Step Back Into The 1850s at Taos’ Oldest Museum
The Kit Carson House is a historic house museum at 113 Kit Carson Road in central Taos, New Mexico. Built in 1825, it was from 1843 until his death the home of frontiersman Kit Carson (1809-1868). A good example of Spanish Colonial architecture, it is now owned by the local Masonic fraternity, and serves as a museum dedicated to Carson’s life. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963.
Description and history
The Kit Carson House stands a short way east of Taos’s central plaza, on the north side of Kit Carson Road. It is a modest single-story adobe structure, built in 1825, that is an east-facing U shape with a central courtyard. The oldest portion of the house consists of the front three rooms, and the next room to the north.
The House in the 2000s
Kit Carson grew up in the frontier west, and became renowned as a fur trapper and guide on numerous United States Army expeditions against Native Americans and also during the American Civil War. In 1843 he married Josefa Jaramillo, who was from a leading Taos family, and purchased this house. It remained the couple’s principal home until 1868. They were away from it 1851-54 and 1866–67, when Carson was stationed elsewhere. In early 1868 the family moved to the Colorado Territory, where both died.
The Kit Carson house was passed through a string of owners between Kit Carson’s death in 1868 and the acquisition of the property by Bent Lodge #42 (a masonic lodge founded by Kit Carson) in 1910. The house had degraded and remained in a state of disrepair until 1952 when the Kit Carson Memorial Foundation Inc was established to restore and rehabilitate the property. The foundation now operates the property as a house-museum where visitors can take tours, purchase souvenirs, and learn about Carson’s exploits in life.
Current State of the Kit Carson House
The Kit Carson house is styled and furnished in the Spanish Colonial Style, and most of the house’s rooms have been restored to fit within that style, matching their original condition as closely as possible. The restorations go so far as to include authentic recreations of furniture from the time. Additionally, several artifacts surrounding the life of Kit Carson and his family have been incorporated throughout the property, including a replica of his .50 caliber rifle, a United States Army sabre with its scabbard, and Josefa’s sewing box.
The museum constructed around the house includes a full guided tour which tells visitors about Carson’s life, death, and other important details and achievements of his. One of the first stops in the tour includes a 20 minute video on the History Channel that is all about Kit Carson and what he accomplished. It culminates at the nearby Kit Carson Memorial State Park, where the graves of Carson and his wife, Josefa, can be found. The house has also undergone several additions, such as a gift shop and bookstore which supports the mission of the foundation and the museum itself.
Kit Carson House, Inc. is organized and will be operated exclusively for charitable purposes to protect, preserve, and maintain the Kit Carson House, adjacent buildings, and grounds, located in Taos, New Mexico consistent with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The nonprofit corporation will operate the Taos Museum therewith for public education and enjoyment.
The Taos Museum at Kit Carson House shall serve as a center for interpreting Kit Carson’s life in the context of America’s settlement of the West where visitors can look to the past for cues and experiences which serve as meaningful lessons for better understanding this tumultuous time in our history.
The Kit Carson House is a National Historic Landmark, one of the first structures to receive that designation. The house is also one of the most popular sites for visitors coming to Taos every year. Built of traditional adobe construction in 1825, it was the residence of Christopher “Kit” Carson. Carson had a multifaceted career as a trapper, explorer, scout, trans-continental courier, hunter, rancher, tracker, soldier, Indian agent, and military officer. He purchased the home in 1843 as a gift for his bride Maria Josefa Jaramillo, a member of a prominent Taos family. The Carson family lived there for 25 years.
New Mexico is the ancestral home of myriad Native peoples, and part of the last geographical region formally incorporated into the continental United States. As such, there is not one history of the region much less one modern culture. There are multiple histories of the peoples of the land now known as New Mexico and the encounters within and among them, stretching back millennia to the modern day. The Taos Museum at Kit Carson House shall be the outgrowth of the efforts to preserve and recount the history of these encounters.
The Taos Museum shall be an endeavor to build on the legacy of the Kit Carson House. This effort will continue to study Kit Carson’s legacy, preserving as a historic site the property that Carson and his family called home from 1843-1868 while developing the museum with exhibits dedicated to telling a complete history of the many peoples of Taos and the Southwest.
The Taos Museum at Kit Carson House is a doorway into 19th century America, providing more than 10,000 local and international visitors each year the opportunity to engage with its historical legacy. The home is a prime example of vernacular New Mexico adobe architecture that gives us a better understanding of how people lived in the 19th century. The structure has intrinsic value as a historic home and should be preserved.
- Authenticity: We are committed to presenting the history of the 19th century West in an engaging, honest, authentic, and historically accurate manner.
- Inclusiveness: Inclusive systems and processes shall be at the forefront of our work to ensure that all aspects of our mission is informed, supported, and accepted by diverse populations, including those whose history and life trajectories have been impacted by the US expansion in the West.
- Partnership: We are committed to advancing our vision through partnerships with members of the Taos community as well as with curators, historians, scholars, and community advocates who can support our mission.
- Stewardship: We shall be unwavering in our stewardship of the knowledge, stories and resources bestowed upon us in the advancement of our mission. We shall adhere to all professional standards relating to the preservation, display and interpretation of the buildings, structures, and artifacts in the museum’s collection.
- Impact: We are committed to ensuring a relevant, significant, and positive impact on the lives of those we engage in everything we do.
Learn more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kit_Carson_House