Mission in Sonoma California during a day trip. Mission Sonoma (Mission San Francisco Solano) was the last of the twenty-one missions built and was actually constructed by the Mexican government after their ouster of the Spaniards.

The Mission Sonoma is located in the heart of Sonoma California, between the cities of Napa and Santa Rosa off State Hwy 12.

The town of Sonoma is also in the heart of the beautiful Sonoma Valley wine country which this area north of San Francisco Bay is so noted for. It’s also adjacent to the popular Napa Valley wine country. The old Spanish mission and the entire town of Sonoma is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park.

Parts of Sonoma State Historic Park include the Mission San Francisco Solano, the Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, the Servants Quarters Vallejo’s Home. Visitors typically walk through the streets surrounding Sonoma’s historic central plaza. Maps are available at the Sonoma Visitors Center.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Trips Into History)

 

A Great Museum and a Sunken Whale Ship

There is no greater community connection to the old whaling industry than Nantucket Massachusetts. Nantucket’s citizenry as well as it’s merchants were thriving whether the general economy was booming or sluggish. Whale oil was in great demand throughout the world for this was the fuel used to light homes and streets.

whaling in the 1800s

Hunting the sperm whale

Nantucket Whaling Museum

Nantucket has one of the finest museums you’ll find anywhere that portrays the story of the whaling industry… it’s sailors, ships, captains, methods, dangers and economic impact.

The Nantucket Whaling Museum is a must stop for anyone planning a visit to this scenic island. The museum is located at 13 Broad Street and is operated by the Nantucket Historical Association. The museum is dedicated to the history of whaling. This is where you can relive the time when a small town launched wooden ships into the Atlantic Ocean for the start of their long trips around Cape Horn and into the Pacific Ocean.

The Strange and Tragic Tale of the Whale Ship Essex

From all the stories of the great whale ships that called Nantucket home, the tragic tale of the whale ship Essex demonstrates just how dangerous this profession was in the early 1800’s. The sequence of events that befell the Essex and it’s crew is unique to all other whaling stories and was responsible for later novels being written. It’s a hair raising and shocking story of being stranded literally in the middle of nowhere and running out of food.

whale ship essex

The whale ship Essex

A Whaler’s Life

A whaler could depart on a ship from Nantucket Island and literally be away working at sea for a few years. If he had a family they could be without him for possibly years. Whaling was a very unique occupation.

Typically a captain would be hired by the ship’s investors and be responsible for signing up a crew. If he was fortunate the captain might find experienced sailors around Nantucket. If an experienced crew wasn’t available, and there was a shortage, then recruiting green sailors from further inland was necessary.The ship would be provisioned by it’s owners and any pay the captain and crew would receive would be a share of the profits at the end of the voyage. Size of shares were entirely dependent on the rank and function of the crew mate. The largest shares of course went to the investors and then the captain.

The Pacific Sperm Whale

1800’s whalers were especially hunting for the Pacific Sperm whale. They were killed primarily for their excellent oil. This whale oil was used not only in lighting but also in cosmetics, soap and a variety of products.

During the 1800’s the job of killing whales was done from smaller whaleboats launched from the side of the larger whale ship. The whaler crews would use harpoons to grab the mammal. The whale would pull the whale boat by the harpoon’s line and eventually tire at which time the sailors would kill it with lances. The entire endeavor was dangerous. The small whaleboat could be capsized easily and at only a moments notice. Additionally, it was known that sperm whales rather than fleeing underwater after being harpooned might very well turn around and attack the whaleboat.

owen chase essex whaleboat crewman

Owen Chase, First Mate of the Essex crew

The Attack on the Essex

There have been several writings on the attack of the Essex. Probably the most comprehensive account of the attack, aftermath and 1800’s Nantucket whaling life in general is… In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by author Nathaniel Philbrick. Another is, Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex by author Owen Chase. It’s also common knowledge that Herman Melville used the Essex incident as a model for his latter chapters in his book Moby Dick.

