Established in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest continuously run capital city in the United States, and its rich history is revealed around every corner. Winding streets and quaint alleys hold some of America’s oldest buildings and residences.
Dating to the time of the early Spanish settlers, the area around the Santa Fe Plaza contains a wealth of historic sites. Built in 1610, the De Vargas Street House is considered one of the oldest buildings in the U.S., while the nearby San Miguel Mission is thought to be the country’s oldest church. The Palace of the Governors, which sits right on the plaza, is the oldest government building in the U.S.
While the Santa Fe Plaza claims the city’s oldest buildings, Canyon Road, located just east of the plaza, is considered by many to be the historic heart of the city. Once a simple dirt path leading into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the road has evolved into one of the country’s most notable art markets.
The Canyon Road area started off as a rural neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. It provided the main path into the mountains, and families could often be spotted trudging up and down it accompanied by burros laden with firewood. Lying along the Santa Fe River, it also had some of the region’s most fertile soil. The oldest homes on the road date to the mid-1700s and were built as modest dwellings for farm families.
Many of the original farmhouses on Canyon Road remain and have been wonderfully restored and transformed into galleries, restaurants or private residences.
Geronimo Restaurant was originally built as a farm residence in mid-1700s. Considered the city’s oldest restaurant and bar, El Farol has been run as a dining establishment since the 1830s. Today this legendary watering hole hosts live music and tempts diners with Spanish tapas and a festive atmosphere.
The neighborhood remained an obscure farming community until the early 1900s, when famed artists from the East Coast began arriving in New Mexico for the curative properties of the dry climate. Many fell in love with the rural atmosphere of Canyon Road and decided to stay. The area soon developed a reputation as a burgeoning arts colony, with the old Spanish farm families living alongside avant-garde artists whose work was known internationally.
Galleries began migrating to the area in the early ‘60s, and by the 1970s, Canyon Road had become known as the city’s arts district. Today more than 100 galleries dot the road. The oldest of the galleries, the Bacigalupa Studio, was established in 1956 and is still operated and showing work by its original owners, Andrea and Ellen Bacigalupa.
Present-day Canyon Road is the heart the Santa Fe art scene, but it retains its quaint historic charm. Lined with galleries, restaurants, and historic homes, the shady two-land road is ideal for a leisurely afternoon stroll. A walk down the road is much more than a chance to peruse fine art—it is a step back in New Mexico’s rich history.