"In the Midst of a Loneliness":
The Architectural History of the Salinas Missions
NPS Logo


The reaction is always the same. When visitors approach the ruins of Concepción de Quarai, they stare up at the towering walls and say, "How did they build this?" When they walk into the ruins of San Gregorio de Abó, they look around at the broken church and ask, "What did this look like?" When they see San Buenaventura in the isolated ruins of Las Humanas, they wonder, "Why is this here?" As they leave the ruins of mission and pueblo, they look back and think, "What happened to these places?"

The striking and unexpected appearance of the Salinas missions has always been their strongest argument for inclusion in the National Park System. Their unique history and the archeological potential of the ruins of the pueblos and conventos are strong points, but largely of academic interest. Before anything was known about the archeology or the history, travellers visited the ruined churches and were astonished. Everyone recognized them as special and moving places.

The sense of awe felt by visitors created the movement to incorporate all three standing ruins into a single park under Federal administration. Their inclusion could not be justified, however, by simply saying, "They are awesome." They are striking and memorable for specific reasons. These reasons together make up their significance--all the principle factors that make the Salinas sites unique and important records of past human actions.

The Salinas missions and pueblos possess many attributes of significance. These can be divided into four general categories: 1) the Salinas villages were the sites of significant historic events; 2) they possess structural remains that preserve a significant record of seventeenth century architecture and workmanship, in settings virtually unchanged since their construction; 3) the sites and their structural remains record significant archeological and anthropological information about their occupants; and 4) the structural remains have integrity.

1) The Salinas villages were the sites of significant historic events:

Major conflicts between Franciscan and civil authority in the seventeenth century occurred at the Salinas pueblos. Spanish authorities stored the documentation of these conflicts outside New Mexico, so that they survived the general destruction of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. As a result, the Salinas pueblos are among the best-documented sites of the seventeenth century. They are three of the four best preserved sites of those that were devastated by famines and Indian uprising during the years of pre-Revolt New Mexico. [1] They are three of six major sites abandoned because of this devastation before the Pueblo Revolt and never reoccupied by Franciscan or Pueblo Indian. [2]

The Salinas pueblos were important contact points between the Pueblo Indians, the Plains Indians, and the Spaniards. Of the few seventeenth-century Plains Indian contact sites, only the Salinas pueblos remained abandoned through the eighteenth century. Pecos, the other contact site within the National Park System, survived the Pueblo Revolt and continued as a living pueblo, altered and disturbed by eighteenth and nineteenth century occupation.

2) The Salinas missions possess structural remains that preserve a significant record of seventeenth century architecture and workmanship, in settings virtually unchanged since their construction:

They preserve the best structural record of building methodology of seventeenth century Franciscans on the northern frontier. They possess four of the six substantially surviving seventeenth century mission churches in the United States. [3] San Isidro and San Buenaventura at the pueblo of Las Humanas are the remains of unaltered examples of a typical seventeenth-century Franciscan temporary church and a typical full-sized church and convento. [4] The church of San Buenaventura may be the only example of an unfinished full-sized seventeenth century Spanish colonial church on the northern frontier, and preserves unique information about the process of church construction because of that condition. The convento of San Isidro is one of only two known examples of priest's quarters adapted from local Indian houses, although such construction must have been common in the seventeenth century. [5]

The churches of Abó and Quarai constitute the finest surviving examples of wall-and-lintel technology--buildings constructed with vertical walls and beam-supported flat roofs. When complete, they approached the performance limits of that technology in their roof spans and wall heights. [6]

Abó and Quarai played an important role in the reoccupation of the Salinas area in the nineteenth century and preserve a record of nineteenth century reoccupation construction. The Salinas Basin was a "new frontier" during the first decades of the 1800s, and little is known of the history, social life, or architecture of these "new frontier" settlements. Abó and Quarai preserve a number of standing ruins that were built during the resettlement of the Salinas Basin and are valuable sources of information about the culture of that frontier.

3) The sites and their structural remains record significant archeological and anthropological information about their occupants:

Because the three pueblos contained Indians of two and perhaps three distinct cultural groups, they preserve unique archeological records of Pueblo Indian cultural development, contact with the Spanish, and acculturation during the seventeenth century. [7] Very little is known about the material culture and change through time of Franciscan missionaries in seventeenth century New Mexico. Although several missions have been completely excavated, no useful record of these excavations or their artifacts survive. A major part of the cultural deposits of the mission of San Gregorio de Abó is intact beneath the later convento, preserving essential information about the lifeways of Franciscan New Mexico. Subsequent reoccupation of the sites by a small Hispanic population did not occur until the nineteenth century and caused only slight disturbance of the seventeenth century deposits. The sites of Abó and Quarai retain a unique archeological record of the culture and architecture of these reoccupation settlements.

