Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation owns and manages eleven very unique properties (totaling about 1,000 acres) under its Open Space initiative. What began as grassroots efforts by numerous local groups was confirmed by larger community support when a referendum passed in 1998 providing mill levy funding (similar to bond funding but with different spending parameters) for these undeveloped lands to remain so for the benefit and enjoyment of Bernalillo County residents and visitors. The properties have been proudly preserved as Bernalillo County’s environmental, historical and cultural treasures. One such jewel is the Gutierrez Hubbell House History and Cultural Center in the heart of the South Valley of Albuquerque.
Where to begin to tell the rich, complex story of this extraordinary house? I’ll go back to the beginning, as told to me by Lawrence “Lorenzo” Hubbell (great-great-grandson of James Hubbell), Flora Sanchez (chair of the board of directors for the Gutierrez-Hubbell House Alliance) and Asha Baker (current manager of the GHH).
Juliana Gutierrez, the granddaughter of New Mexico territorial governor Francisco Javier Chavez, was 14 years old in 1846 when she met James Lawrence Hubbell, a Yale graduate, captain in the U.S. Army and the officer in charge of the Santa Fe Trail. Despite being an Anglo from Connecticut, he had developed a reputation, as Flora tells it, as “a good guy… people liked him and he was respected.” Juliana and James’ marriage was arranged—a beneficial political, social and economic alliance for both parties—and commenced in 1848. The 7-room, adobe house, (eventually expanded to a many-roomed 5,700 square foot home) was given to them as a wedding gift. Despite her youth, Juliana was intelligent and savvy, and in addition to raising 12 children in that house, she served as a community matriarch and was often referred to as Mi Tia or La Julianita (“auntie” or “little mom”) by those in the surrounding area who would come to the house seeking everything from advice to inoculations. James, who became known as a Santiago in acknowledgement of his new home and family, was sheriff of Valencia County, but as his success grew as a merchant and trader, much of the managing of the family’s extensive lands from the Pajarito Land Grant was left to Juliana and the Gutierrez family.
The Gutierrez-Hubbell House, Lorenzo notes, could be considered ground zero in New Mexico’s colonial history. The family was well known for caring for the people in surrounding communities and assisting new settlers who arrived in the area at “la casa grande” or “the big house.” The Gutierrez Hubbell House, now a meticulously renovated and restored museum, served as a hub for administering to the Anglo, Hispanic and Native alike, nursing them, and providing immunizations—it was, as Flora says, “quite an enterprise.”
Santiago passed away in 1885 and Juliana in 1898. Fast forward to the mid-1970s and the land and house were shadows of their former vibrant, bustling selves. The farm had been whittled down to 10 acres and the family, at that point, had no means by which to keep up the house. Vacated and vandalized, it was sold to a developer who had plans to subdivide the acreage and turn the house into a restaurant. However, in the mid-1990s, a small grassroots coalition was formed of extremely committed, hardworking community members, many of whom lived within a mile or so of the house, and they were determined to preserve the site because of its historical significance. Lorenzo Hubbell was contacted and became part of the coalition. Despite their efforts, however, they could not raise enough money to save the house and so they petitioned Bernalillo County to purchase it in a kind of public-private venture deal that had never been done before in order to protect this jewel.
By 2001, after several years of organizing, planning and creating a mission and vision statement, the Gutierrez-Hubbell House Alliance was an official nonprofit organization. The Alliance has increased its capacity for the past 14 years. As Flora states, “We’ve been knitting things together and it seems that now we are in a place where the opportunities are incredible.”
The Gutierrez-Hubbell House began as place rich with community purpose as a mercantile, trading post, stagecoach stop and post office, in addition to being a private residence. Today, education drives its “aggressive” mission as a museum, historical cultural center, community gathering place, organic farm and touchstone for educational outreach. As Asha says, “Some of the needs of the community have changed, but the service component remains.” It’s difficult to grasp the scope and magnitude of what goes on at the house. Partnerships with the community abound in all shapes and sizes that take an army of volunteers (Asha is the only paid employee) and an extraordinary amount of meeting time to coordinate. To give a small scale example of one type of collaboration, Lorenzo points out the heirloom orchard just west and south of the main house, which includes 19 varieties of apple trees, four varieties of plum, a couple varieties of peaches and Mission grapes—all of which he helped to plant when he was a boy. He was told they were the original vines brought by the Spanish that were growing along the acequia system set up along the Rio Grande in the late 1600s. The vines were grafted out and planted closer to the home, and Flora hopes to partner with UNM to have a DNA study done of both the vines and trees in order to confirm that they are indeed of the original stock brought over 300 years ago. On a larger scale, the GHH Alliance has partnered with Bernalillo County and the Mid-Region Council of Governments for the past seven years to host thousands of people at its largest event every October, the Local Food Festival and Field Day, which serves to “discover the many faces of local food.” The five hour event includes gardening, farming and seed saving workshops, music and poetry by local artists, cooking and tasting demos by local chefs and a bevy of kid-focused events, such as sack races, face painting and seed spitting contests.
