This is Your Life
Happy 300th Birthday to You, Albuquerque
By Steven Robert AllenContemporary Photos by Singeli Agnew
Albuquerque, darling, you are looking so fine! I might be biased, but I can't think of a single other city on the cusp of the big 3-0-0 that looks even close to as pretty as you do. Sure, you've got a few blemishes, and, let's face it, it wouldn't hurt to trim a few pounds here and there. Still, all in all, you've aged well. Your mind is surprisingly sharp, and looking at you I'd be willing to bet you're just now entering the prime of your life.
Given the quick approach of your 300th birthday, this seems like an ideal occasion to take a look back on how you got to where you are today. It's been a long and winding road, Albuquerque. This, my dear friend, is your life.
Long before you were born, in approximately the sixth century, the ancestors of the Pueblos had already become permanent residents in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, living in pit homes along the banks of what would one day be your river. By the time Don Juan Oñate arrived in 1598, Indian communities already occupied all the really pristine land along your stretch of the Rio Grande. Since some of these communities were hostile to the newcomers, Oñate wisely decided to keep moving north.
The first European settlers in your neck of the woods were actually Catholic missionaries. In addition to bibles and churches, they brought along several nasty illnesses that killed off the local Indians in droves. Sad as this sounds, the infestation of foreign diseases opened up your valley to Spanish settlers.
Finally, we come to April of 1706—the month of your birth. By that time, of course, there were enough Spanish farmers in the valley to justify governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdés' establishment of La Villa de Alburquerque, a small community consisting of 252 people and a completed church. My golly, you were such a cute young thing!
During most of the 1700s and 1800s, your growth was somewhat stunted, if you'll recall. Throughout these years, you remained a scrappy trading post along the Camino Real linking Mexico to Santa Fe.
In 1880, however, you finally experienced a healthy growth spurt when New Town began to develop around a new railway station to the east of Old Town. Over the next several decades, trains brought a new influx of Anglo transplants to your bosom. During this period, you put on quite a few pounds as your commercial and political center shifted to the new Anglo neighborhoods around your current navel: modern-day Downtown.
Let's be honest, Albuquerque. Since World War II, you've blimped out quite a bit, spreading from the foothills of the Sandias across the river and far to the west. You're getting chunkier every year, Albuquerque, but you're still looking good to me. I don't just love you for your body, though. I love you for your mind as well. You mix the best of both worlds: You've got much of the cosmopolitan multi-ethnic culture of larger cities, but you've also got plenty of the neighborliness of much smaller ones.
This month kicks off a yearlong celebration leading up to your 300th birthday. Countless events are planned for the next 12 months, and these are detailed at www.albuquerque300.org. Invite all your friends. We're going to have a grand old time.
Unfortunately, you grew up long before the advent of the camera, so we don't have any baby pictures of you. We did, however, manage to dig into the photographic archives at the Albuquerque Museum and come up with some striking images from the last 100 years of your life, which, in a lot of ways, are your proudest years. Our talented photographer, Singeli Agnew, has also taken a series of contemporary portraits to present side by side with older ones, to show us just how much you've changed.
You're a big girl now, Albuquerque. I hope you enjoy your party. Let's do this again in 100 years.
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