You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in New Mexico? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your New Mexico city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Land Of Enchantment according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Albuquerque (Photos)
- Silver City (Photos)
- Carlsbad (Photos)
- Taos (Photos)
- Los Alamos (Photos)
- Los Chaves
- Santa Fe (Photos)
- Truth Or Consequences (Photos)
- Belen (Photos)
- Los Lunas (Photos)
For being 312 years old, Albuquerque doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in New Mexico? That would be Anthony — a brand spanking 8 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In New Mexico… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in New Mexico, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 33 out of 46 in New Mexico with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 71.7% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Albuquerque turning out to be the matriarch of New Mexico at the ripe old age of 312.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
The Tanoan and Keresan peoples had lived along the Rio Grande for centuries before European settlers arrived in what is now Albuquerque. Petroglyphs carved into basalt in the west part of the city bear testimony to early Native American presence in the area, now preserved in the Petroglyph National Monument.
More specifically, the Tiwa established two pueblos on the outskirts of the present-day city, which they have continuously occupied for many centuries: Sandia Pueblo, which was founded in the 14th century, and the Pueblo of Isleta, for which written records go back to the early 17th century, when it was chosen as the site of the San Agustín de la Isleta Mission, a Catholic mission.
2. Silver City
The valley that is now the site of Silver City once served as an Apache campsite. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the area became known for its copper mining. After the American Civil War, a settlement developed and became known as ‘La Ciénega de San Vicente’ (the Oasis of St. Vincent). With a wave of American prospectors, the pace of change increased, and Silver City was founded in the summer of 1870. The founding of the town occurred shortly after the discovery of silver ore deposits at Chloride Flat, on the hill just west of the farm of Captain John M. Bullard and his brother James. Following the silver strike, Captain Bullard laid out the streets of Silver City, and a bustling tent city quickly sprang to life. Although the trajectory of Silver City’s development was to be different from the hundreds of other mining boom towns established during the same period, Captain Bullard himself never lived to see even the beginnings of permanence, as he was killed in a confrontation with Apache raiders less than a year later, on February 23, 1871.
Development of southeastern New Mexico in the late 19th century was fueled by the arrival of colonies of immigrants from England, Switzerland, France, and Italy. Located along the banks of the Pecos River, Carlsbad was originally christened the town of Eddy on September 15, 1888, and organized as a municipal corporation in 1893; the settlement bore the name of Charles B. Eddy, co-owner of the Eddy-Bissell Livestock Company. With the commercial development of local mineral springs near the flume for medicinal qualities, the town later voted to change its name to Carlsbad after the famous European spa Carlsbad, Bohemia (now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic). On March 25, 1918, the growing town surpassed a population of 2,000, allowing then-governor of New Mexico Washington Ellsworth Lindsey to proclaim Carlsbad a city.
The Taos Pueblo, which borders the town of Taos on its north side, has been occupied for nearly a millennium. It is estimated that the pueblo was built between 1000 and 1450 A.D., with some later expansion, and the pueblo is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.
5. Los Alamos
Los Alamos is built on the Pajarito Plateau between White Rock Canyon and the Valles Caldera. The first settlers on the plateau are thought to be Keres speaking Native Americans around the 10th century. Around 1300, Tewa settlers immigrated from the Four Corners Region and built large cities but were driven out within 50 years by Navajo and Apache raids and by drought. Both the Keres and Tewa towns can be seen today in the ruins of Bandelier National Monument and Tsankawi.
6. Los Chaves
The settlement of Los Chávez, on the west bank of the Río Grande, dates to a 1738 grant to Nicolás Durán y Chávez from Atrisco. In 1790 it consisted of six plazas (Julyan 1996:78; Espinosa and Chávez 1967:41- 43). It was included in the 1802 census (Olmsted 1981:139-140). In the autumn of 1847 a unit of the U.S. Army traveled south along the west bank of the Río Grande. Philip Gooch Ferguson reported that “the road most generally traveled” was on the east bank but the west side of the river was better for water. Ferguson mentioned camping near a small town named “Plaza Chavez” (Bieber 1936:326-328).
7. Santa Fe
The area of Santa Fe was originally occupied by indigenous Tanoan peoples, who lived in numerous Pueblo villages along the Rio Grande. One of the earliest known settlements in what today is downtown Santa Fe came sometime after 900. A group of native Tewa built a cluster of homes that centered around the site of today’s Plaza and spread for half a mile to the south and west; the village was called Ogapoge in Tewa The Tanoans and other Pueblo peoples settled along the Santa Fe River for its water and transportation.
The river had a year-round flow until the 1700s. By the 20th century the Santa Fe River was a seasonal waterway. As of 2007[update], the river was recognized as the most endangered river in the United States, according to the conservation group American Rivers.
8. Truth Or Consequences
The first bath in the area was built at ‘John Cross Ranch’ over Geronimo Springs in the late 1800s. However, major settlement did not begin until the construction of Elephant Butte Dam and Reservoir in 1912; the dam was completed in 1916. Elephant Butte Dam was a part of the Rio Grande Project, an early large-scale irrigation effort authorized under the Reclamation Act of 1902. In 1916, the town was incorporated as Hot Springs. It became the Sierra County seat in 1937.
Belen was founded in 1740 as Nuestra Señora de Belén by a group of Spanish colonists led by Diego Torres and Antonio Salazar, who received permission to settle the tract of land known as the Belen Grant the year before. Recognizing the strategic significance of Belen, Spanish authorities established a fort in Belen to protect the settlements along the Rio Grande in 1760. By the 1790s, Belen had established a city center known as Plaza Vieja, or Old Town, and had grown from a paraje, or precinct, to a partido, or district, with a population of 1,695. By 1793, a Catholic church and parish was founded.
10. Los Lunas
The original land grant was made to Don Adrian Luna Candelaria in 1716, but within two years it was given to the Luna family. Some Civil War battles were fought near the village. Los Lunas became the county seat in 1876 and became an incorporated village in 1928. The Los Lunas Decalogue Stone is located nearby.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In New Mexico
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in New Mexico. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in New Mexico.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Land Of Enchantment.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to New Mexico:
- Anthony (Founded in 2010)
- Kirtland (Founded in 2010)
- Clovis (Founded in 2010)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In New Mexico
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