Jemez Springs Mayor Roger Sweet stands at his business, Casa Blanca Lodging. Stephen Montoya photo.

JEMEZ SPRINGS — The smell of fresh lilacs in bloom fills the air at the entrance of Casa Blanca Lodging off NM 4 in the Village of Jemez Springs.
It’s midday as local business owner and Jemez Springs Mayor Roger Sweet opens a rustic turquoise door to a corridor that runs through the middle of Casa Blanca Lodging and his adjoining business, Jemez Mountain Pottery and Sculpture Shop.
Sweet, who moved to the village in 1980, prepares to give a guided tour of his business, which runs down to the Jemez River, for what could be well over the 100th time.
“I came to New Mexico in 1972 with an anthropologist documenting Pueblo Indian dances as a filmmaker and just never left,” Sweet said. “When I came to Jemez Springs, it felt like home.”
Sweet said he bought his business property in 1980 and began the process of fixing up one of the village’s original buildings.
“Really, the cost to me on remodeling the structures on my property came down to time and energy,” he said. “Passion and love for doing something, that’s the cost… and if you see it in terms of money, it will be a different product.”
According to Sweet, his property is still a work in progress, yet both structures at Casa Blanca have been substantially updated.
The property has a historic guest house, which is about 800 square feet on the top of the property, and a Garden Cottage that was converted from an old barn near the river. Both buildings likely date from around the 1880s.
“The structures could be older than that, given how many of the buildings out here started out with flat roofs and then went to pitched roofs,” Sweet said.
He has stayed booked over the past few months, but there was a time when things began to look bleak for Jemez Springs.
“Citizens here were really paranoid like everybody else when COVID hit,” he said. “You realize with something like this that keeping things going is really about community.”
Sweet said the village’s economy is based on gross receipts tax (GRT), which dwindled during the pandemic.
“We had a couple savior projects that helped us out during this time, like the new $6 million bridge and a new $7 million forest facility which produces GRT,” he said. “Plus as a business person, I have to say that Sandoval County was very generous in targeting Jemez Springs by setting aside funds to help us out.”
Sweet said the state was also very supportive in helping small businesses stay alive.
Sweet turns his attention to the one of the oldest known structures in Jemez Springs, the bath house, which the village government owns and runs.
“The bath house is an interior space, so we just got to a point where we just had to close it down,” he said.
Before it closed, Sweet said everyone complied with state mandates, which meant taking temperatures and socially distancing.
“If you are only operating at a 25 percent capacity, you can’t sustain a business,” he said. “This is why we are looking at reopening the business in July, because the governor said we should be open as a state by then.”
Bath house Manager Anna Lovato said in her 20 years, she never thought she would see the bath house close.
“We have had so many people travel from around the world to visit us here, so yeah, completely closing down came as a shock,” she said. “It’s been hard not being at work even though I am a homebody.”
According to Lovato, the bath house was built in 1876 and has been a destination for people in search of natural healing waters since.
“I can hardly wait to see everyone come back to the bath house and enjoy what people have been coming here for, for years,” she said.
Sweet said this is the type of reopening that he and the other 250 Jemez Springs residents have been waiting for.
“We have a few businesses here that have felt the sting of COVID, but we try to keep everyone’s spirits up, not just financially but also spiritually,” he said. “Reopening the bath house is just one of the ways we can accomplish that goal.”