A legendary gathering place of North Central New Mexico
By Josephine Ashton
The history of Taos — and that of inns —have deep roots. The English word inn derives from “inne” — Old English, perhaps by c. 1200. While travel meant walking, riding a horse or stepping out of a wagon or carriage, the sign “Inn” or “Public House” promised drink to quench the thirst and a meal of meat and bread or hearty soup. If enough beds were not available, shelter was provided in a shed or barn.
In Spanish, the word for “inn” is “posada,” a term also used for the Christmas procession, Posada. Pilgrims seeking the Christ-child stop at various homes providing food and beverage for the weary faithful — then on to an establishment, a church usually, for the finale.
The custom of a location that provided food, drink and lodging to travelers and served as gathering places for clans, groups, relatives and friends has represented the better part of being human. The locale may have been a lean-to by a river, an igloo, a stone circle, a log-cabin, a tent, a wild-west establishment, a 2023 reach-for-the-sky tower, hotel banquet hall or a private home.
In Taos, one of several adobe houses dating from the 19th century was to become both office and home for forty years of the beloved Doctor “Doc” Thomas P. Martin, who made the arduous trek to Taos in 1890 via horse and buggy. But Doc’s place was more than just a medical office. Local histories tell us that, in 1915, he hosted the formative group of painters that became the Taos Society of Artists.
While some sources say that Doc and Helen arrived in Taos together, other sources say he married Helen Campbell, a violinist and batik artist, in 1917. She is said to have loved to garden but was also a designer. Women from New York, Paris and London loved the colors and culture of New Mexico in her scarves, shawls, wall hangings, tea dresses and chiffon wraps.
Following Doc Martin’s passing in 1935, his widow Helen became an industrious businesswoman and, with the help of creative friends, transformed their property into the Hotel Martin. The grand opening in 1936 was accompanied by much fanfare, with dancers from the Pueblo and celebrities such as the wild west showman, Pawnee Bill (Gordon William Lillie), once a partner with William “Buffalo” Bill Cody.
Following Helen’s passing, later owners of Hotel Martin would rename the cluster of adobes The Taos Inn. Designated a National Historic Monument in 1982, The Historic Taos Inn at 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte is walking distance from Kit Carson Park, Taos Plaza, Kit Carson Street’s “Gallery Row” as well as the Bent Street and John Dunn shops.
I met with cordial Joe Kendall — a Taos resident for 18 years and general manager of the Inn since 2019 — in the graceful, inviting two-story lobby with its viga ceiling, the wooden beams a defining characteristic of Pueblo and Spanish Colonial architecture in New Mexico.
A fountain now stands where a well once anchored a landscape, and paintings by local artists grace the walls. Refurbished tables and comfortable chairs invite locals and visitors to relax in an intimate atmosphere, enjoying the mixology of the Adobe Bar and the nightly entertainment that “brings together local culture and historic traditions.”
Kendall said that residents and visitors alike enjoy the cove called The Library for morning coffee or afternoon drink. Both Kendall and his operations manager, Julie Sena, with 17 years at the Inn, frequently used the word family in describing both their team of local employees, entertainers, and the generations of Taos residents who continue to frequent the establishment. “Our guests are not ‘like’ family,’ Sena said, “they are family!”
Kendall pointed out that some of the tables in the Doc Martin’s Restaurant have turquoise inlays, saltillo tile has replaced a lobby carpet, and the hotel rooms — 41 rooms and 3 suits — are replete with antique furniture and hand-carved doors. Many have wood-burning fireplaces.
The restaurant menu, created by executive chef Shawnpaul Ortiz and sous chef Franciso Pacheco, is strictly southwestern, featuring locally sourced bison, greens from the Inn’s garden, a blue corn piñon crusted trout, abuelita’s green chile pork stew and much more. Serving Wednesday through Sunday, menus for both the restaurant and Adobe Bar and the extensive entertainment listings are available online.
While times continue to change, The Taos Historical Inn remains timeless, a gathering place for Taos folk and visitors alike, with an undisputed reputation for friendly service and welcoming environment.
The Historic Taos Inn 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos 888-519-8267 taosinn.com