The crew of the Essex had been having good luck harpooning sperm whales during November of 1820 in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This area was some 2,000 miles off the west coast of South America. On November 20th things changed dramatically. This was over one year since the Essex had departed Nantucket Island in August 1819 and the unthinkable happened.

The Essex was attacked and rammed, not once but twice, by a sperm whale that appeared to come from the area where other female sperm whales had been successfully harpooned and lanced just prior. It was said that this bull sperm whale seemed to have a purpose in it’s attack. It was if this bull whale was enraged by the killing of the female whales and wished to take revenge out on the large mother ship the Essex. The ship that the harpoon crews went back to.

moby dick whale attack

Moby Dick whale attack illustration

Although the Essex was not a new ship it was not a poorly made vessel either. The force required by this bull sperm whale would have had to be tremendous to push over the hull of the 87 foot ship. It was speculated that the whale had to have been nearly as long as the ship. This prolonged attack caused the Essex to go over on her side with her sails in the water. The crew left the floundering vessel using their whaleboats which were few. The Essex had been short two whaleboats due to earlier storms and the evacuation was a crowded one. Twenty crew in all crowded, along with provisions, on the three small whaleboats.

After two nights and after several sailors returned to the Essex to grab hold of as many provisions as they could take onto the small whaleboats they left the sinking vessel. What transpired next over several months pushed men to the breaking point and beyond.

Marooned on a Pacific Island and Eventual Rescue

Because of earlier reports concerning Native cannibalism on some Pacific islands, the Essex crew was particular as to which island chain they would try to reach with their primitive whaleboat sailing vessels. After one month in these small boats, hungry, tossed around and beaten by the harsh sun, they finally reached land. It was a small island and while it did at first supply some needed food, the provisions didn’t last. Another move had to be made.

After some time the survivors set sail from the island (Henderson) on two whaleboats. After a while the two boats separated and went their own way. In February of 1821, some 95 days after the sinking of the Essex, a boat carrying the captain and three other crew members were picked up by another whale ship out of Nantucket just off the west coast of South America. They had survived their ordeal by consuming the remains of other crew members who had died or were executed on the boat. The second boat was never heard from again.

Three men had stayed back on the island and were later rescued. It was also later said that lots had been drawn on the captain’s boat as to who would be sacrificed and who would be the executioner. The entire story shocked Nantucket when word reached there.

In total there were eight survivors of the original crew from Nantucket. Four from the captain’s boat, three rescued later off Henderson Island and another who had deserted the ship when the Essex visited South America prior to the whale attack and sinking.

Links below are to additional Trips Into History articles you may also find interesting…

The Tragic Sinking of the General Slocum off New York

The Loss of the SS Wexford on the Great Lakes

The G.P. Griffith Passenger Steamer Disaster

Visit the Historic Paul Revere House in Boston MA

whaling harpoons

Types of whaling harpoons of the 1800’s

Visiting the Nantucket Whaling Museum

As mentioned above, visiting this museum is a trip back into the days when whaling made Nantucket. A great many ships left Nantucket during the 1800’s hunting the whale. It was how one made a living in Nantucket.

This museum will take you back to that time when an entire town’s economy depended on the whaling industry. Exhibits at the museum include a large amount of nautical items, captain’s journals and a very interesting video and it’s really a not to be missed museum.

I would also highly recommend any of the books mentioned earlier in this article. The story of the Essex tells what can happen when disaster strikes far from civilization and what ordinary people can and will resort to when trying to survive. It’s a shocking and enlightening true story.

Nantucket is a very scenic and historic place to visit and a stop to the Nantucket Whaling Museum is a great addition to any trip there.

(Article copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)

 

 

 

 

California and the Old Spanish Missions

Alta California

The story of the Spanish missions is the story of California. Visiting the sites of the twenty-one missions established in present day California is a journey into the very origins of what one day would become one of the largest states in the U.S. Going from south to north, the California missions helped Spain to colonize this region bordering the Pacific Ocean.

san francisco mission dolores

Mission Dolores, San Francisco CA

Spain of course was the European power that first explored North America’s southwest region. The first colonization efforts occurred in present day New Mexico and Texas. The earliest explorer to that region was Coronado. His 1540 expedition moved north out of New Spain (Mexico) and traversed over present day Arizona into New Mexico. His expedition was not one of colonization. That would come years later. Coronado was in search of the Seven Cities of Gold which he and others had heard so much about from the Aztecs in old Mexico.

