story by Rachel Whitt, University Communications and Marketing
Before there were cars, planes or even trains in New Mexico, there was a bank. In fact, before the Land of Enchantment even became New Mexico, there was a bank. First National Bank of Santa Fe is the oldest financial institution in the Southwest; and now it’s continuing its legacy of service, dedication to detail and commitment to historical accuracy by gifting its archival collection to The University of New Mexico.
First National Bank of Santa Fe was founded in 1870, 42 years before New Mexico even became a state. It witnessed the rise of Santa Fe as a hub of economic growth, and documented that development through historical milestones such as the territorial period, the Mexican-American War, early statehood, World War I, the Great Depression and the Manhattan Project. Economic and social histories of the Southwest, and the United States, are embedded in the bank’s archive.
"First National has served New Mexico for generations and has a legacy in the state,” said Michelle Coons, president of First National Rio Grande and First National Santa Fe. “This archive is a history of not only the bank, but also of New Mexico's development; and we are excited that this knowledge will be preserved to benefit students and researchers for generations to come.”
Within the delicate, yellowing pages of the collection spanning the decades from 1870-1940, are more than 7,000 linear feet of books, boxes, ledgers and corporate records. It includes a history of banking in the territories, cyphers and signature cards, community history of local economies, as well as the roles specific individuals played in developing New Mexico.
Massive, oversized volumes hold documents in both English and Spanish. They detail collection records of businesses, newspaper articles and clippings, estate documents and correspondence to and from the bank. For years, it has sat nearly untouched. Now, First National’s historical custodians are gifting the massive collection to the UNM Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections, which will open doors of the past to researchers of the future.
“The collection is extremely important for the study of New Mexico’s territorial and early state history; and it will now become available to students and researchers,” said Richard Clement, dean of the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences. “I look forward to the many historical discoveries that the collection will reveal as it is finally processed and made available for scholarly use.”
Many records documenting the economic history of New Mexico and the Southwest were lost during the Great Depression. This extensive collection could open up the possibilities for study by both seasoned researchers and graduate students. Although it is not yet available for public viewing, some researchers at UNM are already examining the content.
Teresa Neely, an associate professor and assessment librarian, is part of a collaborative effort between the library, the Anderson School of Management and the English department. It’s titled “Women in the West” and looks at pioneering females who helped shape the frontier as ranchers, landowners and entrepreneurs.
“A collection of this magnitude will provide limitless opportunities for students and faculty at UNM,” Neely said. “It has already inspired research into women of the southwest, including their economic impact in the 19th century.”
The archive will be catalogued and preserved for generations of students to use in their own research. The lengthy process will be overseen by the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections; and includes cleaning, inventorying and sorting individual ledgers, and storing them in acid-free boxes for preservation. Each box will be accompanied by a brief summary of the contents, dates and noteworthy names.
“We are honored First National's legacy will continue to shape the knowledge of New Mexico's history,” said Coons.
A history built on economic development, seeped in culture, and preserved through careful documentation at First National Bank of Santa Fe.