Mora Spotlight


In 2017, with support from the McCune Foundation, Cornerstones Community Partnerships engaged youth in Mora County to learn about preserving their heritage through “hands on” adobe work repairing mission churches. The plan for the season included an agenda for youth to initiate a web site presence showcasing their skills and provide the community with cyber space access to young adobe workers. It soon became clear that this portion of our agenda would involve more time and planning than funding would allow during that summer. This spotlight page is now the first step and hopefully the catalyst for creation of their own website. Advanced fibre optic cables have been installed throughout Mora and will eventually offer substantial opportunities for their own website with contact information for cottage industries such as adobe repair work.  In our continuing work with Mora youth we will be planning and accomplishing incremental steps toward a goal of realizing a sustainable independent adobe preservation cooperative in Mora County.


Robbie Kelly, who grew up in Mora Valley, has interned with Cornerstones for seven summers. His first experience was at San Raphael Church in La Cueva, NM as a paid intern. He found he liked working with adobe and began to understand and appreciate that while he was contributing to maintenance of the church, he was also helping to sustain the historic nature and culture of the community. ‘It’s important to do things the community is doing. It’s mostly a Spanish community and there’s not too many things I can do. I don’t ride horses. I don’t go hunting. It brings up the community and I had a part in it,” Robbie said. As he became familiar with the many phases of adobe work, his passion for it and preservation skills grew.  He has learned to mud and lime plaster, rebuild foundations, make quality adobe bricks, stitch walls, do woodworking, repair and replace roofing, and repair flooring, and has shown a strong potential for leadership. In 2017 he oversaw the first part of a wall reconstruction which included teaching adults and youth how to stitch a wall to key the new wall into the existing wall. He is most comfortable working with adobe construction, but also has had experience with frame construction. “I wish I could do adobe work all the time,” he says. Call or text him at 505.652.0741.

We had an additional three youth interns from Mora. They learned how to mud plaster, to safely put up and take down scaffolding, and to do basal repairs. One very special aspect of the 2017 season was training that the youth received in conducting conditions assessments of the churches. This is a very important yearly procedure and a part of the dream to develop a group in Mora trained to accomplish assessments on their own. They have already expressed interest in joining us again this summer. With these youth and new recruits for the 2018 season, we will be building a small piece of the dream.

San Rafael Church, La Cueva, New Mexico


Located near the Salmon Raspberry Ranch in Mora valley, San Rafael, a beautiful gothic style adobe church, was built from 1862 – 1870 by Vicente Romero on his property. The church was designed by the local French priest, Jean Guerin, who introduced Gothic-type windows, doors and high ceilings. The roof was built by a Belgian contractor using rafters. Both the gothic style and the use of rafters were unheard of in the area. The Romero family probably named the church after their oldest son, Rafael.  The church continued to serve the hacienda and surrounding community until it was abandoned in 1952 following the last mass by Father Walter Cassidy who closed and locked the door for the last time.


By 1990 the church was in a state of serious deterioration, a natural progression following lack of maintenance, vandalism and weathering.  The walls were in relatively good condition except for the north wall which was near collapse. David Salman of the Salman Ranch family generously furnished the labor and materials necessary to support the collapsing back wall and the interior of the building, and created the huge drainage ditch that diverted water from the building.  Jose Gurule, returning to his native community after a 20-year absence was appalled by the condition of the church and cemetery where his ancestors and those of many other area members were buried.  He accepted the responsibility of Mayordomo and sought the help of Father Cassidy, a native of the area who spent almost his entire career as the local priest.  Together they began to seek the help of Mora Valley members, obtaining their written promises of help with restoration of the church.  The Archdiocese approved the project and in February 1990 Jose approached the New Mexico Community Foundation (NMCF) asking for their assistance.


During the months of contacting and approaching community members and their extended families for help, it was determined that many of the church relics and statues thought to have been stolen by vandals, were found in the keeping of Mora community members who were acting as stewards of the items and promised to return them to church upon its completion.  The original bell, which disappeared in 1962, was found in a basement in Tesuque and was returned to the church.

