Mesilla's founding dates from 1848, when residents of a nearby community that had become part of the United States as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo elected to relocate in order to retain Mexican citizenship. They were awarded a Mexican land grant in 1850, but in 1854 the Gadsden Purchase transferred nearly 30,000 square miles west of the Rio Grande back to the United States.
Productive farmland and a strategic location spurred growth. By the time the Butterfield Trail Overland mail route established a stagecoach stop in 1858, Mesilla was the largest town in the southern New Mexico Territory, which included present-day Arizona; El Paso, Texas, and neighboring Las Cruces were mere hamlets in contrast. Another historical footnote: Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced in Mesilla, the territorial capital.
Mesilla Plaza, designated a state monument in 1957, is the scene of cultural events throughout the year, notably Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day celebrations (May 7-8 and Sept. 17-18, respectively) and Day of the Dead (Día de Los Muertos) festivities in late October and early November. On Christmas Eve the plaza gets a magical touch courtesy of thousands of luminaria lights lining streets and sidewalks. Refurbished 19th-century buildings surrounding the plaza house shops, art galleries and restaurants.
The Gadsden Museum , 1875 Boutz Rd., has exhibits relating to Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain and five generations of Fountain family as well as local history. It is open by appointment only; phone (575) 526-6293.
Mesilla (J. Paul Taylor) Visitor Center 2231 Avenida de Mesilla (SR 28) MESILLA, NM 88046. Phone:(575)524-3262