The Homestead Era

NEW! See the online version of the Los Alamos Homestead Tour.
As with many places in the west, the coming of the railroad to Northern New Mexico opened up the land that would become Los Alamos for settlement. In 1887, the "Chili Line" of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad commenced, skirting the Pajarito Plateau and crossing the river at Otowi, the north end of White Rock Canyon.
After the surveyor-general completed a survey of the townships on the plateau, the land was ready for homesteading.
Hispanics who had already run cattle in the area staked out farms, often building one-room log cabins to "prove up" their claims. The homesteaders generally used the cabins as summer homes, grazing their cattle on the cool plateau and retreating to the Rio Grande valley when winter came.
One of the homesteaders, Harold H. Brook, sold his land and buildings to the Los Alamos Ranch School soon after it began. Others lived on the plateau in harmony with the boys' school for its 25-year existance.
The federal government used its powers of eminent domain to take over the homesteads for the Manhattan Project in 1942. Many owners received some payment but some received none because they failed to make the 85-mile trek to the Sandoval County Courthouse each year to pay their property taxes.
image The homesteaders received between $7 and $15 per acre while the Ranch School received $225 per acre. Concerned about the lack of fairness when this information was finally disclosed in 1961, homesteaders and their heirs petitioned the federal government for a just assessment. In 2004, Congress established a $10 million fund to pay the homesteaders' descendents a fairer share for their land.
image Today, the Romero cabin, relocated from Los Alamos National Laboratory to near Fuller Lodge in the 1980s, is one of two remaining homestead cabins on the Pajarito Plateau. The others that had survived burned during the Cerro Grande Fire in May 2000. The Los Alamos Historical Society has restored the cabin and hosted a grand opening celebration on May 1, 2010. The cabin is open for tours during the summer. Check the homepage of the website for days and hours.
The Los Alamos Historical Society has publications with more information on the Homestead era, such as Los Alamos, New Mexico: A Survey to 1949. Please visit our shop for more information. Homesteading.

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