With the assistance and guidance of the NMCF and funding received from various sources, including the National Park Service through the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office and the World Monuments Fund, volunteers began work in earnest in the fall of 1990 and continued every summer until it was complete.  San Rafael was rededicated on June 30, 1996.


During the course of San Rafael’s restoration the roof was replaced, all old mud plaster, both inside and outside was removed, and wall and basal repairs were made.  All interior walls were re-plastered and finished with a final wash applied with sheep’s wool, windows were removed, repaired, repainted, re-glazed and reinstalled, ceiling boards were removed, with the exception of those bearing the remains of the medallion paintings, and the rafters were repaired. One of the three large ceiling medallions was entirely missing and the two remaining were very faded and missing paint in some areas. They were researched extensively by Mac Watson, project manager during the latter portion of the restoration, but he was unable to find any photos or drawings. Using the design elements of the remaining two as a guide, Robert Bowley replicated the missing medallion and repainted the missing elements of the other two.  Robert’s comment was, “I felt a bit like Michelangelo”.  Robert also sanded, refinished and repainted the altar and gold leafed the Christogram on the front.

San Rafael has been watched over by Gurule family members since its restoration and Cornerstones, employing Mora youth, has helped with its maintenance.  It is currently again in need of repair and it is planned to address these issues during the summer of 2017.

Amador Hotel, Las Cruces, New Mexico


The 2-story adobe Amador Hotel is a special landmark for the city of Las Cruces. The exact 19th-century construction date is not known. Well-known pioneer, freighter, farmer, and businessman Martin Amador added the second story in 1885. Four generations of the Amador family provided a unique and beautiful venue for local, national, and international visitors. Cornerstones Community Partnerships prepared the initial Conditions Assessment in 2009. An Historic Structures Report and Preservation Plan under preparation by TimeSprings, Inc. and Jonathan S. Craig Architect, LLC nears completion. As a rare surviving example of one of the earliest known luxury hotels in the state, work is currently underway to nominate the Amador Hotel to the National Register of Historic Places. Several legislative capital outlays have resulted in the restoration of the lobby columns and the remediation of hazardous materials. The selective removal of contemporary materials that concealed vintage trims, wallpapers, and architectural features is nearly finished. Additional municipal and private funding is needed to return the Hotel to its Territorial-style heyday (1910 – 1945). Plans call for the Amador Hotel to be authentically rehabilitated for use as a multi-faceted events center and downtown destination featuring a museum component, vintage furnishings, dining capabilities and overnight lodging for themed events. For more information, please visit the Amador Hotel Foundation Board at

Casita de Martina, Plaza del Cerro, Chimayo, New Mexico

The Plaza Del Cerro was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.  Its condition and integrity reflect a fortified colonial plaza that is thought to be the only remaining one of its kind in New Mexico.

By 1680 the Santa Cruz valley area, where Chimayo is located, was thinly populated and there were 3 inhabitants in the Chimayo area, or the “Chimayo district”.  There is no mention of a plaza in connection with Chimayo until 1785 when a baptismal record refers to the Plaza de Sanbuenaventura de Chimayo and again in 1806 when a document from a resident refers to the plaza as an enclosed space.

The plaza was surrounded by structures all facing the square with no openings toward the outside. A road crossed the square, the entrance and exit of which could easily be blocked in the event of attack. The square was planted with gardens to provide for the inhabitants which by 1878 included 44 names, eight Trujillos, seven Ortegas and five Martinezes.

Sometime around 1900 two Ortega siblings left the Plaza to build homes and develop a local weaving industry just outside. Following World War 1 the weaving industry expanded and still exists in the area today.

By the 1930’s the Plaza began to decline as older residents died and others left their homes to take more permanent, better paying jobs in nearby cities. After World War II, few Plaza houses were occupied although the interior garden space was cared for into the 1950’s. The Plaza is now basically abandoned.


At the invitation of the Chimayo Cultural Preservation Association, on Feb. 14, 2017 Mac Watson, representing the Historic Santa Fe Foundation and Jake Barrow, representing Cornerstones Community Partnerships traveled to the Plaza Del Cerro to meet with community members and do an assessment of the Casita de Martina in the Plaza for the purpose of developing a scope of work to guide repairs of the casita, which the Chimayo Cultural Preservation Association now owns.



