The first missionaries or Franciscans as they were called came to the US from Spain. Surprisingly the first mission built in the Continental US was in St. Augustine, Florida in 1526. Although there is nothing left of the original structures to visit. Nowadays what can be seen is of the first mission and settlement is the Fort Castillo de San Marcos that once surrounded the mission and town. The stone structure that remains was built during the 1670s after losing nine wooden forts to war with the British and the storms that pummel the Florida region. When St. Augustine was established, it was during the time of the Spanish occupation and the land was considered part of “New Spain” Over the next 200 hundred years more than one hundred missions would be built throughout the region. Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest coastal fortification in the US.
New Mexico was the next area of the US the Spanish establish missions. The first mission built in New Mexico was the Pecos Pueblo Mission built in 1598 to educate the Pueblo Indian population. Pecos Pueblo was the first settlement of the Spanish in the New Mexico region. When the Spanish moved north from Mexico to New Mexico conquistador Juan de Onate bought 400 settlers to the area including twelve Franciscans. The Spanish built towns known as parishes were built around the missions as well as forts or presidios to help keep the area safe. Parishes were fashioned after European towns. Around 1670 the Pueblo Indians had suffered heavy losses due to disease as well as famine. Which cause an uprising the settlers were attacked more than a dozen were killed. The Spanish fled the area not to return for more than a decade. The mission was abandoned the remains of the once awe-inspiring structure can still be visited today as it is part of Pecos National Historical Park in Pecos, New Mexico.
Salinas Pueblo Mission National Monument is another place in New Mexico that has some of the oldest mission structures in the area. Just outside of Mountainair, New Mexico Salinas Pueblo Mission Monument holds the remains of three early Spanish missions on its grounds San Buenaventura, San Isidro, and Mission of San Gregorio of Abo. San Gregorio was built in the 1600s.
One of the oldest missions built in Texas started with Corpus Christi de la Ysleta in El Paso, Texas. The parish of Ysleta de Sur is the oldest parish in the state that is still active. Corpus Christi de la Ysleta was built in 1682. The mission would change names in the 1880s to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In the 1670s a mission was built in an area known as La Junta or “the junction” near present-day Presidio, Texas but only the remains of the fort are left to visit. This area was once the popular route for the Spanish from Mexico then known as New Spain to present-day New Mexico. There would be several more missions built at La Junta in the early 1700s but all were abandoned and would eventually disappear altogether. After Presidio came the San Clemente Mission of San Angelo built-in 1684 due to numerous attacks by the Apache of the area the mission was abandoned. The exact location of San Clemente has never been pinpointed there are numerous marks throughout San Angelo referencing the mission. Nacogdoches, Texas would have three missions built by 1718 none remain. In 1718 the San Antonio de Valero Mission was built in present-day San Antonio it would move three times then in 1724, it was placed in its final place. Today we call it the Alamo and the intact building was built in the 1750s. It stopped being a mission in 1793 the name is said to come from the building housing Spanish soldiers for a time that came from Alamo de Parras, Mexico.
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