Although the Local Food Festival is well attended, reflecting the ever increasing interest in local agriculture, locally produced foods and gardening related activities, their focus now is on getting the word out about its myriad of other educational opportunities. Flora and Lorenzo both comment that people drive by the house all day long and those who happen to stop by comment that they never realized they could actually go into the museum, or attend a workshop, or tour the grounds—and everything is free. Not only is there no charge, Asha points out, there are often incentives. For example, the house hosts many activities, including a recent workshop entitled From Plow to Pantry which supports gardeners in creating a plan of action for planting, harvesting and preserving their backyard abundance. Currently, in partnership with the County there is the Backyard Farming series, which varies from year to year but generally reads like a homesteader’s dream: beekeeping, composting, drip and irrigation systems, successful soil practices, using recycled and natural building materials for garden design—if it pertains to gardening and sustainability, they teach it. And if visitors attends all five classes of this year’s Landscape for Life series, they enter a drawing for a free rain barrel!
Because the Alliance is a nonprofit, it is constantly seeking funding through donations and grants, though its main source of revenue is third party rentals, which are subcontracted through Occasion Services and Events, a company that oversees weddings and larger events either in the property’s stunning plaza area or in the middle field in a copse of cottonwood trees. Every once in a great while, there is a fundraising event like the one upcoming on May 8: a high end opening reception for the museum’s new exhibit, “Devotion and the Gutierrez Family,” organized by renowned santero (carver and painter of images of saints) Charles Carillo and Spanish colonial art historian Felipe Mirabal. The exhibit and reception will take place in the Community Cultural Gallery (After the opening, the exhibit is open to the public.) Every exhibit after this initial one will be chosen by a committee through a proposal process and will be free of charge. Flora explains, “On one side of the museum is a static display that tells the story of this family, their coming together, the two cultures and families that personify a lot of what happened here during that period in New Mexico and the Southwest. Ongoing, however, we wanted to have a space to share, on a rotating basis, intriguing glimpses into the lives of our community.” Ideas may range from a button collection to a display on the historical background on the Hubbell telescope. (Yes, Lorenzo is related to Edwin Hubbell, inventor of the eponymous telescope.)
The house has appeared twice on the HGTVshow “Save America’s Treasures,” and in 2010 Laura Bush presented the house with an award for best historical preservation in the Southwest from National Trust for Historic Preservation, which puts it in the running for a national nomination. (The staff will find out this summer if it’s earned the prestigious recognition.) Flora, Lorenzo, Asha and the multitude of volunteers and partners are hardly resting on their laurels, however, but sorting out innovative ways to educate, inspire, reach out and support their local, state and national communities.
The Gutierrez-Hubbell house is a bit of a paradox––it is simultaneously historical and forward thinking in its mission, it is publicly owned and utilized, much of the land is for communal enjoyment, but some is for commercial use. Some of the rooms include extraordinary historical details such as toys and books the children of Juliana and James might have played with or read, or the mercantile, which contains original Hubbell coins, used as the currency of the area until 1910. And some rooms, like the parlor are completely utilitarian, mirroring the original purpose of the room. “Adaptive reuse” as Flora describes it. Today the parlor functions much as it did one hundred and fifty years ago––a place to welcome and take care of community matters. I was greeted and conducted much of the interview there, locals would have used it for weddings, to conduct business, politics, or even receive a tincture for small pox. Almost nothing and almost everything has changed. And although four generations have come and gone the Gutierrez-Hubbell House is proof that life is cyclical––what’s old becomes new again, and the past is very much alive in our present.
For more information on the Gutierrez-Hubbell House go to hubbellhouse.org.
Story by Emily Beenen
Photos by Joy Godfrey