San Miguel del Vado Historic District

Drawing of San Miguel del Vado dated to 1846 during the heyday of the Santa Fe Trail when this village would have been a population stopping point for traders on their way to Santa Fe and Chihuahua. [Wikimedia Commons](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Miguel_del_Vado_Land_Grant)

Drawing of San Miguel del Vado dated to 1846 during the heyday of the Santa Fe Trail when this village would have been a population stopping point for traders on their way to Santa Fe and Chihuahua. Wikimedia Commons

San Miguel del Vado in San Miguel County, New Mexico was founded in 1794 and would later become a very important rest stop and Pecos River crossing for the Santa Fe Trail.1 Located east of Santa Fe and Las Vegas, its most significant period was during the height of the Santa Fe Trail between 1821 and 1880. San Miguel del Vado was officially the political seat of San Miguel County until 1860 when it was bypassed by the construction of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in Las Vegas, NM.

Spanish Settlement

San Miguel del Vado was established by Lorenzo Marquez of Santa Fe, and 51 other Spanish families.2 This was thanks to the land grant approved by the Spanish Governor of the territory in November of 1794. Building Spanish outposts in the area was promoted for the protection of settlers against Comanche raids.3 The residence of the village, or Vecinos were Spanish, Pecos Indians, converted Comanche, and Native American slaves called Genizaro.

Pecos River crossing for the Santa Fe Trail

San Miguel del Vado was a popular stop for merchants and traders on the Santa Fe Trail. It was named after Saint Michael of the Ford. Ford or river crossing is Vado or Bado in Spanish. The Pecos River flows from northern New Mexico and empties into the Rio Grande in southwest Texas. The village of San Miguel del Vado was established southeast of the Pecos River because it was an ideal crossing point for the river.

Few buildings remain from the Santa Fe Trail era in San Miguel del Vado. Source: NRHP

Few buildings remain from the Santa Fe Trail era in San Miguel del Vado. Source: NRHP

San Miguel del Vado as trading common

Merchants would stop here and repackage or combine their goods and reduce their loads to avoid taxes and fees once they reached Santa Fe. Some French and American merchants would conduct their business in the San Miguel commons; bypass Santa Fe completely on their way to Chihuahua to avoid Spanish and Mexican duties4. This of course, was not a welcome practice to the Spanish and later Mexican government, but they had little power to persuade traders to do their taxes. Spanish presidio government stationed troops in San Miguel to stop smuggling and tax evasion by merchants on the Santa Fe Trail.56

1975 Pecos Valley Project Plan. Source: Library of Congress

1975 Pecos Valley Project Plan. Source: Library of Congress

Historic Plaza

San Miguel has many historic buildings that illustrate architecture from different periods. San Miguel del Vado’s Plaza is bisected by the Santa Fe Trail and the Pecos River, making it function as two plazas.7 Two historic buildings remain on the east side of the plaza, the Dance Hall and Zaguan house retain Spanish period characteristics including low windows and wood ceilings. West of the Plaza lies the foundation of the old San Miguel County courthouse and what may have been a hotel.8 Southwest of the historic church, metal and ceramic artifacts can still be spotted littering the ground. This is evidence of the gathering and resting place of traders and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.9

San Miguel del Vado Church

San Miguel del Vado Church is located on the west side of the plaza. The Church is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the Settlement; however, the church’s architecture is a mix of Spanish colonial, Gothic windows and spires, wood and linoleum floors, and a bell added in 1821, and other modern amenities. Despite these different design influences, the internal structure of the church is the same as when it was built in 1805, and it still functions as the cultural center of the village.10

Aerial image of San Miguel del Vado from 1975 shows how the Santa Fe Trail was the commercial center of this village, and physically went through center of Historic Plaza. Source: Phillip O. Lackman

Aerial image of San Miguel del Vado from 1975 shows how the Santa Fe Trail was the commercial center of this village, and physically went through center of Historic Plaza. Source: Phillip O. Lackman

Santa Fe Trail after Mexican Independence

The Santa Fe Trail was utilized by Spanish merchants moving goods between Santa Fe and Mexico City. Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 which opened up trade across the Southwest. Trade was limited however, because of heavy taxation between newly formed Mexico and the United States. As tensions rose between the nations, the Santa Fe Trail remained in use. The trail was used by U.S. General Stephen W. Kearny during the seizure of Santa Fe in August 1846. General Kearny took control of San Miguel del Vado before reaching Santa Fe. The Mexican American War ended in 1846 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the New Mexcio Territory became a part of the United States.

This historic district has numerous buildings from the Santa Fe Trail period, but few are still in use. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

This historic district has numerous buildings from the Santa Fe Trail period, but few are still in use. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Decline in the second half of the 19th century

As an agricultural and cattle dependent economy, the district was effected by industrialization in the region. The productivity and political center of San Miguel county was relocated to Las Vegas in 186011. With construction of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, San Miguel began to see its young men and workers leaving for better economic opportunities in Las Vegas and Santa Fe, NM, or in southern Colorado. This continued into the second half of the 19th century as San Miguel del Vado was reduced by the Supreme Court ruling of 1897 when U.S. supreme court decided to shrink the San Miguel del Vado Land grant from 300,000 acres to 5,000 acres.12 This decision cut the village off from their abundant grazing, agricultural and timber resources.

San Miguel del Vado Church remains the center of culture and society in this historic village. Source: Wikimedia Common

San Miguel del Vado Church remains the center of culture and society in this historic village. Source: Wikimedia Common

San Miguel del Vado 20th century and today

Today, NM State Route 3 follows the same route the Santa Fe Trail did during its heyday. The village was bypassed by construction of the national highways. Because San Miguel del Vado is off the beaten path, it was able to maintain its identity as a prime example of a Spanish colonial and early Mexican settlement. This historic district has been saved as gem of Santa Fe Trail history.

How to get there

The San Miguel del Vado Historic District is 45.7 miles from Santa Fe. Take the I-25 North from Santa Fe for 39.2 miles, take exit 323 to NM-3 South. Drive 2.3 miles south. Find the historic church on google maps here.


Bibliography

  1. Jenks Archeology at San Miguel del Vado, 2010. NMSU Department of Archeology 

  2. Legends of America, paragraph 1. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/san-miguel-del-vado/ 

  3. Legends of America, paragraph 1. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/san-miguel-del-vado/ 

  4. National Register of Historic Places, section 8 page 1, paragraph 2. 

  5. National Register of Historic Places, section 8 page 2 paragraph 3 

  6. Legends of America, San Miguel del Vado, New Mexico page 1, paragraph 10. 

  7. National Register of Historic Places, section 7 page 1. 

  8. National Register of Historic Places, section 7 page 1. 

  9. Jenks Archeology at San Miguel del Vado, 2010. NMSU Department of Archeology 

  10. National Register of Historic Places, section 8 page 1, paragraph 2. 

  11. National Register of Historic Places, section 8 page 1, paragraph 2. 

  12. Jenks Vecinos el La Frontera, 2011