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Plaza del Cerro, Chimayo, New Mexico

Cultural District
The old general store and post office on the plaza's south side. – Don J. Usner

ADA Acessibility Notes

There is no ADA access to buildings on the plaza, including the museuem. However, most of the plaza buildings are built on a simple, one- or two-level floor plan and could be easily adapted for ADA access.

The Plaza del Cerro in Chimayo, New Mexico (about 40 minutes north of Santa Fe) is one of the most celebrated, and least protected historic sites in northern New Mexico. Many a scholar has noted its significance as "the best surviving example of a Spanish Colonial plaza in the Southwest," but it has received almost no preservation funding. Even as it continues to decline and parts of it fall into ruin, it retains a remarkable ambiance of the Spanish Colonial and Mexican past. Many people visit it informally, directed there by local businesses; it is difficult to find without direction, even though it lies close to roads and businesses. There have been several attempts to preserve and protect the plaza, primarily from nonprofit organizations, but all have failed so far to win the trust and support of locals. A book about the plaza, published in 1995, has enlightened a wide audience to its historic significance, and momentum is building for some kind of preservation activity. The presence of the Rancho Manzana B&B and farm has also brought life and elegant restoration to the plaza.

History of Area

Native people inhabited the Chimayo area beginning at least around 1000 AD, but the first Spanish colonists found the Native pueblos abandoned in the early 1600s. From the Spanish perspective, the lack of Native inhabitation made the valley ideal for settlement, and scattered Spanish ranches and haciendas sprang up in the valley in the seventeenth century. Like the rest of the region, though, the Chimayo valley was abandoned during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, only to be resettled by Spanish settlers soon after 1700. (The resettlement required the eviction of Pueblo people who had opportunistically taken over the Spanish farms when the colonists left.) As they resettled, the Spanish rebuilt their scattered ranches, but as the eighteenth century wore on, these proved indefensible against a new threat: raiding tribes from the plains. It was during this time that the Spanish government ordered the settlers to consolidate their dwellings into fortified plazas. The colonists came together to build rectangular plazas throughout the region, and the "plaza town" became the basic unit of colonial settlement. Of the many plazas built, very few remain, and the Plaza del Cerro is the best-preserved of all of them. The rectangular arrangement of houses is still discernible, and many elements of Spanish colonial architecture remain. A small chapel on the west side contains superb examples of colonial religious art, and the old general store and post office remain largely intact, reflecting American influence on architecture. A few residents remain in the plaza, and the Rancho Manzana B&B and farm adds a touch of elegant historic preservation and vitality. But most other buildings are abandoned. Some are marginally maintained, while others are slowly crumbling. A local historical association, the Chimayo Cultural Preservation Association, maintains a museum in one of the better-preserved structures.