During the summer of 2017, with funding from the Heritage Hotels, the Resiliency Alliance, other small grants and local donors, Cornerstones, in partnership with the Chimayo Cultural Preservation Association and in collaboration with the Historic Santa Fe Foundation, began restoration work on Casita de Martina.  Youth interns that included the grandson of a former Plaza inhabitant, were hired to learn adobe skills under the direction of an expert adobero.  Community volunteers also participated.


By the end of 2018 the Casita was stabilized, plastered with mud inside and out and fitted with a new roof and repaired canals. Planning is underway to complete the earthen floor in 2019.

Casita De Martina.jpg

Photograph by Don Usner

San Juan Nepomuceno, El Rito, New Mexico


El Rito, located northwest of Ojo Caliente in Rio Arriba county, was established about 1808 when Hispanic settlers from the Abiquiu area began to move in to raise cattle and cultivate the land. It was originally named El Rito Colorado after the creek that passes through the village. It soon became evident that a church was needed in the area since the nearest church in Abiquiu was 14 miles away. Construction of San Juan Nepomuceno began in approximately 1830 and probably took two years to complete. It was built in the typical cruciform style with thick adobe walls and flat roof supported by heavy vigas.

Due to the lack of understanding of the Hispanic culture of the area, the mostly French priests recruited by Bishop Lamy to replace the Mexican clergy had a strong impact on the churches in northern New Mexico and particularly on San Juan Nepomuceno. Sometime during the mid-1800’s the flat roof was replaced by a pitched roof, a French-style alter replaced the original Spanish alter, and planks covered the hard dirt floor.

In 1979 the Archdiocese of Santa Fe determined the church needed restoration/rehabilitation and in November the contractor began work.  There were numerous setbacks, high water levels and collapsing walls. In 1980 major cracks were appearing in the new walls and in September the nearly completed western nave wall collapsed. The original architect and contractor were replaced and in July of 1981 work began again.  By December of 1981, the walls had been rebuilt and by Christmas the interior of the church was sufficiently completed with flooring, plastering and heating and the church was again usable.


In April 2017, Cornerstones Community Partnerships was contacted by the El Rito church mayordomo who requested a visit by Cornerstones to assess the condition of the church, in particular, the adobe mud plastering on the exterior. A technical visit by Cornerstones determined that the interior was in very good condition and the issues on the exterior were the result of normal weathering. The community provided $1,000 to help with repairs, and with additional financial and technical assistance from Cornerstones and their summer youth interns, the church was repaired and re-mudded during the summer of 2017.


San Miguel Chapel

Santa Fe, New Mexico

San Miguel Chapel is believed to be the oldest continuously used church in the United States.

In 1610 when the Spanish founded Santa Fe, San Miguel was constructed, or soon thereafter. The first written reference to Hermita de San Miguel occurs in 1628. The church served the community of el Barrio de Analco.  The very first constructed church was partially destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. It was rebuilt in the same location with a completion date of 1712. It is unknown how much of the original structure remains within the rebuilt walls. While to roof was likely burned, the thick heavy walls would have been very difficult to destroy. Archeology conducted in the 1950’s found remnants of Native American structures as well as early architectural elements from the first church.

Over the past four hundred years, major events have altered the original structure before and after Pueblo revolt. These walls of San Miguel are approximately 2 and ½ ‘ thick and 25’ high.  Although the extent of the repairs made in early 1700 are not known, there are records indicating that 21,100 adobe bricks were supplied for the repairs.

The original dirt floor was replaced with wood in1861 and replaced again in 1927. The original nave roof had a foot or more of dirt over wood planking set on vigas. Over time the roof has been modified and most recently in the 1970s. All of the dirt has been removed from this roof. The apse has an elevated roof section with a clerestory window facing west which bathes the alter in sunset light.