The Spaniards would begin their settlement of California, which was named Alta California with Fray Junipero Serra’s founding of the first mission of California in present day San Diego. The year was 1769 and the San Diego mission was Spain’s first foothold on the west coast. Because of Spain’s earlier colonization of Nuevo Mexico along the Rio Grande, the Alta California missions were built many years after the New Mexico missions. As an example, the mission in San Diego was founded well over 100 years after the Spanish founding of Santa Fe.

california mission san jose

Mission San Jose

The Missions and the Military

When you research anything to do with Spain’s missions in North America you come to understand how their colonization differed from those of other European countries. The key difference was the close association between the church and King. While the church was a separate entity, their efforts in the colonies were hard to differentiate from those of the Conquistadors. The missions in California were an integral part of it’s colonization. The King granted the land to the Franciscans who in turn built the California missions.

If you look into the history of the Spanish colonization of Nuevo Mexico during the early and mid 1600’s you will realize two things. In New Mexico, the Spanish authorities and the friars were working as one. The other thing you’ll realize is that the administrations in old New Mexico and Alta California were quite different. Although there were incidents of violence, Alta California never went through anything similar to the Pueblo Revolt in Nuevo Mexico in 1680. The revolt was essentially a very violent Indian backlash against the harsh rules imposed on them by the authorities which included the friars. Most of the trouble centered around forced labor and punishments meted out for those rebelling against Christian worship. The 1680 coordinated pueblo uprising was to such a degree that the Spaniards fled the region for some twelve years. They returned in 1692 with a different, more gentle attitude toward the native population. The second time they were successful.

santa clara califorina mission

Santa Clara Mission

Colonizing Alta California

Research shows that the attitude of both the friars and the military toward the Indians was much more accommodating than a century earlier in New Mexico. The friars in Alta California concentrated on education and agricultural pursuits as it pertained to the missions and the surrounding Indians.

To be sure, the Spanish military was present to protect the missions but the warfare between them and the Indians never approached anything near to what happened in New Mexico. The overall goal of both the Spanish missions and military was to help assimilate the Indians to a more European way of existence . By doing this they would be able to create subjects for the King of Spain which is one of the purposes of a colony. The missions in California also served to show Spanish claim to the territory. This would have been directed to the Russians who had settlements in northern California north of the San Francisco Bay area. It would also give notice to the British who were active in the Oregon and Northwest region.

 

mission carmel california

Carmel Mission

In a big way, it was the Russian and British interests to the far north that made the Sonoma Mission the northernmost of the twenty-one Spanish missions. After the Mexican Revolution which expelled Spain from Alta California and North America, the new Mexican government built a secular society and mission expansion ceased. The one exception was that the Sonoma Mission, named Mission San Francisco Solano, was erected during Mexican rule. The Mexicans also considered building a mission to the north in Santa Rosa but never went ahead with it. A case could probably be made that the construction of the Sonoma Mission and the consideration of one in Santa Rosa was more of a military initiative than a religious one. To further make the point, after the Mission San Francisco Solano was built, the military stationed General Mariano Vallejo and his northern command in Sonoma with the task of keeping an eye on the Russians.

sonoma mission

Sonoma Mission

The Old Spanish Missions Today

The old Spanish missions have been and still is one of California’s biggest tourist attractions. In fact, if visiting California for the first time, a tour of the Spanish missions is a must. The missions, through their artifacts, paintings and museums tell the story of the real founding of California. It all started with the mission system.

The current state of the missions vary greatly. Most of the missions deteriorated over the decades and a few are almost non existent but many have been beautifully restored and many are still used today for religious worship.

