New Mexico History Museum

A Palace in Need of Repair: The Santa Fe Fiesta Lecture

August 04, 2014


Begun in 1609, the Palace of the Governors remains the nation’s oldest continuously occupied government building. But before and especially after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and 1693 Reconquest, one of the most common complaints found in early descriptions of it came down to four important words: “In need of repair.” Over and over, the phrase crops up in the historical record. For the museum’s annual Santa Fe Fiesta Lecture, noted archaeologist Cordelia “Dedie” Thomas Snow pulls together the various descriptions of the Palace surrounding that phrase and, from them, imagines how the building looked and how Santa Feans lived.

“A Palace in Need of Repair: 1660-1720” is at 6 pm on Wednesday, Sept. 3, in the History Museum auditorium. Admission is $5 at the door; free to members of the Palace Guard, the museum’s friends’ group. (To join the Palace Guard, call the Museum of New Mexico Foundation at 982-6366, ext. 100.)

Historians have yet to uncover a comprehensive account or drawings of the Palace in that period, despite Spain’s acclaimed devotion to documenting its explorations and colonies. After the Pueblo Revolt, the building was replaced by a multi-storied pueblo occupied largely by Tano Indians, whose home improvements included placing at least two kivas in the Palace Courtyard. Following Spain’s return to Santa Fe, the Palace was restored, but it remained a problematic building. One example Snow has found is a ca. 1716 reference to a decrepit horse-drawn mill in the courtyard.

“For the lecture,” Snow said, “I’m working with Scott Jaquith at the Office of Archaeological Studies to visually recreate the descriptions in some of these documents. I’m trying to not just recreate the Palace but life in Santa Fe as well. For example, we have names of some of the town criers who would march around the plaza spreading news.”

The image above, by James E. “Jake” Ivey for the National Park Service, depicts what the Palace may have looked like between 1610 and 1680—a two-story adobe structure, far larger than today’s version and lacking its now-trademark portal. (Download a version of this drawing as well as ones by Scott Jaquith by clicking here.)

Snow has nearly 40 years of experience in historic sites archaeology in New Mexico, including considerable work within the Palace of the Governors. The ongoing exhibit Santa Fe Found: Fragments of Time features floor hatches that provide a glimpse into some of the archaeological work performed on the building’s earliest foundations.

Employed since 1996 at the Archaeological Records Management Section of the Historic Preservation Division within the Department of Cultural Affairs, Snow began her archaeological career in New Mexico working with legendary curator E Boyd at a 17th-century colonial site on the Santa Fe River west of Agua Fria. Between 1974 and 1975, she and a crew of volunteers conducted excavations in the west end of the Palace. From 1998 through 2002, Snow was project historian for test excavations by the American Museum of Natural History in the church and convento at Mission San Marcos in the Galisteo Basin. In addition, Snow has authored or co-authored numerous articles and professional papers for the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, El Palacio and other journals and books. She has been on the board of directors for the Historic Santa Fe Foundation since 2012 and became a member of Los Compadres del Palacio, a support group of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, in December 2013.


What: Archaeologist Cordelia Thomas Snow speaks on “A Palace in Need of Repair: 1660-1720,” the annual Santa Fe Fiesta Lecture

When: 6 pm, Wednesday, September 3

Where: New Mexico History Museum auditorium, 113 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe

Cost: $5 at the door; free to members of the Palace Guard

Phone: 505-476-5200


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