Beginning in 2005 and continuing through 2008, Cornerstones was contacted by St. Michael’s High School, owner of San Miguel Chapel, regarding the general condition of the chapel, the need for a Conditions Assessment and Preservation Plan (CAPP), how to fund the ensuing preservation work required. The High School requested that Cornerstones enter into a partnership to preserve the Chapel. In the spring of 2007, Cornerstones received the first of several grant awards made for the specific purpose of completing the assessment and preservation plan. The final CAPP was produced by Cornerstones’ in 2008.


These grantors for the CAPP and the subsequent preservation effort included The Getty Foundation, The Catholic Foundation, The National Park Service, The National Endowment for the Arts, The History Channel and Save America’s Treasures, Heritage Hotels among many others.

In September 2009, Cornerstones and St. Michael’s College entered into a new Agreement for Implementation of The Preservation Plan for San Miguel Chapel and planning was underway throughout the balance of that year, with the goal of beginning restoration in 2010. This included consultations with the owner, the City of Santa Fe, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and obtaining the necessary permits and waivers, including for archaeological investigations in the front courtyard where new drainage needed to be installed.

Restoration began in June of 2010 and continued through 2014 during all the warmer months of the year, generally from mid-May until mid-October.  All cement plaster on the exterior was removed, wall and basal repairs were made, and the entire surface was covered with 3 to 6 layers of mud plaster. During the summer of 2010, the west (front) side was completed; in 2011 the north and east sides; and in 2012 the south side.  In 2013 most of the work was confined to the inside of the gift shop, and in 2014, using funds contributed by the St. Francis Hotel, of the Heritage Hotels chain, the bell tower was completely restored and made secure.  The tower bell rang in October 2014 for the first time since 1872, more than 140 years.


The entire restoration process involved 7,095 hours of labor contributed by 1,415 volunteers, without whose help the urgently needed restoration of this historically significant chapel could not have happened. Volunteers came from the local community and other areas of New Mexico, from states across the country, and from other countries.  Tourists walking through the area often stopped to inquire about what was happening, and then stayed or returned to help; church, school, and college groups arranged to volunteer for a day or days or a week at time.  St. Michael’s students volunteered to contribute to their school’s share of the costs.


Adobe requires on-going maintenance and, in a sense, it is never “done”.  For cosmetic reasons, in 2015 slight repairs were made to the west (front) side of the chapel and the entire front was re-mudded. Recently re-roofing the sacristy and gift shop area was completed. With funding from a Richard Moe Family Foundation Grant, Remy’s Good Day Fund and the San Miguel Preservation Program supported by St Michael’s High School planning is now underway to introduce solar energy on site to reduce utility costs, save funds for preservation and serve as an example of adapting historic structures to modern times in a sensitive manner. In addition, plans are being made to re-mud the entire chapel in 2021 celebrating 10 years since the north and east walls for mud plastered. This public and volunteer event will be demonstrating the efficiency and durability of traditionally applied mud plaster. Heritage Hotels is expected to continue to be a part of the partnership going forward.   

Cow Creek Perimeter


Death Valley National Park, California

ow Creek perimeter wall encloses maintenance facilities at Death Valley National Park. Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the wall between 1940-1942. Cornerstones partners with the park to host trainings for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and other volunteers. The training focuses on reconstruction, restoration, and repair of the wall.

Eagle Cliff Mine


Joshua Tree National Park, California

Eagle Cliff Mine was founded in 1895 and is one of the oldest mines in Joshua Tree National Park. Due to its remote location, burros were used to pack out the ore. Eagle Cliff was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. The cabin is a circular rock structure that was built into a cliff. Cornerstones partners with the National Park Service to create a stabilization plan, to stabilize the stone and mortar mine cabin, and to host training workshops for volunteers, students, and NPS personnel. The site is in a designated wilderness area so no mechanical tools can be used.

La Sala de San Jose

Galisteo, New Mexico

La Sala de San Jose is a historic adobe dancehall located in Galisteo, NM and constructed 1895-1898. It has 7 large double-hung windows divided into 4 large glass panes, 4 on the South side of the building and 3 on the North side. The windows were originally ordered by Sears & roebuck catalog, shipped by railroad from the East coast to Lamy, NM and then carried by horse and wagon the 10 miles to Galisteo.