Three missions that I believe are of special historic significance would be the Mission San Diego, the Carmel Mission and the Sonoma Mission or referred to as Mission San Francisco Solano.

mission san rafael arcangel

Mission San Rafael Arcangel

The mission in San Diego is named Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala. This mission of course was the very first and was built by Father Junipero Serra in 1769. The mission in Carmel California which is named Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, was also built by Father Serra. Serra built this second mission about a year later in Monterey California adjacent to the military presidio. After a short time he thought it best to have the mission some distance from the presidio to be closer to the Indian population and he thus built the Carmel Mission a short distance south of Monterey. The Mission San Francisco Solano is significant in as much as it was the only one founded under Mexican rule and served as a military outpost as well during the 1830’s and 1840’s up until the conclusion of the Mexican American War.

Links to three interesting photo articles on our Western Trips site are a Visit to Mission San Juan Bautista…the Carmel Mission in Carmel California and a Visit to Sonoma Californiaand the Sonoma Mission.

mission san juan bautista

Mission San Juan Bautista

Tips on Visiting the Missions

The first thing I would suggest is to get a good statewide California road map. Check online for mission visiting hours. The missions are controlled by the local parish and visiting hours can vary greatly. Keep in mind that many of the missions are active places of worship so scheduled events can also have an effect on visiting hours. Visiting hours also can change by season. Also remember that some missions are in remote areas while others are in busy tourist destinations such as in Carmel and Sonoma. The remote missions will be much further away from travel conveniences so bringing along bottled water is a good idea.

From south to north, the missions are; Mission San Diego de Alcala in San Diego… Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside…Mission San Juan Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano…San Gabriel Mission Archangel in San Gabriel…Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana in Mission Hills (Los Angeles)…Mission San Buenaventura in Ventura…Mission Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara…Mission Santa Ines in Solvang…Mission La Purisima Concepcion northeast of Lompoc…Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in San Luis Obispo…Mission San Miguel Arcangel in San Miguel…Mission San Antonio de Padua northwest of Jolon…Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad located south of Soledad…Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel…Mission San Juan Bautista in the San Juan Bautista Historic District…Mission Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz…Mission Santa Clara de Asis in Santa Clara…Mission San Jose in the Mission San Jose District in Fremont…Mission San Francisco de Asis in San Francisco…Mission San Rafael Arcangel in San Rafael…Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)

 

The Dalles Oregon

The Dalles Oregon is in one of the most beautiful parts of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. History tells is the The Dalles received it’s name from the early French trappers working for the North West Company. The trappers named the area “Les Dalles‘ which translates to “The Sluice” or “The Flagstone“. This may refer to the basalt rock found in and around the Columbia River.

columbia river

The Columbia River with Washington State on far side

The Settlement of the Missionaries

Before the massive emigration along the Oregon Trail, the area which today is the city of The Dalles was inhabited by missionaries who were sent west to Christianize the native Americans of the region. The original missionary party comprised seventy people.The newly organized Methodist Episcopal Missionary Society sent Rev Jason Lee, along with his nephew Rev. Daniel Lee, lay missionary Cyrus Shepard and two assistants, P.L. Edwards and C.M. Walker and others, to Oregon to build the mission. The group set up their mission in the Willamette Valley but the area was considered to be “malarial” and Daniel Lee and others became sick. Daniel Lee ended up journeying to Hawaii to try to restore his health and the leadership of the group fell to Rev. Jason Lee.

Eventually, Jason Lee and others traveled back up the Columbia in March 1838 with the help of Indian guides to the area of The Dalles. There they were greeted by a group of Wascopam Indians. That summer the group constructed the Wascopam Mission.

the dalles dam

The Dalles Dam located 2 miles east of the city

Rev. Jason Lee made a return trip to the east and was very active in urging migration to the Oregon region. He may very well been the very earliest of pioneers touting the area as ideal for settlement. There is no doubt that he was successful in urging a good number of people to make the long journey.

