El Paso Times Editorial Board – San Elizario, with history dating back four centuries, undoubtedly is leading in El Paso County’s goal to revitalize the historic Mission Trail.
It’s latest achievement, led by artist Al Borrego, is a successful bid to be recognized as a cultural district by the Texas Commission on the Arts. That means it can now apply for funding to help its economy. San Elizario has a growing number of artists and now boasts nearly three dozen artist studios.
Although San Elizario does not have a mission on its end of the Mission Trail, as do Socorro and Ysleta, it does have the Presidio Chapel, which is in the newly designated cultural district. Other structures in the district are: Los Portales Museum, the Memorial Placita, the Old County Jail and the Horseshoe Theatre.
The Mission Trail is a 9-mile stretch of Zaragoza and Socorro roads from Ysleta/Socorro to San Elizario. Over the years it has suffered from neglect, although there have been projects to restore the two missions. El Paso County, along with State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, have made it a goal to finally revitalize the trail in order to reap the economic benefits of tourists and visitors.
San Elizario has culture and history aplenty. It has a walking tour that covers nearly 20 historic structures and sites. It has more than 90 regular events each year. It is also the area where North America’s first Thanksgiving was held, that being by the large traveling party of explorer Don Juan de Onate in 1595. That was 23 years before the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving.
It is also the former county seat, losing that designation to El Paso after the Great Salt War in 1877. It was a battle to control the salt lakes of the Guadalupe Mountains. A group of some 500 people living on both sides of the border defeated the Texas Rangers’ force of 20. But as punishment, Texas moved the county seat to El Paso.
Residents of San Elizario also appear to be winning a non-violent, but political conflict over nearby Socorro. It’s a battle over annexation. San Elizario wants to say independent of Socorro, and in November voters there will decide if it’s to become a Type A general-law municipality encompassing nearly eight square miles, including the historic district. San Elizario has a population nearing 14,000.
San Elizario is one of only four communities granted cultural district status this year. There are now 24 in the state, including Downtown El Paso. Borrego said, “That designation tells me that what we are doing is working. It gives us another partner to let everybody know what’s going on in San Elizario.”
And with this “cultural district” designation, San Elizario can better promote itself. Jim Bob McMillan, deputy director of the Texas Commission on Arts, said, “Usually art is the motivating factor to bring tourists or visitors to the community.”
Art, along with all the historical sites San Elizario has to offer, is what Borrego hopes will mean a hotel and more retail, including restaurants, in the future.
San Elizario is doing its part to restore the Mission Trail.