Mesilla ("Little Tableland") is the best-known and most visited historical community in Southern New Mexico. Since its' beginning, around 1848, Mesilla has had a major influence on the economic, cultural, historical, and political life of the Mesilla Valley. From the Gadsden Purchase, to the Civil War, to the Butterfield Stage Coach Trail, to the trial of Billy the Kid, to being a lively social center in the 1880s--Mesilla has been a prominent part of the rich history of the Southwest.
Today, many of Mesilla's population of nearly 2,200 residents are direct descendents of Mesilla's early settlers. As such, they have retained many of the "hearty folk" qualities of the original founders. Mesilla has a rich and diverse heritage with the integration of Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American cultures. Perhaps the greatest import of the past history is the physical character of the community itself. The traditional adobe structures and architectural features modified through time because of style and technology still remain as a reminder of the long and significant history of the town.
The Mesilla Plaza - At the time Mesilla was founded, the population of the town was concentrated around the Plaza for defense against Apache Raiders who were a constant threat to the settlement. Many of the adobe buildings built during that era remain today. Perhaps the most significant event to occur on the Plaza included the consummation of the Gadsden Purchase by the raising of the United States flag in the Plaza by troops from Ft. Fillmore in 1853. Another less colorful event that occurred was a political riot in 1871 where Republicans and Democrats met after simultaneous political rallies on the west side of the Plaza. Fighting occurred resulting in several deaths and injuries (see political history).
On September 10, 1957, the Mesilla Plaza was declared a state monument of New Mexico because of its historical significance in both the history of the state and the history of the United States. The Plaza was initially listed on the National Register in January 1982, as a National Historic landmark. Mesilla's Historic district was added to the National Registry in February, 1985. Today, quaint gift shops, galleries, and world-renowned dining and drinking establishments occupy the Plaza and its surrounding historical buildings. The plaza and gazebo were refurbished in 1978 to better accommodate the residents and the growing number of visitors to the town. The Plaza is also home to many cultural and historical activities, the most prominent of which are the Cinco de Mayo and 16th de Septiembre Fiesta Celebrations. Also, gaining in popularity is the Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration that occurs the first part of November. On Christmas Eve, the Plaza becomes magically alive with thousands of luminarios outlining streets, sidewalks and buildings celebrating the holiday season. You can also shop at the local Farmers and Crafts market on the Plaza every Thursday and Sunday throughout the year.