Results of the Missionary Work

The success of the Wascopam missionaries was mixed. At first they had great attendance at their revivals and meetings with the Indians who came from a wide variety of tribes. The Dalles happened to be at a location where many different tribes gathered. After a few years the attendance decreased and eventually the church leaders in the east became dissatisfied with the number on converts versus their expenditures to support the mission. In a large way this was shortsightedness because the Native Americans had thousands of years of tradition not to mention a variety of different languages. To completely change this ingrained tradition in a matter of a few years was asking quite a lot. The missionaries working in Oregon felt largely that the eastern board really didn’t understand how particularly hard their task was.

the dalles downtown area

The Dalles downtown district

Rev. Jason Lee was recalled in 1843 and surprisingly his replacement resigned after a very short time. Yet another reverend was sent west to Oregon and the Wascopam Mission. Eventually, in 1846 an offer was received from a Dr. Marcus Whitman, a missionary outside Walla Walla, to purchase the Wascopam Mission on behalf of the Presbyterian American board. The deal was about to be consummated when Dr. Whitman, his wife and nine others were massacred at their mission by a band of Cayuse Indians. A large group of mostly women and children were also kidnapped during the massacre. The Whitman Massacre is an interesting and tragic story and reinforces just how dangerous missionary work in the far west could be in the 1840’s.

See our article on the Whitman Mission Tragedy.

Because of the Whitman Mission tragedy, the purchase by the Presbyterians never materialized. In 1848 the mission land was taken over by the city of The Dalles, as per the recently enacted U.S. Land Claim Act, and their takeover was supported by the U.S. Supreme Court.

the dalles mural

A mural in The Dalles

Oregon Trail Days and The Dalles

When the Oregon Trail pioneers reached The Dalles it was decision time. The destination for most of the pioneers was the fertile Willamette Valley to the west. Specifically, many were headed to Oregon City on the Willamette River just a few miles south of present day Portland Oregon. There were two ways to journey there from The Dalles. One was to raft down the treacherous Columbia River. This was of course before the series of dams built on the river during the twentieth century. The river looked a lot different than it does today. The second option was to travel overland to Oregon City. This option involved a trail named the Barlow Road which ran southwest from The Dalles and around the southern slope of Mount Hood. The Barlow Road had been completed in 1846.

See our Trips Into History article on the Diaries of Oregon Trail Pioneers.

The Barlow Road was a private trail set up by Sam Barlow as a toll road. Pioneers paid $5 per wagon and 10 cents per head for livestock and cattle. The Barlow Road, even though it cost money to travel on was the preferred way by many, not all however, to make the final leg of the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail journey. While taking the Columbia River route didn’t mean sure disaster, there were enough accidents and fatalities to make the Barlow Road a solid alternative.

Visiting The Dalles

One of the best things about driving to The Dalles from Portland Oregon is that you have the opportunity to travel along the banks of the Columbia River on the Columbia River Scenic Highway. The Dalles is located about 85 miles east of Portland. On your way to The Dalles you’ll pass the Bonneville Dam which has a fantastic visitor center that showcases everything about the Columbia River including an underwater viewing of their Fish Ladder. Also along the way are several beautiful waterfall sites such as the Multnomah Falls and the Wahkeena Falls along the Columbia River Scenic Highway.

When you visit The Dalles, you also want to see The Dalles Dam which is one of the several dams now along the Columbia River.

(Photos from author’s private collection)

 

 

 

 

Historic Old Town Albuquerque / A Spanish Settlement in the New World

Old Town Albuquerque New Mexico is very representative of most of the Spanish settlements in the southwest United States. The most distinguishing characteristic is the town plaza. Old Town Albuquerque resides in about ten blocks filled with adobe structures. Today it is a very popular tourist destination with a wide assortment of shops, unique art galleries and restaurants. Old Town is the Historical Zone of the City of Albuquerque and home for many families whose ancestors founded the town. On the banks of the Rio Grande, Old Town Albuquerque has thrived for three centuries. Vacations in New Mexico offer many alternatives. If you’re searching for things to do in Albuquerque, the Old Town Historic District is a great choice.

old town albuquerque plaza

Old Town Albuquerque Plaza

The plaza didn’t come into being until 1780. Prior to that the Albuquerque area was a scattered agricultural area. The plaza appeared after settlers built adobe homes around a defensible center for protection against the Comanche and Apache Indian attacks. The defensible area became what is now the plaza. Prior to that, the fortress would have been the church.

