When Santa Fe was founded in 1607, official records show a Fonda, or Inn, was among the first businesses established. The history can be traced back 400 years and has lasted throughout the Civil War, the railroad expansion, and New Mexico statehood. In 1821, Captain William Becknell found the Inn waiting to welcome his group as they completed the first successful trading expedition from Missouri to Santa Fe. Literally “at the end of the trail,” the original adobe hotel stood at the corner of the Santa Fe Trail and San Francisco Street.
With the trade route established, “La Fonda” soon became the destination of trappers, mountain men, merchants, soldiers, politicians, and gamblers. When New Mexico became a U.S. Territory in 1848, the inn was purchased, and the name was changed to the U.S. Hotel. The hotel was sold again and became The Exchange Hotel, the name under which it operated for nearly 60 years. By 1907, the deteriorated Exchange Hotel had become a run-of-the-mill boarding house. It survived long enough to see New Mexico attain statehood in 1912 but the old adobe structure was demolished in April 1919 as part of a planned World War I Bond Rally. In 1920, citizen investors bought stock to finance the present-day La Fonda, built on the same site at the southeast corner of the Plaza.