Times certainly were different in Las Cruces after the first train arrived 1881. The Santa Fe Railroad not only influenced the relocation of Doña Ana county seat from La Mesilla, but it also brought prosperity. The city’s new wealth was apparent in the developing neighborhood west of Main Street. Depot Street connecting the train station to downtown became the first paved street and its name changed to Las Cruces Street, perhaps an effort to impress visitors. A city park was opened in 1898, developed by the Women’s Improvement Association. They financed Pioneer Women’s Park because children had no place to play. Its hipped-roofed gazebo was added in the 1920s.
The Alameda District, as it came to be known, became home to the more affluent citizens of Las Cruces — merchants, lawyers, doctors, and other people of means. Instead of Spanish Colonial-style adobe homes, like those found in the original townsite, they favored Victorian, Queen Anne, Georgian, Pueblo Revival, and other contemporary styles.
Today, nearly 200 homes in this graceful neighborhood are classified as historically significant. Many carry plaques identifying them as being on the National Register of Historic Places. The best way to appreciate the history of the Alameda District is on foot. So, let’s take a walk along Las Cruces Street, starting at Armijo Street.
The Spanish-Pueblo-Revival adobe on the southeast corner was the home of Numa Frenger, judge, legislator, and one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Within the residence is a small frame house dating to the 19th century. It was incorporated by new construction in the 1950s when the Frengers no longer owned the house. Vigas were carved and painted, and stone floors of gray dendrite with fern patterns were placed over earlier hardwood. Some claim the ghost of Frenger — or perhaps his wife — is seen from time to time.
Walk west on Las Cruces to 409. This one-story stuccoed adobe was given as a wedding gift to Mark and Edith Thompson. Built in 1909, it has open eaves, wide roof overhangs, and exposed rafter ends in the popular California craftsman style.
Across Las Cruces at 406 is the home of Captain Thomas Branigan, an Indian scout and Mescalero Apache agent. Built around 1910, this two-story colonial was constructed of “artificial” stone; that is, concrete block cast to look like rusticated stone.
The next house on our tour is at 415 Las Cruces. This was built by Attorney Robert Posey around 1928. It is a high-gabled, brick house, showing its Tudor Revival stye with its half-timbered gable ends.
Next door, at 425, is the Duarte House, now more than a century old. It was built by Sixto Duarte in the California Mission style — square and solid — with high ceilings and a breeze-catching central hallway.
Before leaving Las Cruces Street, take a look at the unique sculptures in the front yard of 440 and note the plaque on the wall. This was Mary Witherspoon’s house built in 1910.
Walk south on Reymond to Griggs. On the corner here is the Elias Day house. It was built in 1896 and is a Queen Anne style brick home. After Day’s death, his wife, Grace, hosted tea parties during World War I for wives of servicemen overseas, and it became known as the party house.
The boxy white stucco house just to the east, at 428 Griggs, was the home of Sam Bean, Jr., and built in 1890. This adobe is a classic example of Territorial architecture with triple-layered brick coping and windows with pedimented lintels. Like his father and Uncle Roy, he was a successful saloon owner. Uncle Roy was more famous as the hanging judge who administered all the “law west of the Pecos.”
Walk west on Griggs to Miranda. On the southeast corner is the Amador House, a stuccoed adobe. Built in 1905, it has a truncated hip roof with decorative balustrade, central entrance with transom and side lights, and a cement block with an iron ring at the curb where visitors could hitch their wagons.
Before leaving the Alameda District, walk to the northeast corner of Pioneer Women’s Park. Catty-corner from the park is Alma d’Arte Charter School, where, since 2004, Las Cruces students study art, music, theater, and culinary arts along with the “three Rs.” This was once Court Junior High, built during the Depression as a WPA project. It was constructed on the site of the first county courthouse and was, at the time, according to then School Superintendent Carl Conlee, “The most up-to-date and modern in every detail of any in the state.”
Walk east on Court, across Alameda Boulevard, until you reach the white, Queen Anne-style adobe. Now home to Justus Wright Galería and Del Valle Design & Imaging, it was built by William Rynerson. He earned his wealth from mining interests, including the Modoc mine in the Organ Mountains, along with some shadier deals in selling cattle and firewood to the Army. It has a large, round porch, elaborate frieze details, ornate windows, and etched plaster to resemble cut stone. It is the only adobe Queen Anne-style structure remaining in the United States.
Within easy walking distance, round out your tour by perusing the Branigan Cultural Center, the Las Cruces Museum of Art, and the Las Cruces Museum of Nature and Science, all of which are accessible across Water Street at Court.
Then, head west on Court and across Alameda to From the Ground Up, a shop at 339 Alameda. Here Debra Brandt provides customers with herbal remedies in the practice of natural medicine.
True railroad buffs will want to finish it up where it all began. From here it’s just a short walk to the Las Cruces Railroad Museum, located in the old Santa Fe station, where the Alameda Historic District got its start, nearly a century and a half ago.
Written and photography by Bud Russo
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2016
Posted by LasCruces.com