Everything pertaining to Spain in the southwest first occurred when Francisco Vasquez Coronado explored this area in 1540.The region was inhabited by a combination of Pueblo Indians and the nomadic Apaches and Comanches. It would be about 60 years later that the Spaniards started to settle and colonize the region. It would be about another one hundred years before Albuquerque was officially founded.

For almost three centuries Old Town has been the crossroads of the Southwest. On the north side of the plaza, which is the focal point of Old Town, is the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, which was built in 1793. The church was first named San Francisco Xavier by Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, who founded the city of Albuquerque in 1706. Valdez named the church after the Viceroy of New Spain. Later, the Duke of Albuquerque ordered that the titular saint for the church be changed to San Felipe de Neri in honor of King Philip of Spain. The original church on the site was founded back in 1706, at the time of original settlement, by Franciscan priest Manuel Moreno.

san felipe de neri church

San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town

This church however collapsed in 1792 due to very heavy rains. The new church was built in 1793 and is the one that stands there today. When you visit the church you’ll also see the beautiful gardens in the front facing the plaza.

Everything for the church changed in 1821 after Mexico won it’s independence from Spain. Mexico ordered the Franciscan priests to leave which was happening throughout the old Spanish territories. Later in 1853, after the United States took possession of New Mexico Territory, a French priest, Father Joseph Machebeuf, was named pastor of Albuquerque by Bishop Lamy of Santa Fe. At this same time the church was remodeled which included a new roof. It’s a very beautiful structure.

It’s interesting to note that the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road of the Interior Nuevo Mexico territory, which connected Mexico City with New Mexico’s Spanish capitals ran right through Old Town Albuquerque. The capitals were San Gabriel and then later Santa Fe. This was the main route to the new Spanish territory for all commerce until the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri was established in 1821. The U.S. government has now designated the El Camino Real a National Historic Trail. This amazingly long trail from Mexico City went back to the year 1598, about a decade before the founding of Santa Fe.

old town albuquerque shops and galleries

Old Town Albuquerque shops and galleries

Several flags have flown over the Old Town Albuquerque plaza. First it was Spain’s, then Mexico’s beginning in 1821 and then it was the United States flag beginning in 1846. The only interruption with the United States flag from 1846 to today was a thirty-nine day period during the American Civil War when General Henry Sibley’s Texas Volunteer regiment flew the Confederate flag over the plaza. General Sibley would go on to be defeated later by Colorado Volunteers at the Battle of Glorieta Pass which is just to the east of Santa Fe. During the Civil War, southern forces made large inroads into the southern section of the New Mexico Territory. There are two Mountain Howitzer guns that are on display today on the plaza. Both guns were left behind by retreating Confederate troops.

The move east to New Town, downtown today, occurred in 1880 and was a direct result of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad coming into Albuquerque. Eventually there was a Harvey House, named the Alvarado, at the site of today’s train terminals. Unfortunately, the Alvarado was torn down in 1970.

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History is located at 2000 Mountain Road. This is about 1,000 feet east of the plaza itself. Included in the museum are traveling exhibits, southwestern art, Albuquerque history artifacts and outside is a sculpture garden. You’ll also want to check out Old Town area B & B’s and hotels. There’s a great choice.

Old Town Albuquerque is located about two miles west of the City of Albuquerque downtown area. Of special note, is that Old Town Albuquerque can be reached rather easily from the Santa Fe area by riding the New Mexico Rail Runner train. The NM Rail Runner will take you to the train station in downtown Albuquerque and your train ticket will get you a free bus ride to and from Old Town. It’s a good way to fit in a trip to Albuquerque while visiting Santa Fe.

(Photos from author’s private collection)