18 December 2009

Valencia County Sites Featured As Registered Cultural Properties

Valencia County News-Bulletin

When New Mexico became a state in 1912, the 1,458 square miles that was to become Valencia County had already seen a good amount of history. As time marched on, rivers shifted course, political boundaries were drawn and erased and roads were carved, paved and sometimes rerouted.

Now the population of the county is closing in on 90,000 people, spread up and down the valleys and sprinkled across the llanos. While they are looking forward, they are also looking back and taking steps to preserve the precious history of the area.

According to the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division's Department of Cultural Affairs Web site, there are 27 registered cultural properties in the county, including buildings and areas that are culturally sensitive. Many of those listed on the state's registry are on the national historic registry as well.

One of the oldest structures in the county is the Miguel E. Baca House in Adelino, which sits adjacent to the Camino Real to its east and not far from the Rio Grande to its west. Originally built in 1896, the structure measured 80 feet by 30 feet, with building-length portals on both its east and west sides.

A large 30-by-35-foot room dominated the north end of the building, while six rooms on the south end served as spacious living quarters. The adobe walls measured 18 inches thick, ideal to keep warm air in during the winter and cool air in during the summer months. The old building still stands as a prominent landmark on N.M. 47, and was placed on the state registry in 1974 and the national registry in 1978.

When the railroad pushed west, that opened up new travel opportunities for people on the crowded east coast. Many of those seeking wide open spaces and opportunity dined at more than one of the Harvey House restaurants along the Santa Fe Railway. One stop along the way was in Belen.

Good food and better service by the Harvey Girls made the stopover a memorable occasion for travelers.

All place settings had to be arranged in just the right manner, with napkins folded in a special way and silverware perfectly polished. There can be no chips in the plates, cups or saucers. Full pitchers of cold water must be placed at every other place setting on the lunch counter. Fresh coffee, made with a pinch of salt, must be brewed. Every Harvey Girl carries a small towel on her arm to wipe up even the smallest spot or spill.

The Harvey Girls must also be as impeccable as possible. They cannot wear lipstick or any other makeup. Hair nets must be in place, with hair worn up, regardless of current styles. Uniforms must be freshly cleaned and ironed. Entire uniforms must be changed if even a tiny smudge appears. Everyone was required to wear white stockings with no runs and girdles, as checked daily by female supervisors.

The Harvey House closed in 1939, and reopened briefly during World War II to help feed the dozens of troop trains that came through town daily. Through the efforts of the City of Belen, the Valencia County Historical Society, the Belen Chamber of Commerce and countless volunteers, the building was preserved and is now a museum dedicated to the Harvey Girls, railroad memorabilia and is the home of the Belen Model Rail Club.

In addition, the museum hosts several art shows during the year ranging from exhibits of oil paintings, quilting, fiber arts and photography.

If you like watching freight trains, the museum is located on the west side of the Belen rail yard, which sometimes sees nearly 100 trains a day. The Harvey House was added to the state registry in 1982, and the national list a year later.

The Felipe Chavez house, which is was placed on the state and national historical registers in 1980, was built in 1860 by a pioneer merchant, trader and rancher. Felipe Chavez made his fortune with business interests ranging from the New York Stock Exchange to mining in Mexico.

Although there were several haciendas in the area, the Chavez estate was the largest. It included cornfields, extensive pasture, cottonwood groves, a mercantile and, eventually, a school for girls.

Ymelda and Leroy Baca and their daughter, Gretta, began work in 2004 to open the house to the public and share Valencia County's history.

For the first year, Gretta, who still lived in the area, began the renovation, while Ymelda and Leroy pitched in during visits. But when the couple returned home in 2005, the whole family came together to make their dream a reality.

From the beginning, the family's goal was to restore the house and property and create an institute for the preservation of culture, language and history.

Since Chavez's death in 1905, the keys to the historic house have changed hands more than a dozen times. Through the years, the house has been burned, damaged by floods and even vandalized, but the legacy of the property and of Don Felipe Chavez — also known as "El Millionario" — lives on today.

Another attraction the Bacas hope will draw crowds is a ghost story. Some people believe the spirit to be that of Felipe's daughter, Margarita Chavez. It's said that because her father left her out of his will, her spirit still roams the house.

