Welcome to El Rancho de las Golondrinas, where a journey through time takes you back to New Mexico’s Spanish Colonial and Territorial eras, revealing what life was like during the 18th and 19th centuries for Hispano homesteaders. You’ll meet farmers and millers, bakers and blacksmiths, along with spinners, sheep shearers, weavers, carpinteros and candle makers, all happy to demonstrate their work and wares as you stroll past and through historic buildings.
Learn how to string chiles for ristras, craft candles from bees wax, and card, spin and dye wool for weaving. Watch a blacksmith demonstrate the art of making nails, and a miller grind grain. Explore a farm filled with corn, beans and squash—or the “The Three Sisters,” as the Puebloans call them, because they help each other grow. You can also learn to grind corn and how to make tortillas and calabicitas, a dish that would have been on many kitchen tables back in the days.
Occupying 200 acres in a fertile farming valley, El Rancho de Las Golondrinas, or “Ranch of the Swallows,” preserves the heritage of Hispano homesteaders as a living historical farm, providing a bridge that links the past with the present. The site itself dates to the early 1700s, when it served as a pajarete, or “resting place,” for weary travelers on El Camino Real, The Royal Road, connecting Mexico to Santa Fe. With its tall grasses and water, this oasis was the final stop before Santa Fe, and a welcome site for all, including New Mexico Governor Juan Bautista de Anza, who camped here with a military expedition of 150 men searching for a route into in Mexico in 1778. Today, descendants of the original Spanish settlers still live in the area.
Las Golondrinas was a working dairy farm in the early 1970s when Leonora Curtin Paloheimo of Santa Fe and her Finnish husband, Yrjö (George) Alfred Paloheimo, decided to turn the property into a living history museum. “When Ya, as Yrjö was called, came out to Santa Fe and saw Golondrinas, he fell in love with it,” says Daniel Goodman, director of the museum’s education and collections. “He’d grown up on a family farm as well as in a house in Helsinki and another in the countryside. He’d grown up with a strong agrarian sensibility and understanding. When he saw that there were a number of buildings here that were old or falling apart, he asked, “Why aren’t we preserving this culture?”
Ya Paloheimo was quite familiar with what was then called the open-air museum, a concept that had started in Finland and Sweden in the 19th century. “So he was very sensitive to that cultural landscape, before that phrase was coined,” Daniel says. The concept spread to America, where the first living history museum opened in 1928 at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Michigan. Colonial Williamsburg opened in Virginia in 1934, followed by Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts and Fortress Louisbourg in Canada.
Las Golondrinas opened in 1972, but the site had been the property of Leonora Curtin Paloheimo’s family since the early 1930s. Leonora, her mother, Leonora Muse Curtin, and her grandmother, Eva Scott Fényes, were movers and shakers during their time, traveling the world, becoming art patrons and socializing with the artists and writers of their era. When they relocated to Santa Fe from Pasadena, and fell in love with New Mexico’s history, culture and people. The elder Curtin went on to write Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, a classic book that is still in print today.
Armed with a passion, the Paloheimos put their efforts into preserving the culture they had grown to love, restoring historic buildings on the property and building new structures atop old foundations. They also relocated other significant buildings from around the state. Today, the museum includes an 18th-century placita house, defensive tower, schoolhouse, blacksmith and wheelwright shops, mills and a winery and vineyard.
Los Golondrinas offers a creative calendar of annual events that enhance your experience of Spanish life in early New Mexico, including a Spring Festival Harvest & Fiber Arts Fair, where costumed villagers shear sheep, bake bread and lead an array of hands-on activities and games, and guests enjoy a fiber-arts marketplace. The Harvest Festival offers a chance to string chile ristras, crush wine grapes, make tortillas and bake fresh bread. In between the two seasonal festivals, the museum hosts the Herb & Lavender Fair in June; the Santa Fe Wine Festival and ¡Viva Mexico! Celebration in July; the Summer Festival & Wild West Adventures in August; and the Santa Fe Renaissance Fair in September.
Los Golondrinas and other museums like it offer a unique experience enhanced by interpreters dressed in authentic period clothing, often speaking in their native languages. “With museums, you go to see the real thing. With the living history museum, you go to experience the real thing,” Daniel says. “What you’ll experience at Golondrinas is a period in New Mexico history that doesn’t receive a lot of attention. Our big focus here is New Mexico history, but we’re always looking at it through the lens of the Hispano experience,” he explains. “We’re looking at the experience of the Spanish settler. We’re not focused on the Anglo person who came out here, and we’re not a Native museum. But we do tell those stories, all those intersections of culture. The Spanish experience is very under-represented in the U.S. Everybody knows about the pilgrims and Plymouth Rock, and maybe they’ve heard of the French-English war, but this is a fascinating piece of colonial history that’s not as well known as it should be.”
Ultimately, the goal of Los Golondrinas, along with any other history museum, is to remind us to stay connected to our past, through the voices and visions of its people and their stories, paintings, songs and memories. “From a contemporary perspective, history gives us a better understanding of society,” Daniel says. “Of what it used to be and how it became what it is today. It gives us a better understanding of change over time, and a sense of identity—of who we are and where we came from.”
For more information about El Rancho de las Golondrinas, visit golondrinas.org or call 505.471.2261, 334 Los Pinos Road, Santa Fe.
Story by Lynn Cline