By Miguel Pérez
Part 11 of a series
From the 1610 San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church on the U.S. mainland, if you cross the street and fast forward 36 years, you get to the 1646 "Oldest House in the USA," which is now a small museum showcasing ancient New Mexico artifacts.
Whenever I write about the "oldest" historic sites in the U.S.A., I always have to keep Puerto Rico in mind. Otherwise there would be social media perfectionists rushing to correct me! lol For that reason, although San Miguel Chapel calls itself "the oldest church in the USA," in my last article, I called San Miguel "the oldest church on the U.S. mainland."
The same thing applies to the "Oldest House in the U.S.A." in Santa Fe. There is a much older church and a much older house in Puerto Rico. In fact, when it comes to "firsts in the U.S.A.," Puerto Rico leads most mainland institutions, sometimes by more than 50 years!
So, I try to remember saying, "oldest on the U.S. mainland" or "oldest in the U.S. (excluding Puerto Rico)." It's a mouthful, but it's accurate.
Yet, even excluding Puerto Rico, Santa Fe's "First House in the U.S.A.," has skeptics for other reasons. Some people doubt the house's age and authenticity. There are differing "local legends" about this. While some say that the house's foundations are pre-Hispanic and part of an ancient Indian pueblo, others say it was built much later. I have seen estimates of its construction ranging from 1200 to 1646.
For me, most fascinating are the findings by archaeologists who discovered that, while most of the house is built with adobe bricks, a building technology introduced by the Spanish, some portions were built with the "Puddled adobe" technique used by pueblo Indians before the Spanish arrived.
This is the strongest indication that at least portions of this house may indeed be ancient. Yet the house/museum operators seem to have settled on 1646, which is likely the time when most of an Indian dwelling was converted into a Spanish one.
By the way, Puerto Rico's oldest church is the 1540 Catedral Basilica de San Juan Bautista, where Juan Ponce de Leon is buried, and the oldest house is Casa Blanca, built in 1521 for Ponce de Leon while he was exploring (and getting killed) in Florida. He never got to live in it, but we know that his family did, for several generations.
Yet, little is known about the first inhabitants of Santa Fe's "Oldest House," although most of it was built some 70 years later.
Standing in the Barrio de Analco, on East De Vargas Street between the oldest church and the oldest house "in the U.S.A.," you are really standing on the crossroads of Santa Fe's history. There are so many other Hispanic heritage sites to see here, within walking distance, that I'm still trying to decide which way to go. lol Stay tuned.
To read other parts of this ongoing series, click: EXPLORING NEW MEXICO