The Mesquite Historical District

It has been 162 years since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed and this land converted from Mexican to United States territory. It must have been an overwhelming time for Don Pablo Melendres, who was mayor of Doña Ana, due to all the migration and newcomers who were searching to claim undeeded land rights. Don Pablo sought help from the U.S. Army in an attempt to maintain order, help survey the land and plan out the new town site that we know today as Las Cruces.

The story goes that, after Lt. Delos Bennett Sackett used rawhide ropes and stakes to lay out a total of eighty four blocks, each containing four lots, distribution of property took place. Simplicity was at its best when it was decided that there was only one sensible and practical way of settling this type of property distribution dispute–pick a number out of the hat! Those one hundred and twenty families, who picked their lucky number, are the original founders of the present day, Mesquite Historical District. Many of those families still own the same property lot and home today.

The Mesquite district is recognized as part of the established landmark in New Mexico of the historic trading route, Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, one of the nineteen national historic trails (BLM-Santa Fe). In the past few years, the Mesquite district site has undergone a thorough restoration. Projects have been accomplished thanks to the monumental efforts of community residents, university and college staff, city leaders and law makers, as well as various organizations who have worked in collaboration to create a safer and thriving neighborhood with a sense of identity.

It is very important to highlight that the vision of restoring the original town site began about 11 years ago when community members started the neighborhood association, Las Esperanzas, Inc. “The mission is to facilitate the restoration, preservation, protection and revitalization of the Mesquite district,” said,
David Chavez, Director of the non-profit Las Esperanzas.

The community garden project, Jardin de Esperanzas, situated on the corner of Spruce Avenue and San Pedro Street was possible because of the combined efforts of many. Then, on the corner of Spruce Avenue and Tornillo Street rests Jardin de Mesquite, a tile art mural that depicts the history of the community. Photos and texts coming from historic archives and Mesquite residents were all used as sources to tell the story. Jardin de Mesquite, a symbol of a “gateway” to the historic Mesquite district, was a collaborative adventure which began with Las Esperanzas commitment to revive the community with the dedication ceremony on January 7, 2006. It became the first of several projects completed.

The entire ceramic art wall measures 122 x 8 feet, and is composed of eight 6 x 8 panels where history is honored and people of the district are recognized. Each panel pays tribute to a significant moment in the history of Las Cruces. The panels depict and honor the indigenous people, portraying the Piro-Manso Tiwa, the Apache and Comanche people. A wild river duck flying through the center symbolizes the natural world of the people, while the lone horseman represents the nomadic life of the indigenous people.

There is also a section that commemorates the founders of the original town site of Las Cruces, and to the early St. Genevieve Catholic Church. The Matachines are dancers that symbolize the convergence of their own native culture and the Catholic Church influence. The Loretto Academy is portrayed through four different periods of the institution, As well as people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds are also celebrated.

One of the panels is an ode to the Las Cruces of the 1950s. The city is portrayed with a vibrant downtown center, where people met and shops were open for business. On another, recognition is given to local policeman, Officer Lauris Gallegos, a major supporter of Las Esperanzas organization. The last panel depicts an up rise of urban renewal in the late sixties that left much of the downtown area demolished. This piece was intended to bring awareness to the community and to bring inspiration to value what was left of Las Cruces’ history.

There are four women honored, not only for their contributions to Las Esperanzas, but also as a representation of “guardian angels of the future.” At the bottom right, Consuelo Lerma, founder; at the bottom left Elizabeth Holguin Lannert, past president; top right, Estella Sanchez, an active Piro-Manso Tiwa member and neighborhood resident; and at the top left Vivian Enrique Wolfe, who is considered to be instrumental in creating the infrastructure of Las Esperanzas.

Other projects include, Entrada del Sol, an archway to the east of the district that was created by ceramic artist Glenn Schwaiger, on the corner of Hadley Avenue and Manzanita Street. It was completed with tiles designed by residents and assembled by Schwaiger and neighborhood residents. Las Esperanzas, along with other associations have, to date, completed projects totaling approximately $1 million.

Yet, still to come for Las Esperanzas is its biggest project; a centennial wall behind the New City Hall. The wall will celebrate the history of Las Cruces and southern New Mexico and will measure about 400 feet long. Its lowest point will be at 2.5 feet, and the highest at 7 feet. Time periods covered will include the prehistoric Permian Period and of course the arrival of the Conquistadores, with an emphasis on the Camino Real trail from Mexico City to Las Cruces. The Camino Real was very significant in the interconnection of modern roads and railroads. The goal is to complete it in time for the New Mexico Centennial in 2012.
The word "esperanza" means hope in Spanish, which is significant to the major accomplishments completed in the Mesquite district. Not only has the Las Esperanzas organization been the driving force in the revitalization and renovation of historic structures and landmarks, but in a more meaningful way, restored hope in the lives of many families for a better and more prosperous future.

Protection, preservation, renovation and revitalization are some of the seeds that Las Esperanzas has been spreading and depositing in peoples’ minds. A goal that may have seemed massive has turned into a reality, but thanks to the most important ingredient, love, these seeds have grown and blossomed into the Mesquite district. The amount of dedication from all those involved is greatly appreciated. Las Esperanzas organization is a proven example of what people can accomplish when minds and hearts work together for a common goal.

By Sara G. Holguin

Fall 2010
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