The water mills of New Mexico played a major role in the agricultural economy of the Río Arriba for two or more centuries after the introduction of wheat from the Old World to the Americas. Wheat, in its ground form as flour, was a staple during the Spanish colonial period. To process raw wheat, local grist mills (molinos) were essential infrastructure as were the acequias (ditches) that powered them. Situated near the banks of rivers, the internal components were driven by the gravity force of water from an acequia, itself diverted from the river. Researchers have documented the existence of several hundred horizontal wheel mills spread throughout northcentral New Mexico with the first references in 1599 and 1601 at the first capital city, San Gabriel. While most fell into disuse by the late 1930s, a few continued in service until the 1940s and 1950s. The last traditional water mill operated into 1975 and another was relocated to a living history museum where it grinds wheat at a harvest festival to the present day. We feature several examples of traditional molinos along with commercial mills that were also water-powered by community ditches. Ideas for preserving the legacy of folk architecture embodied in the design of the mills appear at the end.
Rivera, José A. Ph.D and Thomas F. Glick Ph.D. "The Water Mills of the Historic Río Arriba in Northcentral New Mexico, 1598-1975." (2023). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/arch_fsp/11
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