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Old Town and Old Friends

So when last we met, I had us leaving the Casita for Old Town. I suppose I ought to explain what Old Town is, just in case you’ve not run across it before. Not everyone has visited the Southwest, hard as that is for us New Mexicans to believe.

Basically, Old Town is what Albuquerque used to be. The city was founded in 1706 by governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdés.(1) This means that by New Mexican standards, it is a very new city...downright immature, in fact. Santa Fe, by contrast, has been occupied for over a thousand years--Native Americans had a pueblo there at least as early 900 AD. The Spanish city of Santa Fe was then established in 1607, and, for a variety of reasons, it became the capital of the province of New Mexico (or, more precisely, of Santa Fe de Nuevo México) and its been the region’s capital pretty much ever since.

But, Albuquerque was new. There were people already living in the area -- both Hispanic and Native American -- but they were living in towns and farms around what is now the city. The Spanish authorities decided that the area needed a central area which could provide administration, and perhaps military support, to those outlaying communities. Hence, Albuquerque...or Alburquerque as it was known at the time. (The town was named after Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, 10th Duke of, really, spelled that way...who was Viceroy of New Spain from 1702 to 1711. But that, too, is a story for another day.)

Albuquerque was thus originally a kind of hub for the local farmers and small towns up and down the Rio Grande river. As time passed, though, it became increasingly important as a place where commerce happened, and business was carried out. This, by the way, would be the city’s fate to the present day. It would be the commercial capital of the state, where Santa Fe remained its political and (to a degree) cultural capital as well.

Time passed. The Spanish Viceroyalty of New Spain was replaced by the nation of Mexico. That was followed by the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848, and Alburquerque became the American town of Albuquerque. After that, there were some small adventures during the Civil War--the city was occupied by Confederate troops, but most of the real action was elsewhere. See, for example, the Battle of Glorieta Pass, a.k.a. “The Gettysburg of the Southwest.”(3)

About the photos: First, a shot of Martha and her sister/friend Judy in Old Town during our visit there in 2018. I thought it turned out fairly well.

But, then, an economic sea-change arrived in 1880. The Rail Road came through New Mexico, but the rail company built its depot two miles east of the town center. All of a sudden, Albuquerque was two miles away from where it needed to be.

So it moved. The inhabitants basically picked up, lock, stock, and barrel, and built a “New Town” near the railroad station. “Old Town” was left to decline and decay. By 1930, nothing much was left...

Except...starting in the 1940s, Albuquerque’s citizens realized they were sitting on a gold mine. Old Town could be a traveler’s magnet. And, with the energy and drive for which the city remains famous (or infamous) to this day, people set out to make Old Town an attraction.

And that, the great and glorious tourist trap of Old Albuquerque, was where we were headed next.

More to come.


1. For the history of Albuquerque and its founding, I’m relying on the city’s Wikpedia entry, which is here:,_New_Mexico. For Old Town, meanwhile, I need to direct you to:

2. For more on the origins of Santa Fe, see:,_New_Mexico#History

3. The Confederate States of America hoped to gain territory in the Southwest, maybe even pushing all the way to the Pacific. At most this would discomfort the Union, and at best it would give the CSA access to much needed resources, as well as useful links to Mexico. However, New Mexico is not an easy place to occupy even in peacetime, and the Confederates were already stretched thin given their commitments elsewhere. Still, the South sent an army out of Texas under the command of Henry Hopkins Sibley.

For a time, it seemed that Sibley and his men would have the field to themselves, but then they encountered Union forces at Glorieta Pass in Northern New Mexico. The battle itself was a bit of a draw, but during the clash Sibley and his men lost most of their supply train. This made further advances impossible--in effect ending the South’s attempt to create a New Mexican empire. Thus, while the battle was tiny by Eastern standards (I can’t find a hard and fast number, but I gather that just about 100 people were killed in the battle itself, and that’s counting both sides), it had a significant effect on the war and the course of history.

Second, an AI-generated image based on a photo I took of Old Town. This is what AI thinks the area looks like. See what you think.

Copyright©2024 Michael Jay Tucker


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