09 July 2007

Photos and thoughts, Pie Town & Peñasco New México

Alburquerque "Heights" in 1943

*Edit: Photos are Missing I guess the server didn't like the amount of photos I put here.

I spent the day looking through the Library of Congress photos, 1840-2000, for old pictures of New México. I was surprised to find there are more photos for two places in New México, Pie Town and Peñasco, than Santa Fé or Alburquerque. There were some of the rail yards which were right in the middle of what is downtown Alburquerque today. All these photos were of men working hard in the yards. There were some delightful finds of photos Pueblos that were taken in the 1880s and 1890s. There were a few of Old Town in Alburquerque and the Adobe houses of Santa Fé. These photos made numbered in the few dozen, whereas there were over 500 for Pie Town and just under 400 for Peñasco.

Old Town Alburquerque

When I was a little kid, we often drove to see my grandmother who lived in Magdalena. That was a long drive from Santa Fé. We would have to drive though Alburquerque, south to Socorro, where we’d always stop at Socorro to see Tórres cousins, then head west on highway 60. I remember always seeing the sign Pie Town, and begging my parents to take me there. I’ve always loved pie. I didn’t want birthday cakes when I was a kid. I wanted birthday pies. Apple pie with crumb topping has always been my very favorite pie. So I envisioned a place full pies, all kinds of pies. My parents always said that there was nothing there, anyway it was way, and I mean Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of the way. My parents finally drove through Pie town on our way to Phoenix when I was 14 years old, and they were correct, there weren’t many people in Pie Town. Worse, I didn’t see one single pie anywhere.

Black Smith Shop In Peñasco

Pie Town was originally named Norman’s Place, but as is often the case in New México, names of small villages were changed once they opened a post office in the town. I believe the story goes that the postmaster would not accept a town that was named Norman’s place. From what I know about the history of Pie Town, it was a one gas station town in the middle of nowhere. Norman was the man who opened the gas station and Norman’s Place was the name of the gas station. Norman started selling apple pies at his gas station, a tradition that was continued after he sold his business. The Pies were such a hit that the gas station sign changed from Norman's Place to Pie Town. At any rate, the postmaster general accepted the name Pie Town.

Norman's Place

Now, Peñasco was a different matter. It was among my father’s repertory of Sunday drives. Sometimes these Sunday drives were daylong drives through the Northern New México. If there was an out-of-the way dirt road that lead somewhere, my father knew about it. We went places people today aren’t able to go to. My father knew every inch of this state from Magdalena in the South to Tierra Amarilla and Taos in the North. And Peñasco was one of the small Northern New Méxican towns we would pas through on our drives.


My husband, Jim, and I drove through Peñasco a couple of weeks ago. Since Jim lived in Peñasco in the years 1957-1964, we always take a side trip to drive through the area. It is a beautiful area, but in the 50s and 60s, it was a very poor area. My husband’s little league coach was a Peace Corps worker who was training in the one place in the U.S. that resembled places they would be sent to in other countries.

Peñasco has changed a little since the time when my husband lived there, but it is still a small town. There are the additions of some huge houses of “ricos,” most likely people who work outside of the state and have their “get away” place there. Many of these houses are placed on the top or the sides of the mountain. They also are positioned so they will be obvious and noticeable. One place had scared the mountain for a huge road to get up to the huge house. It is like a big sign that says notice me, notice how rich I am sitting up here way above the rest of you.

Kitchen in Pie Town

Kitchen in Peñasco

Since Pie Town and Peñasco have so few residents, why are there so many photos for Pie Town and Peñasco in the Library of Congress’s digital photos online? I suppose I could have searched for an answer online, but it is so much more fun to try to figure it out by looking at the photos. The ones of Pie Town show homesteaders from Texas and Oklahoma growing beans, eating, dancing, singing, and working. The photos show a co-op storage facility. The Peñasco photos show the exactly the same thing, with great many photos of the co-op heath clinic from its building up to its use. These photos were all taken in either 1940 or 1943, during the depression, so suspect there were commission by the government to record some part of their New Deal programs.

Community sing along in Pie Town

Dance in Peñasco

The people in the Peñasco photos are often referred to as “Spanish-Americans.” The houses in Peñasco are made out of adobe, while the house in Pie Town reflects the Plains area these homesteaders came from. Both types of homes were built to fit and work with their environment. Here were pictures of two peoples coming from very different cultural backgrounds doing just what their ancestors did, work hard and be a part of a community. From the sheer numbers of photos, and the content of the photos, I would suspect the photographer was welcomed into each community. I also can’t help but think that both ended up caring about their subject.

Home in Pie Town

Peñasco Home

One thing I love about these photos is they show my father’s New México. He was 30 years old when he married my mother in 1945. My mother could easily have fit into the photos of the people in Pie Town since she came from Nebraska. My father would fit in the photos of the “Spanish-Americans” in Peñasco. My parents met in Needles, California where my mother was “looking for a husband” and teaching elementary school, and my father was there doing tank maneuvers before they shipped off to North Africa. His tank group ended being part of the Normandy D-Day Invasion instead. My parents married once he return from the war, and it was to the small Northern New México town of El Rito that my father returned with his new bride.

Smithsonian article about Pie Town
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog Home Page

Adobes in Peñasco


Anonymous said...

loved living right outside of penasco in llano, one of the memorable times of my.I now live in the sf bay area, not nearly as exciting!

Robert Baca said...


Great stories. I love the photos. I hope that you will another one of these "photo essays" (as I call them) again.

Robert Baca

Rebecca said...

I love your website we have so many ancestors in common. Most of my family was from the Penasco area, El Llanos and Santa Cruz, thanks, for the pics. Thanks for all the help you've provided.

Miriam Gopi said...

wonderful. used to live in Llano just outside of penasco, and i love the old photos. hey, i live in the sf bay area too now, who are you????

Anonymous said...

to miriam
My name is carl and I lived in llano with jean nichols daughter djuna, you turn right at the old post office,we lived almost to the end of the road. Really beautiful place!!

aspencer@sunflower.com said...

Nancy -
great photos and background of the area. I stumbled across your blog while doing genealogy research. My family settled in Penasco for a short time in 1885. I was looking for clues...discovered your blog!
-- Lisa

Anonymous said...

Well I am thinking that if everyone on this post has family that once lived in Penasco. I am sure someone knows Jose Modest Vigil and Sylvia Gurule. They are my grandparents and I am looking to find more family that I do not know and would like to know. We have so much family out there now and that still live there. Please help me find some lost family. Thanks! Joseph Modesto, Rangerslead24@aol.com

Miriam said...

Hey Carl,
I know Djuna well, and lived down the hill from them.
To ByBeRGaTa,
I finally went thru Pie Town this summer - I learned about it from the old photos. There is pie in pie town now, and darned good pie and community spirit. It was kind of thrilling actually.