This peaceful and historic plaza. shaded by cottonwood trees in summer and blanketed by snow in winter has been the site of military action, fiestas, and fiery speeches.
Spanish colonists settled at scattered locations in this valley beginning about 1615. The Don Fernando de Taos Land Grant given to 63 families in 1796 resulted in the establishment of this Plaza and the surrounding community. It became the most important settlement in the area outside of the ancient San Ger?nimo de Taos Pueblo three miles north of here.
In the late 1700's, families on the land grant built their homes and businesses around this plaza so that the windowless rear walls provided a secure defensive structure. There were strong gates at both ends. In times of war, when a threat was reported by outlying sentinels. livestock was brought into the plaza for safekeeping. A well in the center of the plaza provided water.
In peaceful times, the plaza served as a gathering place as it still does today, for church processions, political speeches, horse trading, music, assembly of militia, farmers market and small talk. Wagons probably didn't reach Taos until the mid 1800s, and so for many years trains of pack animals werefrequently seen on the plaza with trade goods such as furs being unloaded for inspection at the customs house, or local products being packed for trading with faraway destinations throughout the west.
As commerce grew, the plaza became the site for Taos' early hotels, such as the Don Fernando and the Columbian, both long gone. A courthouse and jail occupied a site on the north side starting about 1830. Over the years a few saloons and gambling establishments did a brisk business here. During the bloody rebellion against U.S. occupation in 1847, fighting took place in and around the plaza, and then after hasty trials, several executions took place here.
From time to time raging fires destroyed important buildings, and the replacements often changed the appearance of the plaza. In 1932 a new Taos County Courthouse was built after a fire destroyed an earlier court building and jail, along with other establishments on the north side. Today this Old Courthouse situated across the road behind you displays WPA murals by some of the early artist who helped make Taos a famous art colony.
Through the years as seen in these photographs, the town has changed many times, hut the presence and spirit of olden days can still he felt.