THE MOMENTOUS PAST and flourishing present of Mesilla spring to life on a walk through its historic plaza. Many of the vibrant shops and restaurants there are owned by descendants of the settlers who, in 1848, founded the town four miles southwest of Las Cruces, on what was then Mexico’s northern frontier.
“I give tours all the time and people often say, ‘This reminds me of a small town in northern Mexico,’ ” says Alexandra McKinney, instructional coordinator and historian with New Mexico Historic Sites at Fort Selden and the Taylor-Mesilla Historic Property. It’s easy to imagine a 19th-century Mesilla Plaza bustling with traders, passengers arriving on the Butterfield Stagecoach, and parishioners heading to worship at the Basilica of San Albino. “Members of the Gallegos family have been ringing the bells on Sunday morning since the 1880s,” McKinney says.
Brimming with unique jewelry, folk art, pottery, and more, Mesilla’s shops occupy buildings with stories to tell. Billy the Kid Gift Shop, for example, housed the county courthouse and jail where The Kid was convicted of murder in 1881.
Restaurants include La Posta de Mesilla, serving traditional New Mexican fare since 1939; the opulent Double Eagle steakhouse; and, for a modern taste of Mesilla, Hacienda de Mesilla. The town’s nightlife is heating up, too, thanks to Spotted Dog Brewery and Dry Point Distillers.
A walk along the Acequia Madre, or Mother Ditch, which was constructed in the 1700s, offers a chance to ponder Mesilla’s layers of history. “There’s a spectacular stretch on the north end of town where the trees are so big, they almost form a canopy,” McKinney says.