4) The structural remains have integrity:

The surviving portions of the four churches have changed very little since their original construction. The church and convento of Quarai are about 90 percent original fabric. Approximately 80 percent of the church and 40 percent of the convento survive. The church and convento of Abó are about 70 percent original fabric. Approximately 30 percent of the church and convento survive. The church and convento of San Buenaventura are about 90 percent original fabric. Approximately 95 percent of the completed construction of the church survives. About 50 percent of the convento survives. The church and convento of San Isidro are about 70 percent original fabric. Approximately 20 percent of the church and convento survive. The excavated pueblo structures at Las Humanas are about 70 percent original fabric. At all three missions the University of New Mexico, the Museum of New Mexico, and the National Park Service have stabilized the ruins and carried out some reconstruction.

Most of the fabric altered or added by reconstruction is along wall tops. Only in a few places do additions and alterations obscure or change the appearance of the surviving structure. Most of the fabric is unchanged except by time and retains its integrity.

Because of these qualities of significance, Congress accepted the proposal for a National Monument incorporating the three publicly owned Salinas pueblos. Public Law 96-550 created Salinas National Monument on December 19, 1980, "in order to set apart and preserve for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people the ruins of prehistoric Indian pueblos and associated seventeenth century Franciscan Spanish mission ruins." The new National Monument combined Gran Quivira National Monument, Abó State Monument, and Quarai State Monument--three of the five principal pueblos that had once formed the Jurisdiction of Salinas in the seventeenth century. Because Tajique and Chililí, the two remaining principal pueblos, are modern communities with no above-ground structural remains of their seventeenth-century villages and missions, the legislation did not include them. [8]

The three sites followed different paths before becoming part of Salinas National Monument. The United States established Gran Quivira National Monument in 1909 and designated the present boundaries in 1919. Private owners transferred Quarai to the Museum of New Mexico in 1913, when a portion of the Indian pueblo was excavated, and it became a state monument in 1935. [9] The University of New Mexico acquired Abó in 1937, in order to excavate and preserve the ruins of the church and convento. In 1938 Abó also became a state monument under the administration of the Museum of New Mexico. [10] During the 1930s the Museum supervised extensive excavations at the pueblo of Quarai and the mission complexes of both Quarai and Abó. Additionally, it stabilized the extant and excavated church and convento ruins of both pueblos. Similar work began at Gran Quivira in 1923 under Federal supervision.

In 1941 Dr Erik K. Reed proposed the creation of a "Salinas Missions National Monument" including all three major mission ruins and the associated pueblos. The idea enjoyed varying levels of acceptance until Abó and Quarai became National Historic Landmarks in 1962. At that point the Director of the National Park Service requested a feasibility study of the proposed National Monument. As a result of the study, in 1963 the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments recommended that Salinas National Monument be established. [11]

The creation of Salinas National Monument proceeded slowly. Abó and Quarai were placed in the National Register in 1966, but six years passed with no further action. Finally, in 1973 National Park Service planners stated that the Monument proposal was "still valid and holds the key resources to make a viable unit of the National Park System." [12] The State of New Mexico set up initial legislation in 1974 to transfer Abó and Quarai to the National Park Service, pending approval by state officials of a management plan for the National Monument. In 1977 the United States Senate passed Senate Bill 1864 to establish Salinas National Monument. The next year the National Park Service prepared an initial management plan for the National Monument, the Proposal/Assessment General Management Plan. [13]

In 1979 cultural resources management officials of the State of New Mexico objected to several provisions in the proposed General Management Plan and declined to accept it. Further planning was delayed until after the passage of Public Law 96-550 at the end of 1980. Finally, in early 1981 an initial management plan was worked out between the State of New Mexico and the National Park Service. The proposal was issued as a Summary Plan in February, 1981. [14]

The State of New Mexico accepted the Summary Plan, permitting the transfer of Abó and Quarai to the newly established National Monument in October, 1981. The National Park Service approved a Resources Management Plan (RMP) in 1982 (revised in 1987) and a Statement for Management in 1983. [15] Finally, the General Management Plan/ Development Concept Plan (GMP/DCP), the coordinating document for all other planning for the Monument, was approved in 1984. Representatives from the State of New Mexico were included on the planning team.

The Salinas RMP listed a number of projects essential to the Monument's proper management of its historic resources. Among these projects, the Monument specified the need for Historic Structure Reports for the major structures at each Unit, to allow effective maintenance and stabilization without further damage to these ancient and fragile buildings. [16] The present report has been prepared to meet part of that need. [17]

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006