In January on Facebook we're going #InsideTheArchives to enjoy one of the treasures of Los Alamos history through the years. Following the Tsankawi Trail, you have a great overlook of what is now known as Duchess Castle. While this weathered structure is on National Park Service's Bandelier National Monument land its history impacts the Pajarito Plateau and continues to capture imaginations today.
What is Duchess Castle today was built on a site that had been inhabited by the ancestors of the founders of the Pueblo de San Ildefonso, which lies in the Rio Grande valley. Settled between 1150–1200 CE, this site once held a sister village to the one atop Tsankawi Mesa and had 55 rooms. The Ancestral Puebloans later moved away from this village.
In 1914, Vera von Blumenthal and Rose Dougan, two women interested in the revival of Pueblo pottery, applied for homestead applications. Though the homestead applications were denied the women were able to lease the land from the Forest Service. Around 1916, Vera von Blumenthal and Rose Dougan established a home and pottery studio at the Duchess Castle site, called The Fort at that time. Laborers from the Pueblo were commissioned to build their home. While some pieces of the story surrounding these historic women remain a mystery, we know that von Blumenthal and Dougan developed a project during their time on the Pajarito Plateau designed to support San Ildefonso potters in their craft and assist them in earning a profit from making these beautiful pieces, all while maintaining the tradition amongst their people.
In 1932, the land where Duchess Castle stood was added to Bandelier National Monument, established by President Woodrow Wilson on February 11, 1916. Even though their “school” only lasted for 3 summers, Vera von Blumenthal and Rose Dougan had a huge impact on Northern New Mexico’s local history. The concept they used in their studio was passed on to cultural institutions in Santa Fe and made the way for the beginnings of the Santa Fe Indian Market that still happens there today.
If you would like to hear more about Duchess Castle’s history, learn about the women who lived there, and explore the settlement of this area click here to watch the Los Alamos History Lecture by Rory Gauthier, JJ Mortensen, and Kit Ruminer. Check out a Facebook post from Bandelier about Duchess Castle here. And preview the stops on the Tsankawi Trail, including the Duchess Castle overlook at stop 9, here.
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the