The grant funds supplied by Bank of America were targeted for restoration of the two most damaged windows from the South side of the building. The work was performed by a paid master wood-worker, with a machine shop 20+ miles away in Santa Fe, NM and 3 community volunteers who were trained on- site by the master wood-worker. Due to scheduling needs, work was performed 1 day p/week in 4 hr work sessions, beginning in late July and ending in September.


The first step was to construct work stations. Two 4×8’ melamine-surfaced plywood panels were cut down, and then 2×4’s were routered to form an inside edge for the panels to fit into, with a higher lip around the panels; the panels were screwed into place, and then put onto sawhorses. This allowed for a stable and easy clean work surface, with a surround barrier to keep the windows in place.

Second, the two windows were removed from their window frames, and on the work tables hand scraped and sanded to the wood surface. These windows had decades of paint layers, as well as repairs and brackets that had been added, and all had to be removed. The windows were then disassembled, each piece being labeled, and glass panes removed. While this work was performed, large sheets of plexi-glass were temporarily installed in the window casements.

Third, pieces of window frame (mostly rails that rested on the sills, and some muntins) that were too damaged to restore were replaced by parts milled in the Santa Fe machine shop. Side jams that held the window frames in place also had to be repaired, and all sills had to be replaced. Because the sills were so thick, wide and long several pieces had to be milled and glued together, using clamps for setting. Lumber used was NM Ponderosa Pine, due to its weather & pest resistance, and which had to be supplied by a mill in Taos.

Fourth, after repairs were made the wood surfaces were treated with several coats of preservative (linseed oil & ), followed by 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of finish paint.

Finally, all parts were –re-installed.


La Capilla de San Antonio, Chacon, NM


Chacon, a Hispanic village in the Mora Valley, was settled 1894 during in the waning years of the Spanish Colonial period. The Mora Land Grant facilitated by Governor Albino Perez in 1835 opened the valley to settlement and 76 inhabitants became the nucleus for the farming communities that remain in the area today. The small adobe chapels that they and their descendants erected constitute a unique assemblage of folk architecture that continues to define the cultural landscape of this remote but beautiful portion of what was once the northern New Mexican frontier.

One of these small adobe churches is La Capilla de San Antonio which is located at the southern end of the village of Chacón. This church is an important symbol to the community and is a place where people gather for mass and prayer. The old farming families who reside in the area feel as though they are preserving the work of their ancestors, their heritage, their faith and values by being actively involved in restoration and maintenance of this adobe chapel.

The structure itself was built in 1865, which makes it one of the oldest chapels remaining in use in Mora valley. It is in Cruciform (cross-shaped) plan with a stone foundation, adobe walls, a mud plaster exterior and a pitched corrugated tin roof.  During the mid-20th century the walls were covered with cement plaster, as was common during that time, to eliminate frequent mud plastering.


In 1986, under the auspices of the New Mexico Community Foundation (NMCF), a community based preservation plan was created that outlined the repairs needed to restore the integrity of the structure. During 1989, with the technical assistance of NMCF employees under “Churches: Symbols of Community”, later Cornerstones, Mora community members began restoration of San Antonio.  This included removing all cement plaster, making adobe bricks, repairing cracks, making other interior and exterior basal and wall repairs, and mud plastering exterior and interior walls.  A final coat of gypsum was applied to the exterior walls.  In 1990, the roof support system was repaired and a new corrugated tin roof was installed.

In 1994, “Churches: Symbols of Community” became Cornerstones Community Partnerships, a New Mexico non-profit corporation. When asked for help, Cornerstones has continued to work with the Chacón community in maintaining their chapel.  In 1997, Mora youth in the Cornerstones summer youth training program, removed the gypsum finish coat and re-mudded the chapel.  In 2001 a new drainage system was installed and in 2005, with technical assistance from Cornerstones, Mora Mission youth again re-mudded the exterior walls of the chapel.

Work on this chapel has been on-going since 1988 when it was in great disrepair, and groups such as Cornerstones’ Mora Youth Trainees in 2001 and 2005 and community members have helped keep it maintained.  It is now in good condition, and the families living in Chacón can continue to observe the valued traditions of their ancestors.

Plans are underway to make adobe repairs and mud plaster the church during 2017.