Fort Marcy exhibit shares rich history

An interpretive exhibit showcasing the site of what once was Fort Marcy is a fine addition to Santa Fe's attractions, thanks to cooperation among the city of Santa Fe, the National Park Service and the Santa Fe Trail Association.

The exhibit — a set of signs — will tell the intrepid locals and tourists who walk up the steep steps of the Cross of the Martyrs about the area's fascinating past.

Once, on the other side of the railing, an American military fort dominated what had been a Spanish-Mexican town.

It began with the conquering 1,600-man strong Army of the West, riding into Santa Fe on Aug. 18, 1846. Commanding Gen. Stephen W. Kearny wanted the best location to build a fort. A few days later, officers recommended a hill to the northeast of the Santa Fe Plaza.

It was, an officer wrote, "the only point which commands the entire town and which itself is commanded by no other."

Soldiers, and later masons from Santa Fe, built what became an irregular, star-shaped structure. Walls were 9 feet high and 5 feet thick, made of adobes. A dry (of course it would be dry!) moat, 8 feet deep and 12 feet wide, surrounded the walls. The soldiers lived in town, with the fort on the hill serving a defensive purpose.

After rebellions against the Americans in Mora, Embudo, Taos Pueblo and Santa Cruz de la Caqada were put down, the fort lost its relevance. Eventually it fell into private hands and then was deeded to the Historical Society of New Mexico, later becoming a city of Santa Fe park.

Today, two strains of history mingle on the hill above the town. The 20-foot Cross of the Martyrs, a tribute to Franciscan priests killed in the Pueblo Revolt, dominates.

The adobe walls of Fort Marcy have returned to the earth, and unless you knew the history of the site, there is no clue that soldiers and guns once dominated.

The new exhibit is bringing to light this almost-forgotten history.

On a recent walk up the steps, it was easy to see the new sign pointing out the exhibit. A second arrow (both from the steps and from the parking lot) might be helpful so people new to the place realize they are headed the right way.

The exhibit just below the cross is informative, but keep walking. There's another series of explanatory signs past the walkway to the parking lot on the back end.

As is too often the case, the area around the Cross of the Martyrs suffers from neglect and disrespect. Recent graffiti tags had been removed, but graffiti was still present on trash cans, along the wall and on some steps. We hope the city, as proud as it is of the new exhibit, steps up maintenance.

The hill above the steps is eroding, and parts of the walkway are covered with dirt and pebbles. At dusk, it would be easy for people to slip on the rocks.

Part of attracting and pleasing tourists is doing just what this new exhibit will do — putting the past in context and sharing the rich history of Santa Fe.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican

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