Protecting a Way of Life: New Mexico’s Eight Historic Site
J. Paul Taylor’s death at age 102 in February 2023 marked the end of an era in New Mexico, one reflected in Taylor’s life’s work on behalf of the state as a beloved educator, cultural advocate and state legislator.
It also marked a new era for New Mexico Historic Sites—as Taylor’s home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is transitioned from the Taylor-Mesilla Historic Property to the state’s eighth historic site. The state will take full possession of the property in November.
“J. Paul Taylor will always be revered for his devotion to our great state,” says Patrick Moore, executive director of New Mexico Historic Sites. “This extends to the generous planned gift of his family home that broadens the story that historic sites collectively tell about New Mexico’s rich history. We are grateful.”
Located on Old Mesilla’s historic plaza in southern New Mexico, the property embodies the history and heritage of the Southwest Borderlands. Each of the home’s 15 rooms evokes Mesilla’s past as a racial, cultural and political melting pot dating to the 1853 Gadsden Purchase.
In 2003, Taylor and his wife Mary Daniels Taylor bequeathed their family home since 1953 to the Museum of New Mexico as a way to ensure its protection beyond their lifetimes. Their planned gift included most of their extraordinary collection of Spanish Colonial, Mexican and New Mexican artwork along with furniture, rugs, pottery and textiles from all over the world.
Reflecting on his collection in a 2013 New Mexico Magazine interview, Taylor said, “I hope people 50 years from now can come here and get an idea of the passage of time, how people lived, and understand that the things in the house reflect what they found important.”
Preparations have long been underway for the property’s opening to the public full time. Staff from the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Division and architect Jonathan Craig developed a Historic Structures Report guiding its preservation and maintenance. The report mandated a museum-grade HVAC system, which former collections specialist Ivana Montenegro described as integral to “safeguarding the magic of this home,” as well as discreetly hidden pipes and ductwork. A special state legislative appropriation funded the HVAC project.
Tin panels on the site's Reynolds storefront, the oldest tin-faced storefront in existence in the state, are slated for replacement. Serious sleuthing by historic sites staff turned up the original manufacturer of the store’s façade for the replacement panels. Specially-coated UV shields will be installed on the window glass to protect textiles and paintings inside.
A years-long, room-by-room inventory of the home’s contents, including detailed condition reports, is nearing completion, says site manager Rhonda Dass, noting that the last object Taylor acquired shortly before he died was a Native pot. The gift was “a fitting bookend to the collection,” Dass says, “as the first object he collected as a 5-year-old boy was a Native pot.”
A visitors center planned for the Reynolds store, which will be the starting point for tours of the home and Plaza area, is envisioned to serve the entire town of Mesilla, highlighting important and historical sights. There will also be space for temporary exhibitions about the site’s contents and architecture.
While the Taylor-Mesilla property is currently closed to the public, site staff are busy developing educational outreach programs that will both enhance the visitors’ experience of the area and maintain ties to the community. All future exhibitions and programming will require private support.
“We hope that J. Paul and Mary’s gift to the state inspires others to support Taylor-Mesilla through the Museum of New Mexico Foundation for visitor orientation, interpretation, and public and educational programs,” Moore says.
This article and image are from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Member News Summer 2023.