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New Palace Story Emerges

SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s long been part of accepted New Mexico history the Palace of the Governors was built in 1610 by then-Gov. Pedro de Peralta.

That may be about a decade too early.

New Mexico State Historian Rick Hendricks has discovered that the nation’s oldest continuously occupied public building may have been constructed in about 1618 –– and by a different governor.

It all started when Hendricks was compiling biographical sketches of the state’s Territorial governors. He stumbled on an Internet PDF of a document from the Spanish archives describing the experiences of Gov. Juan de Eulate, who arrived in New Mexico in 1618 and served until 1625.

“One of the things he mentions is when he arrived in Santa Fe, there was no headquarters and that he constructed it,” Hendricks said.

New Mexico’s governors were notorious for exaggerating their accomplishments in official documents after leaving office, he acknowledged. But the documents Hendricks discovered more closely resemble memoirs than official papers.

“When he arrived, he said there was no casas reales–– the term given to government headquarters –– and that he built it at his own expense,” Hendricks said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to think he’s making this up. He was just relaying his experiences, like capturing buffalo and trying to send them back to Spain. He’s talking about his career in general.”

State historic archaeologist Cordelia Snow said the new date more closely meshes with the archaeology at the Palace.

“They’re not going to have a fully grown building in 1610,” she said. “I can’t date the foundation. But the 1618-1620 period fits much better for the archaeology,” she said.

“We have very big, strong foundations that are up to 3 feet in width,” Snow said. “That takes a while. You’re making adobe bricks, you let the adobe cure. You haul in vigas from the mountains. It’s a long, gargantuan process.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Santa Fe,” she added.

Palace of the Governors/New Mexico History Museum director Fran Levine said Hendricks’ research, although credible, would have little impact on the Palace today.

Most of the Palace brochures, posters and pamphlets contain no specific building date, she said – although government websites, like that of the Museum of New Mexico and Santa Fe’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, use 1610 as the year the Palace was built.

There’s also a plaque on the Palace saying the building was “built by order of the Spanish crown 1610-1612.”

“School textbooks often give the widest overview,” she added. “It’s not wrong to say Gov. Peralta received orders to built the villa de Santa Fe. Even in Peralta’s administration, it couldn’t have been done in one fell swoop.

“We try not to put a single date on it because it was built over time,” she continued. “The Palace is a very large puzzle. We’re always going to learn more about it. We’re constantly finding new material.”

Hendricks is still digging for information about the state’s governors.

“A lot of people think everything that is knowable about the people and events here has already been found,” he said. “We still don’t know that much about Gov. Peralta. There were a lot of people by the same name. We don’t even know when he died.”

Now part of the New Mexico History Museum, the Palace of the Governors was designated a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1960 and was named an American Treasure in 1999.

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