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Saint Augustine
Inside Old Town Albuquerque


Every since King Philip of Spain granted a few colonists permission to establish a new villa in 1706, the area we now know as Old Town Albuquerque has been the site of numerous challenges. However, the determination and spirit of the locals prevailed and today Old Town is a thriving historic district worth experiencing.

In the early 18th century, colonists were forced to build enclosed, self-sufficient placitas as mutual fortification from hostile Indian tribes who had lived in the area long before Spanish settlers arrived. Then the original San Felipe de Neri Church, the center of all community activity, collapsed after a particularly rainy summer of 1792. When officials of the reconstructed San Felipe de Neri church sold a field used as the church graveyard to a local farmer on a promise that he would relocate bones to a mass grave elsewhere in the town, locals were aghast when tons of bones later began to turn up in the farmer’s field.

Located at the foot of the mountains where the river makes a wide curve, the city was nearly destroyed in the flood of 1874 when the swollen Rio Grande overflowed its banks, leaving Albuquerque an island and sending many residents to the high grounds east of town. This was one of several flood events experienced by Albuquerqueans over the next century.

Over the years, the area was attacked by hostile Indians, claimed as a possession of Spain, invaded by Union troops, and occupied by Confederate armies. Despite having the San Felipe de Neri Church as the center of community, the town had its share of moral turpitude including brothels, saloons, gambling, gunfights, vigilante hangings, and opium houses.

Since the Villa de Albuquerque was along the route of the Camino Real, the main route between Mexico City and Santa Fe for people, animals and goods, the town eventually prospered. Hopes of continued growth soared in 1881 on the prospects of becoming a stop on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad. However, when the soil along the Rio Grande River proved to be too soft and unstable for heavy l
ocomotives, a more stable site two miles east of the center was chosen for the new depot. In anticipation of an increase in business, most of the merchants followed the railroad to New Albuquerque. Old Albuquerque languished and remained a separate town until it was incorporated into the City of Albuquerque in the 1920s.

Today, Old Town Albuquerque is vibrant and revitalized consisting of about ten blocks of historic adobe buildings that have been renovated into more than 125 shops, galleries and restaurants. It continues to respect the traditional Spanish pattern of a central plaza and church surrounded by homes and businesses. Most of the newer post-1800s buildings, originally constructed with typical western wooden clapboard siding on the front, were targeted by the Pueblo Revival Movement of the 1920s and 1930s when they were remodeled to add portals, vegas and stucco to meet visitors’ expectations of what the town should look like. Due in part to stringent architectural and landscape controls, today’s Old Town area retains much of its historic charm.

With this historical perspective, I was excited to join a group of about ten tourists on our docent-led walking tour of Old Town. In the descriptions that follow, I’ve included most of the stops on the tour along with some of the town’s history and stories, some true and some solely for their amusement value.
 
I found the tour to be informative, entertaining and well worth the one hour I spent with the group. After a late lunch at the La Placita restaurant, I spent the rest of the day wandering through the narrow, bricked side streets discovering other Old Town sites that included the International Rattlesnake Museum, the
Turquoise Museum, Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, and the Old Town Christmas Shop.

Having temporarily sated my appetite for Old Town, I headed back to my hotel and began plotting the next day’s exploration of Albuquerque’s newer attractions.

Below is a list of the sites I visited on my tour of Old Town -

Placitas - Protecting the Family
Our Lady of Guadalupe Tree Carving
Church Street Cafe
Our Lady of the Angels School
Florencio Zamora Store
Jesús Romero House
El Parrillán
Old Town Plaza
Manuel Springer House
Cristóbal Armijo House
Casa de Armijo
Ambrosio Armijo House and Store
Herman Blueher House
San Felipe de Niro Church
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