Once the headquarters of the Santa Fe Railway, Las Vegas, New Mexico is undergoing a rebirth of sorts. And that catharsis is largely due to the efforts of Allan Affeldt, who also meticulously restored Winslow’s once deteriorated Harvey House — the grand old La Posada Hotel. After the Santa Fe Railway offices relocated from Las Vegas to Albuquerque in 2007, merchants began to move away, and Las Vegas —home to another historic Harvey House — began to go downhill. Shuttered buildings lined the streets, while grand old gems fell into disrepair.
Then in 2014 Affeldt purchased the Plaza Hotel and the Castaneda Hotel, and his talented team set to work to restore the properties. Soon other businesses jumped on the restoration bandwagon; and although Las Vegas is still a town in transition, it’s a great road trip stop for anyone interested in railway history, the Santa Fe Trail, or the old west. And thanks to the inclusive thinking of Affeldt’s design team, wheelchair-users and slow walker can also explore this historic railroad town.
Railroad History 101
The best place to begin a Las Vegas visit is at the historic train depot. Constructed in 1899 the current red brick building replaced the former 1881 wood structure. In 2000 the depot underwent a complete rehabilitation as part of a $1.2 million project; and it was subsequently featured the movie, All the Pretty Horses.
In addition to the Amtrak waiting room, the depot also houses a visitor information center. There’s accessible parking in front, with barrier-free access to the depot. Take some time to look around the trackside of the building after checking out the restored interior. Then pick up some tourist information and head out to explore the city.
Before you hop back in your car, follow the brick walkway on the trackside of the depot over to the Castaneda Hotel (www.castanedahotel.org) next door. From there an accessible pathway winds around to the side, where there’s ramp access up to this 1898 Harvey House. After a massive renovation project which began in 2014, this grand old dame reopened as a hotel and restaurant in 2019. Even if you don’t spend the night (yes, they have a wheelchair-accessible room) take some time to explore the stately lobby, or stop in to have a drink at the bar. Train buffs will also want to consult the Amtrak schedule, as the Southwest Chief still stops in Las Vegas twice each afternoon.
And coming soon — across the street from the Castaneda Hotel — is the restoration of the Rawlins House. This historic building, which once served as a Harvey Girls dormitory, is being renovated to its former glory by Assistant District Attorney Thomas Clayton. Many other buildings along Railroad Avenue are in a state of transition, so check back often to see their progress.
A Blast From the Past
For a good primer on the background and lifestyle of some of Las Vegas’ more colorful settlers, stop in at the City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider Memorial Collection, which is just a short drive from Railroad Avenue. Accessible parking is located on the side of the building, with barrier-free access to the front door of this 1940 Works Progress Administration Project building.
Inside there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair or scooter around the downstairs galleries, which contain exhibits about the city’s past and present residents. From old WWII gear, a model of a typical Northern New Mexican adobe home, and an interesting exhibit on the Chinese immigrants, to information on the Santa Fe Trail and even an old 1855 bell that once hung in the chapel of La Conception, there’s something for just about everyone in this hometown museum. Top it off with some vintage hats, quilts and fashions, and you have a comprehensive look at Las Vegas of yesteryear.
One of the most interesting galleries in the museum features gear, photographs and documents of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1st US Voluntary Calvary Regiment, also known as the Rough Riders. The collection includes items from the Cuban Campaign of the 1898 Spanish-American War, as well as the first reunion of the unit, which was held in 1899 in Las Vegas. Interestingly enough, Roosevelt was one of the first guests at the newly constructed Castaneda Hotel at that first reunion. And don’t miss the touching hand-written letter from Eleanor Roosevelt to the last surviving member of the unit.
Explore the Plaza
Last but certainly not least, no Las Vegas visit is complete without a stop at historic Plaza Park. Located just a few miles from Railroad Avenue, the stately Plaza Hotel (www.plazahotellvnm.com) is the cornerstone building in this historic district. Built in 1882 by land baron Benigno Romero and associates, the Plaza Hotel was one of the fanciest hotels in the Southwest at that time. Overlooking Plaza Park, the three-story brick structure sports 14-foot ceilings, while the fanciful plaza-side windows face the street. Although the property was operational when Affeldt purchased it, he preformed needed repairs, added upgrades and expanded the hotel to the adjacent Ilfeld Building.
Take some time to explore the main-floor lobby and public areas of this historic structure, which now has ramp access up to the front door. There’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair or scooter around the lobby area, and an accessible family restroom is located near the gift shop. Don’t miss the massive walnut staircase that dominates the lobby, which was where Javier Bardem cornered Woody Harrelson in the 2007 flick No Country for Old Men.
There’s also barrier-free access to The Range Cafe, which is located inside of the hotel. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant features home-made Mexican comfort food. Alternatively if you’d like to enjoy an adult beverage, stop by the equally accessible lobby-level Byron T’s Saloon.
Save some time for a stroll through Plaza Park, which is just across the street from the hotel. Accessible sidewalks crisscross the park, and there are a number of benches to sit and enjoy the ambiance. There are also a few sculptures and a gazebo located in the park. Not only is it a grand people-watching venue, but it’s also a very relaxing way to top off a historic Las Vegas visit.