Mesilla, New Mexico (pop. 2,200) was founded in 1848, and was briefly the largest town between San Antonio and San Diego. But this area of the Southwest, as far back as the 1500s, had been the crossroads of Spanish Conquistadors, Native Americans, Cowboys and outlaws, who mixed to create one of the most unique cultures in North America. In 1881 Las Cruces (just a few miles east) offered free land to the Santa Fe Railroad, bypassing Mesilla, which essentially froze the place in time (the historic square wasn’t paved as late as the 1970s). The two places are separated only by railroad tracks, yet Las Cruces is a sprawling suburb while Mesilla is a historic, compact, walkable town.

The architecture at first glance seems like a stage set, but is really a very authentic mix of traditional southwestern adobe and Territorial style. Much of the historic area of Mesilla is still surrounded by chili and onion farms, but McMansions are starting to chew up the landscape. Other than San Albino church and El Patio Cantina (see photo), the historic plaza has been given over to gift shops (and a few good restaurants), yet Mesilla's somewhat remote location means that the town, reminiscent of a smaller Santa Fe, is hardly overrun with shoppers. What keeps this place unique is the relative slow rate of development and the fact that property has been passed down from generations past, including the original founding families and their ancestors, known as Mesilleros.

Click any of the photos to learn more about them, or view the entire set as a slideshow (click upper right link).

As the locals say, Viva Mesilla!
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