Jemez Valley History
By Nancy Metnik, Postmaster, from Jemez Thunder, December 01, 1997
After many months of seeing activity at the new Jemez Springs Post Office and of wondering when it would be occupied – it has happened!
On Monday, Nov. 24, the move began with the able crew from the U.S. Postal Service maintenance department (Paul, Terry and Ed) transferring non-critical equipment from the old office to the new.
On Tuesday, most other equipment was transferred to the new building after mail was sorted at the old. Clerk Donna Lea remained at the old office to sell stamps, money orders, etc., while the rest of the crew went to the new office to arrange furniture and put away “stuff.”
On Wednesday the 26th, the new post office opened with full window service, mail delivery, mail pickup, and a special blue door where folks picked up keys for the new boxes.
All box numbers at the new post office will remain the same. Good news, eh? There are many more boxes that are now available for rent. We no longer need a waiting list. Just come in and we can rent you a P.O. box immediately.
Post office hours will remain the same. The mail now leaves Jemez Springs at 4:10 p.m. (instead of 1 p.m. in the old days), so you have until 4 p.m. to bring mail to the counter and it will go out that day.
When you come in to pick up your new keys, you must bring in your old keys, as they will be recycled along with the old P.O. boxes.
The box lobby will be open 24 hours a day for mail pickup, just as before. A new item will be the parcel lockers by the front door. We thought this would be a real convenience for P.O. box customers who cannot always come in during business hours. If you find a key in your box, look at the number on it and go to the corresponding parcel locker. You can now get your packages at any time.
Soon we will be having a customer appreciation day/open house to celebrate our new office and our great customers! We will be letting you know when this will be, most likely Dec. 19 or 20.
Please feel free to call us with questions or concerns at 829-3917.
Following practices brought from Spain and Mexico, early farmers irrigated through the use of a community ditch. Under New Mexico’s complicated and controversial water rights laws, the first people on the land are awarded rights to the water (in this case the Jemez River) in perpetuity based on when they arrived. The Jemez Springs acequia system has a priority date of 1865; in this area, only Jemez Pueblo has a prior right. A portion of the original ditch for Jemez Springs, much renovated over the centuries but still in use, can be seen in the heart of the village near the Jemez Stage Stop Café and other segments are in use throughout the village. It is governed in the traditional way by a ditch boss, or major domo, who determines who gets water when. All those using the acequia, the parcipientes, are expected to respect the rules and help to maintain the ditch.
The first non-Indian building at the present-day site of Jemez Springs was the mission of San José de los Guisewa, located just north of the Village Plaza. The first mission was established in 1598 and then abandoned the next year. The Spanish returned to build a church in 1620-21 at the site of a large pueblo named Guisewa, which was one of many constructed of stone throughout the canyon and on the mesa tops. The mission consisted of a church and convento (priests’ quarters), now the ruins we see today at Jemez Historic Site, formerly known as Jemez State Monument. This mission was abandoned in 1630 and remained unoccupied for more than 200 years.
Another mercantile store, built in 1931 by Swedish immigrants, became a trading post, delicatessen, a café and gas station; it changed hands a number of times and today is the Jemez Stage Stop Cafe. The original store sold hay and wheat, as well as groceries and dry goods. Locals still refer to it as “the Merc” or “the Deli” because of its history as a mercantile store with a deli case. The wooden flooring, door, and some of the windows are from the original building.
Like all the old structures in the Village, Casa Blanca Guest House is constructed of rock and mud, as well as the adobes traditionally associated with New Mexico. Originally a stable, then a two-room house, the five-room house was completely restored as a guest house when Roger and Linda Sweet purchased it. In the early 20th century, the house was known locally as “Buckingham Palace,” so called because a British family lived there. The original outhouse still stands in the midst of beautiful gardens terraced down to the river behind the house, and the original well house has been converted into a compact guest cottage.
The Momaday house was built in the 1930s and served as a general store, post office and rectory for Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church. Its historical significance comes from that fact the from 1946-2011 it was occupied first by Al and Natachee Scott Momaday and later by their son N. Scott Momaday, a Pulitzer-prize winning author, poet, and artist. In an article of unknown origin found in library files, he wrote this about the house:
My parents’ home at Jemez Springs is a great old stone structure of two stories, massive fireplaces, and cool, dark corridors. It has, in its conformation of oak timbers, native stone, and adobe, the character of a castle, or of a haunted parsonage on the Yorkshire moors. It is, in fact, called Stonehenge, and it is aptly named, for there is a kind of Druidic mystery to it; it is informed with something like timelessness. . . . Stonehenge is filled with a rich and varied treasure, the possessions that have defined my parents’ long tenure in the Southwest: baskets and rugs, silver and beadwork, woodcarvings and leathercraft, ancient pottery and innumerable paintings. The heads of wild animals, buffalo and deer, hang from the walls . . . It is a veritable museum of art, archaeology and natural history.
The Momaday house has since been sold and no longer is owned by the family.
One of the three oldest buildings in the Village is the Jemez Springs Presbyterian Church was first established in 1881 by Dr. J.M. Shields. The building you see today is considerably expanded from the first church. That original sanctuary is now the lower level meeting room, which hosts a variety of community activities and programs. This follows a long tradition of housing local services, which has included a library and health clinic.
After serving as a dance hall and warehouse, the building just south of the Presbyterian Church became a café that changed hands several times; two of its names were the Palace Cafe and the Chili Bowl. It then operated for years as a widely-known destination: The Laughing Lizard, owned and operated by Elsie MacKinnon. It was a much beloved community gathering place; Thursday nights were local nights. When Elsie retired, the village turned out for a wake in the Lizard’s honor. Today the building is occupied by a gift shop.
The mercantile store that Moses Abousleman built in the late 1800s built became Los Ojos Bar & Grill in 1947. It has been written up in numerous state and national publications and is a must-see stop along the National Scenic Byway named the Jemez Mountain Trail. The original building is the section on the south end. In the past century, it has been a mercantile store, warehouse, pool hall, dining hall, gambling hall and finally a bar. It has the second oldest continuously owned liquor license in the New Mexico.