La Cueva Historic District
- Location: 35.9417032,-105.2666875
- Significance: History of Santa Fe Trail, History of Fort Union, History of Food
- Designation: National Register of Historic Places
- Open to the public: Private Residence; Areas open to public according to schedule
The La Cueva Historic District is located at the intersection of NM442 and NM518, 33.1 miles northwest of Ft. Union National Monument. La Cueva Historic District had a historically significant time period from around 1851 to 1895 and helped shape the surrounding region and had direct impacts to the Santa Fe Trail. The site consists of several structures: the Romero Hacienda, a grist mill, a mercantile building, the Church of San Rafel, stables, a farm, aquecia, and a few outbuildings.
Founding La Cueva
La Cueva was founded by Vicente Romero around 1851. Previous to Vicente Romero, the land was a Spanish land grant, and Romero purchased a 33,000 acre portion of the original Mora land grant from several descendants who owned the property: Pedro Chacon, Miguel Mascarenas, Francisco Sandoval, Maria Dolores Romero, and Mareo Sandoval. These claimants held the largest portions of the grant sold to Vicente 1. The name ‘La Cueva’ (translation: The Cave) may have come from a few origins for the site: Vicente had been a sheep herder, and legend has it that he utilized caves in the area to seek shelter when needed. This earned him the title of ‘La Cueva’ to which his property was then named 2. Others say the ranch was named La Cueva simply due to a nearby cave3. The official reason for the naming convention may never be known. One thing was for certain, Vicente realized the potential of the land, the nearby Mora River, and the need for grain on the Santa Fe Trail.
Milling, Farming, and the Santa Fe Trail
While the La Cueva Historic District is located miles from the Santa Fe trail, it’s importance to shaping the region went hand in hand with Ft.Union. Vicinte Romero would divert a portion of the Mora River streamflow into a network of irrigation ditches called ‘acequias’ that would power an on-site grist mill: The La Cueva Mill 4. In the 1850’s electricity had not yet come to the masses and it was common for hydro power to be used to enable grain mills. 5 In addition to powering the mill wheel, the acequia would also provide irrigation to the Romero Farm 6. Regional mills were important along trails during the 1800’s before rail travel was possible in the Santa Fe region in the late 1870’s into 1880, due to the slow speed and volume at which supplies could travel by horse. 7. Mills provided processed grain to many stops along trails to keep a constant supply of food from stop to stop as people traveled. In La Cueva, the Grist Mill provided milled flour and wheat to Ft. Union. Ft. Union was integral to Union Army during the Civil war, and was the largest military base in the Southwest at times between 1851-1891 8. As many as 60 horse and oxen delivered milled grain to Ft.Union each day 9.
A Place to Meet, Trade, & Rest
The Romero’s also called the property home. ‘The Romero Hacienda’ would also serve as a community center for the region 10. While the specific groups that met here have been obscured by passing time, we do know that ranchers and travelers in the region would stop at the house to meet. The Hacienda was attached to a mercantile store and a large stable where travelers could buy supplies and water their horses 11. Trade took place at La Cueva, and the network of mercantile stores very much helped the Santa Fe Trail become a major avenue for the United States’ aquisition of the American Southwest. The trail became a military supply route during the civil war, and the mercantile stores that flanked the trail provided these supplies 12. The exact mercantile that the Romero’s sold are unknown, but items recorded being brought into Santa Fe could account for some of what could have been sold here: Dry Goods, Hardware, Clothing, Guns, Books, Liquor, and groceries are just a few items that were sold along the trail. 13
A Mission Arrives
Vicente also commissioned a church to be built on the property that would become known as the San Rafael Mission Church 14. Construction on the church began in 1862 and finished in 1870. This mission was used as a family chapel for the Romero’s, and subsequent families that would own the property would use this as a family chapel as well. Priests from the Lamy, NM area came to help build the mission. Missionaries were an addition to the travelers seen along the Santa Fe Trail by the late 1840’s. This was a departure from the merchants, wagon masters, muleteers and ox drovers that preceded them 15.
La Cueva Today
Today La Cueva is a private residence as well as a farm. In the summer months travelers seeking fun can pick raspberries and bring them home. But the current day use still has nods to the history of La Cueva. Mora County is home to many historic landmarks on the historic register, this could be a way for the economically depressed area to benefit from it’s rich past.
Baker, T. L., Historic American Engineering Record, & Texas Tech University. Water Resources Center. (1973). Water for the Southwest; historical survey and guide to historic sites. New York, American Society of Civil Engineers.
Catholic Church., A., & Chavez. (1957). Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, 1678-1900. Washington, D.C. : Academy of American Franciscan History,.
Engineer, N. M. O. of T. (1908). Biennial Report of the Territorial Engineer to the Governor of New Mexico Including Water Supply. Albuquerque Morning Journal. Freitag, A. L. (1994). Cultural landscape study of Fort Union National Monument.
Koman, R. G., & National Park Service (Dept. of Interior), W., DC. National Register of Historic Places. (2002). The Hispano Ranchos of Northern New Mexico: Continuity and Change. Teaching with Historic Places.
Mays, L. (2010). Ancient Water Technologies. Springer Science & Business Media.
San Rafael, La Cueva, New Mexico. Shadows in the light of darkness. (2018, April 8). Retrieved November 9, 2018, from http://geraintsmith.com/shadows-san-rafael-la-cueva-new-mexico/
NPS La Cueva Historic Distric p-3 ↩
NPS La Cueva Historic Distric p-3-1 ↩
Ranchos of Northern New Mexico p-19-1 ↩
NPS La Cueva form p.3 ↩
Mays, p.134 ↩
Water for the southwest p. 90 ↩
NPS History of the Santa Fe Trail Sec E p. 108 ↩
NPS Santa Fe trail history sec. E. p.109 ↩
Ranchos of Northern NM p.19 ↩
NPS La Cueva form p.4 ↩
NPS la Cueva Historic District form p.4 ↩
NPS History of Santa Fe Trail sec.E p.44 ↩
NPS History of the Santa Fe Trail Sec E p. 46 ↩
NPS La Cueva Historic District form p.4 ↩
NPS History of the Sant Fe Trail Sec E. p. 45 ↩