History Matrix
  - Sources
History of...
  - Ballooning
  - Civil War in Albuquerque
  - Land Grants
  - Neighborhoods
  - Place Names
  - Sports
  - Railroad Boom
  - New Deal Economy
  - Modern Economy
  - City History
  - Cultural History
  - Recommended Books
  - Task Force
   Railroad Boom

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 reached Albuquerque.

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 State Fair.

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 1890s.

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 illumination.

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 insurance agencies.

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 Albuquerque Browns.

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 Ice Co.

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 Mexico.

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.

  ©2008 All rights reserved