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San Felipe Neri, probably late in 1866, by Nicholas Brown. By the early 1870s the eight-foot-high wall of terrones out front had been cut down to three feet and topped with a white picket fence.

The San Felipe de Neri Church on the Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city and the only building in Old Town proven to date to the Spanish colonial period.

Albuquerque’s history dates back 12,000 years when the first American Indians settled in the area. Ancient Puebloan Indians (Anasazi) lived in the area between 1000 and 1300, planting corn, be, ns and squash and constructing adobe and brick pit homes along the banks of the Rio Grande. They also established several communities throughout northeastern New Mexico, connecting them with sophisticated roads.

Then, in 1540, Conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado came north from Mexico in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. Though Coronado left empty-handed, it didn’t stop even more Spanish settlers from arriving in the area, looking for the elusive gold. The Pueblo Rebellion of 1680 discouraged further settlement until Spanish General Don Diego de Vargas arrived in 1692. By the end of the 17th century, several trading posts were established just north of the present-day city.

Ben Wittick photographed San Felipe Neri in full Victorian trim, June 6, 1881, the day after Pentecost.

By the beginning of the 18th century, the area that would become Albuquerque was called Bosque Grande de San Francisco Xavier. In 1706, the ambitious provisional governor of the territory, Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, petitioned the Spanish government to establish the bosque as a formal villa and call it Albuquerque, after Viceroy Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, the Duke of Albuquerque. Later the spelling was changed because some influential person couldn’t pronounce the “R” in Albuquerque. The city is still nicknamed “Duke City.”

During much of the 18th and 19th centuries, Albuquerque was little more than a dusty trading center along the El Camino Real, the trail linking Mexico and Santa Fe. Close-knit families of Spanish descent accounted for most of the population living around the central plaza in Old Town.

This began to change when Josiah Gregg, a frontiersman and trailblazer established the Old Fort Smith Wagon Road between Arkansas and Santa Fe in 1839. People cared little about the trail for ten years until the California Gold Rush of 1849, when it became heavily traveled by those pioneers seeking their fortunes in the far west.

In 1846, the United States claimed the territory when General Stephen Kearny established an army post. During the Civil War, Confederate troops briefly occupied Albuquerque, and after the war was over, white merchants and tradesmen arrived in numbers.

When the railroad steamed through in 1880, the city changed drastically, bringing in hundreds of white settlers and changing the demographics and architecture of the city. Numerous new businesses were established around the new railroad, and the city began to grow. By 1885, Albuquerque was incorporated.

In 1889, the University of New Mexico was founded in Albuquerque, bringing with it not only knowledge but also new and different cultures to the community.

Growth continued steadily into the 20th century and saw another spurt when Route 66 brought a steady stream of traffic right through the city. Before the 1930s, Albuquerque’s Main Street, now called Central Avenue, consisting of a few motor courts, gas stations, campgrounds, and cafes. In no time at all, new motels, restaurants, and services, complete with neon signs, began to compete for the attention of Mother Road travelers. A cafe shaped like an iceberg opened for business on the present site of the Lobo Theatre; a sombrero-shaped restaurant offered Mexican food, and the Aztec Lodge and De Anza Motor Lodge presented pueblo-inspired accommodations.


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