Railroad Boom Town
From its beginnings in 1706, Albuquerque had
been a village of subsistence farmers with a
cottage industry of textiles based on wool.
As rail transportation reached across the
western expanse, merchants and town leaders
hoped the railroad would serve Albuquerque, and
by 1879, the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe was
approaching. Railroad representatives asked
Bernalillo landowners Francisco Perea and his
nephew José Leandro Perea if they would sell
land for shops and repair facilities. The Pereas
quoted an exorbitant price and refused to budge.
It wasn’t greed – the Pereas were quite wealthy
– but the senior Perea feared the railroad would
ruin the wagon freighting industry.
The railroad men continued on to Albuquerque,
where they received a warmer welcome. Franz
Huning, Elias Stover and attorney William
Hazeldine made a quiet deal with the railroad.
They began buying land in the proposed right of
way, which they deeded to a railroad subsidiary
for $1 and a share of profits from sale of land
the railroad didn’t need. The deal clinched the
railroad for Albuquerque, and the three
promoters also prospered. Apparently nobody was
critical of the three because everyone expected
to gain from the railroad’s arrival.
The tracks were actually laid two miles east of
Albuquerque to accommodate north-south track
alignment and to avoid washouts when the Rio
Grande flooded. On April 10, 1880, the tracks
The railroad spawned a second town, as stores
and saloons sprouted along the tracks in tents
and shacks. In time the new commercial district
gained permanent structures of brick and
brownstone, becoming known as New Town. The
original community became Old Town. They were
linked by the Street Railway Co., organized in
1880 by Huning and Hazeldine, with Oliver E.
Cromwell. It had eight mule-drawn cars and three
miles of track connecting the plaza with New
Town and Barelas.
Soon after the railroad arrived, Huning began
building the Highland Addition, east of the
tracks between Copper and Iron. Now called
Huning Highland, it was Albuquerque's first
residential development. The Pereas of
Bernalillo may have missed an opportunity, but
they weren’t out of the game. The younger Perea
prospered in Albuquerque, in 1881 building his
own subdivision, now called the Downtown
Neighborhood District. And Huning, Stover,
Hazeldine and Perea, along with others joined to
organize the Territorial Fair, which became the
The railroad brought a lot of newcomers, but not
all had good intentions. Sister Blandina Segale
complained about the “want-to-get-rich-quick
people,” who were trying to cheat the
native-born people out of their land. Fraud was
such a problem that the priest had to go door to
door warning people not to make their mark on
any piece of paper.
Legitimate business people launched a variety of
new enterprises in the railroad town. One of the
first businesses was JC Baldridge Lumber Co.,
started in 1881. (The business was sold in
2005.) Mariano Armijo decided Albuquerque needed
an elegant hotel. In 1882 he built the
three-story Armijo House at Third and Railroad
Avenue. Two years later local businessmen built
the 80-room San Felipe Hotel at Fifth and Gold,
which claimed to be the best in the territory.
The San Felipe offered a reading room instead of
a bar because one of its promoters disapproved
of the heavy drinking then common in
Albuquerque. But without liquor, the hotel
failed. Both hotels burned down in the late
Railroad construction brought bridge contractor
Angus Grant to Albuquerque.
He started a construction company in 1882 and
the Albuquerque Electric Light Co. a year later.
In 1883 he built the Grant Building, which
housed the 1,000-seat Grant Opera House. (It
burned in 1898.) Grant also owned the water
utility – the Water Works Co., which had a city
franchise to develop a municipal water system.
In 1882 Miguel Otero started a telephone system,
which had 34 subscribers a year later.
(Albuquerque got long-distance service in 1905.)
Huning and Hazeldine started the Albuquerque Gas
Co. and built a plant that converted coal,
shipped in by rail, to gas for street
Soon after the railroad arrived, the first daily
newspaper, the Golden Gate, appeared briefly. A
few months later Albuquerque Publishing Co.
acquired the Golden Gate’s press and began
printing the Albuquerque Daily Journal. Huning
was president and Hazeldine secretary of the
publishing company. Four years later Stover was
president. (The New Mexico State Tribune, later
the Albuquerque Tribune, began publishing in
1923.) In 1889 Stover became the University of
New Mexico’s first president.
