Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a city with a unique thumbprint that’s packed with history.
Some of the country’s more well-known destinations sometimes cause people to overlook this desert gem, but we’re not going to let that happen!
There’s too much good stuff within the city’s streets and geography to turn a blind eye.
Get ready for a fun ride as we journey through the history of Albuquerque!
You’re guaranteed to be surprised by how the city got its start and the influence it’s had on the nation.
Heck! The computer you’re using right now may be thanks to the city!
So, without further ado, let’s get to New Mexico!
1. History of Albuquerque’s Native American Tribes
Before we can talk about Albuquerque, we have to start way back before Europeans even knew it existed.
The current research can verify that bands of humans have occupied the New Mexico region for around 12,000 years–a long time, huh?
As time went on, these nomadic tribes began building adobe settlements and practicing agriculture.
The Tiwa People, specifically, are thought to have around 35 pueblos in the Rio Grande valley.
But everything began to change when Europeans made their way to the area.
2. Europeans Make Their Way to Albuquerque
The first European to make his way to New Mexico and the Albuquerque area was Francisco Vazquez de Coronado.
He led a group of fellow Spaniards through the southwest with the hopes of discovering the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, which were reported to be riddled with gold and other treasures (historians believe these cities may have been referring to the Zuni Pueblos).
Regardless, General Coronado failed in his search and instead stumbled upon many other tribal societies and stunning landmarks.
Shortly after his expedition, more soldiers and friars entered the land and eventually established a colony up in Santa Fe.
As European military forces grew, land grants were issued and missionaries attempted to convert the local tribes, tensions grew.
Tragically, this resulted in many Native American tribes being pushed out of their home.
3. How It Was Named: The History of the Villa de Alburquerque
It wouldn’t be until 1706 that Albuquerque was officially founded as a Spanish city.
The governor and captain of New Mexico, Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes (one person, two names), originally named the city The Villa de Alburquerque.
You may be thinking, uhhh why is there an extra “r” in Alburquerque?
Well, the city was named after the Duke of Alburquerque (a town in Spain).
Over time, as Americans and Europeans of English descent made their way to the area, the extra “r” was neglected to make the pronunciation a bit easier.
And another interesting point about the beginning of the Villa de Alburquerque: historians have pointed out that it may not have met the minimum number of families to officially establish the city.
Back in the day, there had to be at least 35 families residing in the area to start a town.
As of now, there have been no official documents found to verify how many families were there.
However, there were most likely more than enough people to establish Villa de Alburquerque, but it’s a fun little piece of trivia to ponder over.
4. History of Albuquerque’s Oldest Building
The first Spanish settlers of Albuquerque were devout Catholics, so it’s no surprise that a church was one of the first buildings to be erected.
San Felipe de Neri Church was built in 1793 on the site of a preexisting church that had collapsed.
Today it’s believed to be the city’s oldest surviving building.
The church is located in the Old Town portion of Albuquerque and is now listed as one of New Mexico’s recognized cultural properties.
Although it’s been around for almost 250 years, the church is still actively used today and is open to the public from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (unless a service is in session).
If you’re visiting the city and are interested in its Spanish roots, it’s a must-see attraction.
5. Albuquerque Becomes Part of Mexico
The history of Albuquerque took a turn in the early part of the 19th century when Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1812.
New Mexico became an autonomous region of the country but already had economic ties to the ever-imposing United States.
As it goes, the beginning of a new nation is usually a bit rocky.
When the national government in Mexico City tried to centralize power and undermine faraway territories, like New Mexico, problems began to arise.
New taxes resulted in a revolt in New Mexico known as the Chimayó Rebellion.
But by the mid-1840s, Mexico had bigger problems.
The United States declared war on the nation and was soon advancing on Albuquerque.
Between 1846 and 1848, a series of bloody affairs ensued, resulting in the forcible seizure of New Mexico.
6. Albuquerque Becomes Part of the US
When the Mexican-American War fizzled out, New Mexico (including Albuquerque) became part of the US territory; however, it was still not an official state.
This period is known as the Mexican Cession, when the United States took control over key regions in the west.
The territories included what we now refer to as Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado.
It was a massive moment for the United States, which now dominated the Atlantic to the Pacific, and more people than ever began passing through places like Albuquerque.
To give you an idea of how quickly people fled to the new western regions, the California Gold Rush took place between 1848 and 1855 – just as the Mexican-American War ended.
But Mexico wasn’t the only state that lost land.
The local Native American tribes in Albuquerque and beyond were equally impacted by the change of administration.
7. Albuquerque in the Civil War
When most people think about the American Civil War, they don’t mention cities like Albuquerque or other parts of the southwest.
That’s partly because it’s not where the major battles took place, but there were still a few key events that are worth noting.
In fact, the Battle of Albuquerque is a little piece of Albuquerque history commonly forgotten.
When the Civil War began in 1861, many military figures left New Mexico to join the Confederate Army.
However, President Abraham Lincoln had made an ally of Henry Connelly, the governor of the New Mexico territory, and sent Edward R.S Canby to defend the territory.
At one point, Albuquerque was made vulnerable and captured by Confederate soldiers.
Yet, their control over the city didn’t last long – the Union Army returned and the Battle of Albuquerque began.
