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SANTA FE, N.M. — The historic Salman Raspberry Ranch in Mora County, a scenic outpost and tourist stop that has been owned and operated by a prominent northern New Mexico family for decades, has been sold to a Texas-based rancher whose firm is one of the biggest property owners in the United States.
The property transfer of 2,229 acres, including the six-acre berry farm, to G. Hughes Abell of Austin was recorded July 21 at the Mora County Clerk’s Office.
Abell, who about 16 years ago purchased an adjacent, 30,000-plus acres of the Salman family’s holdings, said he plans no changes to the store, cafe and raspberry patch located in the La Cueva community between Mora and Las Vegas, other than a few minor upgrades. Rumors that visitors will no longer be able to pick their own berries aren’t true, he said.
“Just tell people to come pick raspberries, buy something at the store and eat at the café,” he said in a phone interview. “We’ll try to make it the same experience it’s always been.”
Frances Salman Koenig, a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque whose father acquired the ranch after his military service in World War II, said it hasn’t been easy to part with the place where she and her two brothers, David (who served as a state representative) and William (who helped start Santa Fe Greenhouses), grew up, attending Las Vegas public schools.
“It’s a magical place,” she said this week. “It’s hard to find the words to fully describe the specialness of it. It was beautiful, it was receptive, it was productive and it was challenging.” The ranch’s National Historic Site includes an 8,000-square-foot hacienda, a church and a grist mill from the 19th century. The store, with parts also from the 1800s, sells jams, toppings and vinegar.
Koenig added: “When the clouds gather in the afternoon before a heavy rain, and the air turns cool and it becomes earthly quiet, you have that moment where you sort of collect yourself and say, ‘Something special is going on here.’ ”
Koening said that, to understand what the ranch has meant to the Salman clan, “you have to understand what it meant to our father.”
Col. William Salman, a Jewish immigrant from Poland who went from being a stevedore on Houston docks to running a steamboat business that was the world’s largest shipper of newsprint, was Army commander of the ports of Cardiff, Wales, and Le Havre, France, during World War II.
With much of his family imprisoned or killed in concentration camps, he wanted a post-war place “that would be a safe haven for his family,” said Koenig. He and a friend drove “all over Texas and New Mexico” before they found the La Cueva property.
“There were two things Jews couldn’t do in Poland: international trade and own land. So both became important to him,” said Koenig.
And the colonel ran his steamship business from Mora County, “a feat unto itself,” she said.
David Salman, who died in 2010, ran the ranch for 40 years and developed ponds or lakes that made the ranch a flyway stop for thousands of Canadian geese. Koenig was in charge the past 16 years. But her generation’s children haven’t wanted to devote their lives to the place as she and David did, said Koenig.
“It’s a property that demands that attention,” she said. “You have to deeply care for it to take care of it.”
Abell “had bought the first part of the property earlier and wanted to reunite the original Romero Land Grant, so it seemed appropriate for him to take the property and make it whole again,” she said.
“It’s still, for all of us, very sad, and we will never be able to replace its importance. But I think each of us feels it was the right thing to do in the right way at the right time.”
New ownership firm
The raspberry ranch is owned by a new Abell company, La Cueva Partners, LTD. His Llano Partners consistently shows up in the top third of the Top 100 landowners in the country.
The Land Report, “the magazine of the American landowner,” ranked Llano Partners as having the 32nd-largest U.S. land holdings for 2015, far below the likes of Ted Turner and the heirs of New Mexico’s Henry Singleton, but close to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and the Babbitt heirs of Arizona.
The magazine said Llano Partners had 265,000 acres as of the September 2015 listing.
“With vast ranching, farming and cattle operations throughout Texas and New Mexico, Hughes Abell remains the sole proprietor of an eponymous livestock operation while also offering leadership on the executive committee of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association as well as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board,” the magazine said. Abell also has land in Florida.
Abell told the Journal this week that he has about 100,000 acres in New Mexico, including the Buena Vista Ranch next to the Salman ranch and property in Colfax County. “It’s a family operation,” he said. “We’re not a corporate entity.”
His New Mexico land is used for cattle ranching and a hunting program, and as a location for filming movies and TV advertisements, said Abell.
He said several feature films – including the Coen brothers’ version of “True Grit” with Jeff Bridges, Tommy Lee Jones’ “The Homesman” and the soon-to-be-released “The Magnificent Seven” remake – used the property. “We have several (films) in the works right now,” Abell added.
He said he has had a cordial relationship with the Salmans and his transactions with them have been friendly. “They’ve been a lot of help on showing us the ropes over there,” Abell said.
“We’re very pleased to own it and are very pleased to be part of the community, and look forward to operating it as it is,” he said. About the only change made so far at the raspberry farm, he said, is a new oven for the café “to go back to making the pies they used to make.”
Koenig said Abell agreed to keep on the raspberry ranch’s long-term employees as part of the deal. “These are folks we’ve grown up with and grown old with,” she said.
Koenig said she and her brother William want to thank the raspberry operation’s loyal customers who came back year after year. “We want to make sure that our customers and friends realize how much we’re going to miss them and have treasured them over the years,” she said.