As for the future of the Felipe Chavez house, the Bacas will continue to rent it out for weddings, parties, reunions and retreats. But their main objective is to host gatherings that will educate people about history and culture.

Ymelda, Leroy and Gretta hosts events that include history lessons, ghost stories, music festivals, poetry readings, art exhibits and plays. The family said the house is open for field trips for school children.

If you drive past the Jarales School located south of Belen on Jarales Road, you will see a building that has been there since 1932. It even looks the same as it did when the first students stepped through its doors. If you step through the door today, things will look nothing like they did in the 1930s.

The building has been renovated, revamped and reinvented as the Don Jose Dolores Cordova Cultural Center. The central hall is finished in white oak, and there is running water and plumbing, handicapped accessible bathrooms, a kitchen and central heat and air.

The soaring ceilings and walls of windows remain, as do the memories of those who attended the school before all the modern niceties were installed.

The cultural center held its grand opening in March 2007, and the schoolhouse has been on the state registry since 1994.

Did Joan and Joe Arvizu ever doubt their decision to move into their Bosque Farms home, a historical property in need of some tender loving care to restore it to its original glory?

The night that dirt fell on Joe's face probably gave the couple pause, but they persevered. The roof of the 1935 home was insulated with dirt, and some had seeped through the viga-supported ceiling and onto Joe.

Well, things at the home on South Bosque Loop have changed since 1992 when the Arvizus moved in, but not much. There's no more dirt on the roof and the doors are more secure, but the family has worked diligently to ensure that the house is just like it was in the Dust Bowl era during which is was built.

The Arvizus are only the third family to live in the 68-year-old dwelling. According to Joan, who's on the board of the Valencia County Historical Society, her abode was one of 44 buildings erected in the vicinity by the federal government's Works Progress Administration and intended as housing for farmers.

About 2,800 acres of land were purchased in the area from an old land grant and used as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. A similar homestead site was also created in West Virginia.

Forty two of the buildings were dedicated to housing, and a lottery was used to determine which families would have the opportunity to buy them. Charlie Jackson and his wife, Flora, were the first to reside in what is now the Arvizu home.

In 1944, George Shore purchased the home and the 58.8 acres of land. The farmer had his own dairy and lived on the property until about the mid-1980s.

Indeed, the house is obviously not of this era, and there are indications of its age throughout. A built-in ironing board emerges from behind a door in the home's "mud room," dating from a time of popular ironing centers.

The residence's only bathroom has the original bathtub, an antique-looking porcelain tub on legs. The home's light comes from bulbs that jut out from the walls instead of the ceiling. And, in an oddly ahead-of-its-time touch, the electrical outlets are designed to spring closed when plugs are removed from the sockets.

The home was placed on the state registry in 1988.

The mansion was originally built in 1881 by Don Antonio Jose Luna after the railroad negotiated a right-of-way directly through the original family hacienda. In compensation, the railroad agreed to build a home to any specifications named by Don Antonio.

After Mrs. Luna saw southern plantation homes, she wanted the home designed to complement them, but with a New Mexico twist. The 10,000 square foot home was built from traditional adobes.

Don Antonio died the year that the house was completed, so possession of Luna Mansion fell to his son, Don Tranquilino. It was thereafter passed down through the family and reached its heyday between 1900 and 1920, when Don Eduardo Otero and his wife Josefita Manderfield Otero took over the home.

The home was eventually purchased by Earl Whittemore in the 1970s, a local with a passion for history and preservation, and turned into a premier steak house. After three decades of ownership, Whittemore sold the property to the Torres family, Hortencia and Pete Teofilo Torres, daughters Johnnah Torres and Joell Torres and son Peter Japhen Torres.

The family spent months renovating the mansion from top to bottom and quietly reopened the fine dining establishment in August.

The mansion was placed on the state registry in 1973, the national list in 1975 and along with the surrounding fence, was added to the 2009 Most Endangered Places List by the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance (NMHPA).

Jan Biella, deputy state historic preservation officer, encourages people to nominate properties for the registry.

"Every two months, the board entertains new nominations," she said. "It's always surprising what's not listed."

She said listing on the register is considered an honor. "It does not impose anything on the owner. And there are financial incentives such as income tax deductions."

No comments:

Post a Comment