For many driving the loop of the Tomé Plaza at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, the tiny adobe building on the south side has long been known to be the old jail and site of the former courthouse.

The small house immediately to the west of the old jail, overgrown with brush and a coat of green paint that could best be described as unattractive, received less attention and notice.

All that changed this past weekend, when the town of Tomé Land Grant board of directors, local and state elected officials and community members gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the opening of the newly-renovated and restored casita.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photos

A small, historic casita on the south side Tomé Plaza has been fully restored by volunteers in the community, preserving the building for future generations. Sen. Joshua Sanchez, town of Tomé Land Grant board of directors president Andrea Padilla, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Rep. Miguel Garcia and Sen. Greg Baca were part of the celebration of the project on Saturday.

With a fresh coat of traditional tan stucco, crisp white paint on the front and back porches and an interior hearkening back to days-gone-by, the small home will serve as a community museum and touchstone to the past, as well as a source of economic development for the area.

The jail and home sit side-by-side on about three quarters of an acre.

“To the back of the jail was the courthouse, which is long gone. The judge and his family lived on the top level of the two stories and business was done on the bottom,” said Andrea Padilla, town of Tomé Land Grant board of directors president.

The property was eventually purchased by Elesio and Carlota Salazar, who built the little house in late 1800s early 1900s.

“We feel it’s anywhere from 100 to 130 years old. (Elesio) used the old jail as a tack room. I was born in ’65 and as long as I’ve been alive, it’s been abandoned. Most of us had never seen the inside of the jail or the house,” Padilla said.

A few years ago, the land grant raised enough money to help the Salazar family repair the roof of the jail in order to preserve the structures. With that relationship established, Padilla and others got word the family was thinking of selling the property, they were able to convince them to sell it to the land grant.

“We purchased it with funds the land grant heirs and community members raised,” Padilla said. “We were able to put $115,000 to the purchase and the rest came from (state) capital outlay funds. The Legislature and governor supported this.”

Fr. Michael Demkovich blessed the historic casita and grounds of the old Tomé courthouse on the south side of the plaza at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church during a celebration on Saturday.

The building immediately needed a new roof, but water damage had already destroyed the south wall of the casita, which had to be replaced. Repairs inside included repairing the stucco, cleaning the vigas and floors — both of which are original to the home — rewiring the entire building and plumbing it.

“We were able to stain and preserve the original wood floors. The windows and all the interior doors are original,” Padilla said.

Local families donated photos, furniture and numerous other items to furnish the home and bring it to life.

Padilla’s sister and a fierce, long-time advocate for the preservation of the land grant’s history and culture, Rita Padilla-Gutierrez said the property truly belongs to the people of the community.

“There are some symbolic things we worked to have included in this,” Padilla-Gutierrez said. “One was the (cattle) brands to remind people of our background in livestock. To pay homage to, in some cases, these brands being held by dependents and heirs of the land grant and even as we speak, still being used.”

Another symbol of the past — and present — is the windmill erected on the property, a reminder of the windmills that were used to sprinkle life-giving water on the old llano of the land grant merced.

Local families donated photos, furniture and numerous other items to furnish the historic casita at the Tomé Plaza.

“To remind people about the historical connection to the land, livestock and culture,” she said. “Windmills were the source of life on the llano.”

The home will serve as a museum, open to people to visit, Padilla said, and could be a nightly rental.

“In the future, we’re considering maybe renting it out once a month to give us a little money for utilities,” she said. “We want to use it for meetings and gatherings.”

With the approval of House Bill 8, the Tomé Land Grant — and all other New Mexico land grants — will receive a consistent revenue stream from the state, which Padilla and the board hope to use to hire docents for the casita, providing jobs to local youth and stimulating the economy.

“Some of us were a little leery going into to this. Were we going to be able to save this? But we said, ‘Yeah, we can do this. We’ve got to do this.’ And we did,” Padilla said. “We feel so gratified to be able to save the home and preserve it. It is honoring the previous owners. (Elesio) was a state representative at one time. They were good people of the community, and this is to honor them and their services to Tomé.”

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said land grant leaders, such as those from Tomé provide a vital education to make sure the policy makers understand the legal and cultural aspirations of the land grants.

“Tomé demonstrates the leadership it takes to have this kind of historical and cultural preservation,” the governor said.

Calling the project the kind of work that binds a community and cultures, Sen. Greg Baca said it was his “absolute pleasure to bring back your money and put it in your community,” referring to the capital outlay funds he helped secure.

During the ceremony, Rep. Miguel Garcia, the former chairman of the House of Representatives’ now-dissolved Local Government, Land Grants & Cultural Affairs Committee, said credit for the preservation effort goes to the land grant heirs.

“The gente here have a lot of knowledge about traditions and customs, roots that go back hundreds of years, thousands of years through our Native American ancestors,” Garcia said. “This will be here for generations to come and for the viejos who still live here.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.