As New Town grew, Railroad Avenue (Central)
became the hub of retail and entertainment with
clothing stores, restaurants, hotels, theaters,
general stores, and plenty of saloons. The
appropriately named Gold Avenue was home to most
of the city’s banks, real estate firms and
Three years after the railroad’s arrival, Huning
built a 14-room mansion called Castle Huning at
Railroad Avenue (Central) and Fifteenth Street.
(It was torn down in 1955.)
With accessible transportation, the town’s
economy changed dramatically. Albuquerque became
a shipping point for livestock and wool, and the
lumber industry boomed. The sheep industry
continued to be important – the Perea and Otero
families alone had an estimated half-million
head – and Albuquerque was still the center of
the Southwestern wool trade. Wool warehouses
proliferated along the tracks. Rio Grande Woolen
Mills employed carders, spinners and weavers and
produced blankets and clothing. Wool even
contributed to professional sports in the city.
In 1880 William McIntosh, a sheep rancher in the
Estancia Valley, financed a baseball team, the
By 1885 New Town was mushrooming, and families
were building homes there. In 1891 wholesale
grocer M.P. Stamm filed a plat for the Terrace
Addition to sell house lots south of Central to
Hazeldine and east of the city limits to Buena
Vista. Local people then considered Stamm’s
subdivision way out on the mesa. It took an hour
by horse and buggy to get there.
The forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce
started in 1892. The Albuquerque Commercial
Club, which organized to attract residents and
promote investment, built a handsome, brownstone
building at Fourth and Gold. It featured plush
meeting rooms, a ballroom, parlors and offices.
The biggest employers in the late 1800s were the
Santa Fe Railway shops, the Albuquerque Wool
Scouring Mills, the Albuquerque Foundry and
Machine Works and the Southwestern Brewery and
In 1893 New Mexico suffered during the financial
downturn that gripped the nation. The railroad
went into receivership, although it would later
recover. What buoyed the Albuquerque economy was
agricultural production. Albuquerque’s truck
farms were then supplying mines in northern New
By the turn of the century Albuquerque had
surpassed Santa Fe as the Territory’s commercial
center. The Commercial Club raised money to buy
a tract of land and gave it to the railroad for
a tie-treating plant south of San Jose.
Construction began on the railroad depot and
complex in 1901. And in 1902 the Alvarado Hotel
opened. Completed at a cost of $200,000, it was
considered the finest railroad hotel of its
time. Charles F. Whittlesey designed the
California Mission-style building, which
featured towers, balconies, and arcades
supported by arches. It had 75 rooms, parlors, a
barbershop, a club, a reading room and a Harvey
dining room. It also offered electricity and
steam heat, luxuries at the time. Between the
hotel and depot was the Indian Building, where
visitors could see Indian artisans at work and
buy their wares. It was a successful early
effort to promote Indian art and sparked a
revival in native crafts.
In the early 1900s Albuquerque gained another
industry as logging gained momentum in the Zuni
Mountains, west of Grants. American Lumber Co.
was soon second only to the railroad as
Albuquerque’s largest employer.
Its 110-acre complex was built between
1903 and 1905 near Twelfth Street. Producing
milled lumber, doors and shingles, American
Lumber by 1908 was the largest manufacturing
company in the Southwest and one of the largest
lumber businesses in the country. It employed
more than 1,000 men in Albuquerque alone, more
even than the railroad. It also had its own fire
department and medical staff.
Col. D.K.B. Sellers was one of the busiest
developers of the period. He plotted and sold
700 lots in the Perea Addition in 1905. Then he
subdivided the Grant Addition on North Fifth
Street, selling the lots in 30 days. Next he
built University Heights.
In 1905 the Albuquerque Gas, Electric Light and
Power Co. completed its first generator near two
sawmills that provided its fuel – wood chips. It
would later become Prager Generating Station.