The battle only lasted a few hours and mostly consisted of artillery shelling.
The fighting stopped when Canby learned that the remaining women and children in the city were vulnerable to their attack.
Thus, it wouldn’t be until a few days later that Union soldiers returned to reclaim the city, which had already been abandoned by the Confederate soldiers.
Ain’t that an interesting part of the history of Albuquerque?
8. History of Albuquerque’s Railroad
In the 19th century, the railroad system was responsible for putting new cities on the map and bringing in new opportunities.
For Albuquerque, it was no different.
The city played an important role in the state’s railroad system, which would transform it from a farming town to a commercial hub.
The principal railway company decided that Albuquerque would become the location for a depot, offices for the railroad’s managers, and mechanic shops to repair the trains.
It was a pivotal moment in the history of Albuquerque that turned the city into what it is today.
Shortly after the first tracks reached Albuquerque in 1881, the repair shops made up a majority of the city’s jobs.
The train needed welders, painters, mechanics, and carpenters to keep the wheels turning, resulting in hundreds and hundreds of employment opportunities.
As more money and merchants rolled into town and the population grew, Albuquerque began to make a legitimate name for itself.
9. Albuquerque Officially Becomes Albuquerque
Albuquerque was officially incorporated as a town in 1885, thanks to the economic and population boom initiated by the railroad.
But it would take six more years for Albuquerque to be classified as a city in 1891.
An incorporated city essentially means that the government of that city is brought up to the next level.
It’s allowed to establish a municipality and has more of a say in political affairs.
10. New Mexico Becomes the 47th State
You may be surprised to know that New Mexico wasn’t made into a state until January 6th, 1912.
To put that in perspective, California became a state in 1850 and Colorado in 1876.
So why did it take so long for New Mexico to get the official status of being a state?
Well, the area, including Albuquerque, was still considered primitive and it had a reputation for being the lawless Wild West.
Interestingly, there was a proposal in 1904 to combine the territories of New Mexico and Arizona to create one super state that would be called Montezuma–oh, how things would be different, right?
Well, after years of negotiations, New Mexico finally obtained statehood, becoming the 47th state–Arizona would be made a state a month later.
11. History of Albuquerque’s Route 66
Route 66 was once the United States’ most famous road, and it ran directly through Albuquerque.
The highway was created in 1926 and connected Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, and consisted of more than 2,000 miles of road.
Originally, Route 66 cut down Albuquerque from north to south.
The road was a part of a large S-shaped curve that also went through Santa Fe, Los Lunas, and several Native American reservations (many sections were unpaved).
In 1937, the road was upgraded and rerouted to run in a more east-west direction.
The section of the road that ran through the main part of the city, Central Avenue, became a vibrant area with shops, restaurants, and hotels for visitors driving through.
Similar to the railroad, it was another pivotal moment that helped put more eyeballs on Albuquerque.
12. Kirkland Air Force Base
Another identity-altering event was the establishment of the Kirkland Air Force Base.
The site was completed in 1942 and has been active ever since.
Today, it’s the sixth largest Air Force Base, but that wasn’t always the case.
In the early years, it was only made up of three runways and was used as an expedited training and testing facility to get as many troops as possible ready during World War II.
Now, the modest 2,000-acre base stretches for more than 50,000 acres.
The facility has been used to develop all kinds of weapons and various flying technologies.
Like many states and towns that became the home of massive military sites, it completely changed the identity and history of Albuquerque.
13. Bill Gates and Microsoft
Have you ever heard of a man named Bill Gates…?
Just kidding–of course, you have!
He’s only one of the richest people in the world and the co-creator of the multi-billion-dollar company Microsoft–yeah, you’d recognize him if you saw him.
Believe it or not, Bill Gates started Microsoft in Albuquerque.
Gates is originally from Seattle, Washington, but relocated to New Mexico after taking a leave of absence from Harvard.
Although the company would leave Albuquerque in 1979, the city can always claim to be the birthplace of one of the biggest companies in the world!
14. History of the Albuquerque Balloon Festival
If you’re wondering what Albuquerque is known for today, then we need to talk about the Balloon Festival.
Back in 1972, a gathering of hot air balloon enthusiasts met up and celebrated the first annual Balloon Festival.
Thirteen balloons flew that day, and it would be the beginning of the city’s most popular event.
Just one year later, for the second event, the first hot air balloon world championships took place, and 128 balloons took to the sky.
As the years went by, the number of balloons and spectators exponentially increased.
In 2022, the city celebrated the 50th anniversary of the festival.
You learn something new every day, huh?
15. Route 66 Gets the Boot
All good things must come to an end, and Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985.
But Albuquerque hasn’t forgotten about the good ol’ days.
Today, you can still drive the old route and imagine what life would have been like during its heyday.
The road will take you through the downtown and old town section, so you’ll get a look at the city’s top attractions.
Here’s a map to help give you an idea of where Route 66 was.
So, now that you know a little bit about the history of Albuquerque, the next time someone says the city has nothing to offer, you can interject with a list of interesting events and facts.
And, sure, the city might not be on the same level as places like New York City, but there is a lot to love about it.
So, consider spending time in Albuquerque and getting a feel for it yourself.
You might just want to stay forever–you never know!
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