Celebrating 50 years, El Rancho de las Golondrinas named for the swallows that also call the area home - Albuquerque Journal

Celebrating 50 years, El Rancho de las Golondrinas named for the swallows that also call the area home

The Penitente Meeting House of Our Lady of Peace and Calvary Hill Burial Grounds at the El Rancho de Las Golondrinas living museum near Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note:

The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a twice a month column in which staff writer Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names

A visit to El Rancho de las Golondrinas requires drivers to leave Interstate 25 and scoot a few miles west along a winding, two-lane road.

Exiting a major interstate might be considered a little off the beaten path but Las Golondrinas was once a main stop on the region’s busiest road – El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, which was established by the Spanish Empire in 1598. The 1,500-mile Royal Road, as it’s known in English, conveyed travelers from Mexico City to Santa Fe and is an important part of New Mexico’s story.

Las Golondrinas is tucked away in La Cienega, an old community 14 miles south of Santa Fe. This year the ranch celebrates 50 years as a living history museum but that designation is only one chapter of its story that continues unfolding today.

El Rancho de las Golondrinas Museum Director Daniel Goodman said the valley where the ranch is located has been occupied by humans for centuries. He said the first known record referring to the ranch by its full name, El Rancho de las Golondrinas, was a 1740 will. The name translates to “The Ranch of the Swallows” and earned that designation for a very obvious reason.

“This part of La Cienega has always been referred to as Las Golondrinas,” Goodman said. “The swallows come back every year and make nests along the La Cienega Creek.”

One of the historic buildings currently has an old swallow’s nest attached to an interior viga. Goodman said it most likely happened when one of the windows was left open recently. It’s now become part of the exhibit, so to speak.

The ranch was once an official rest stop, called a paraje, along the Royal Road. But there were no automobiles, informational pamphlets, maps or flushing toilets. Guests were greeted by livestock, horses, fresh earth, crops, and the hustle and bustle of people who kept up the place.

Goodman said the ranch was the last stop before reaching Santa Fe, making it a prime spot for trading goods, getting food and watering the animals.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the property was part of the Pino family holdings. The Great Depression left the family with no choice but to sell it.

Along came Leonora Curtin and her mother, also named Leonora, to purchase the property in 1932. The woman hailed from wealthy New York publishing family. The two women had founded the Spanish Colonial Arts Society to preserve Spanish Colonial history in the state, so they were very aware of the property’s historical significance.

They paid the $15,000 price tag for the ranch with $13,500 in cash and 200 sheep. The two had no grand ideas about becoming ranchers and planned to use the property as a retreat. It was the younger Curtin’s marriage to her Finnish husband Yrjö Paloheimo in 1946 that changed the fate of the property. It went from a hideaway for the two women, to a working farm and ranch, and a family home. Paloheimo told a Santa Fe New Mexican reporter in 1976 that he turned the ranch into a museum because he feared the state’s “alarming growth rate” would eventually destroy the ranch and with it, all its history.

Paloheimo had experience with a living history museum in Finland and wanted to do the same with his ranch. They opened their museum in 1972.

Today, visitors have access to 200 acres of the 500-acre property.

Goodman said Las Golondrinas is the only living history museum in the state and it offers a hands-on impressive experience for its visitors. It focuses on the period of New Mexico history during the 18th and 19th centuries. The state went through a lot of changes during that time. The Spanish arrived, setting up their colonies. Then the era of Mexican rule transpired, followed by American annexation, making the area a territory of the United States. The mixing of Native, Spanish and Mexican cultures, and the way they influenced each other, are on display there. Not only can guests walk through rooms similar to those used by Spanish, Mexican, Native and American occupants; they can witness the traditions and practices of the past.

In celebration, the museum is hosting 50 events for the 50 years it’s been in operation. They are wrapping up a lecture series at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 29, with a talk in the St. Francis Auditorium in the New Mexico Museum of Art by Henry Rivera, chair of the Las Golondrinas board. He will discuss “The Battalion of San Patricio: Mexico’s Irish Soldiers.” There will also be a half-marathon, volunteer trainings, community clean-up, themed weekends and a number of festivals. The big celebration will take place Oct. 8 with a community matanza.

Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at ebriseno@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”

 

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