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U.S. Territorial Churches
U.S. Territorial Churches

Choices in houses of worship expanded dramatically during the U.S. Territorial Period.

The Rev. Hiram Read arrived in Santa Fe in a wagon train in 1849, intending to preach to gold miners in California, but decided to stay. On Oct. 10, 1853 he established the First Baptist Church in a small adobe building in Old Town, rented for $10 a month. It was the first Protestant church in Albuquerque. Membership dwindled with the Civil War and closing of the army’s post. Rev. Read re-established the church in 1887 on the second floor of the YMCA building at Gold and Second. The second minister, however, left after a year, complaining that Albuquerque was "too tough a town, with too many prostitutes and rapscallions." In 1892 the church moved to its own building on Lead and Broadway.

In 1868 Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy’s orders were to transform the Spanish Catholic Church into the American Catholic Church. He sent five Italian Jesuits to San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque, and they began the change. They added two wooden bell towers, done in Italian baroque style, and removed New Mexican santos from the church and gave them away to parishioners. Replacement art was paintings in wooden frames. With the help of local carpenters, they made hand-carved pews. The cemetery was removed in 1872. They added a convent on the west side in 1878.

In this period Protestants began arriving in greater numbers and began to build churches. In 1879 Central United Methodist Church, originally called the Central Avenue Methodist Church, began in a rented room.

The coming of the railroad increased the population – and the demand for new churches. Between 1880 and 1917, Albuquerqueans built 15 new churches. The Town Company, which was developing neighborhoods, donated lots for churches.

In 1879 Central United Methodist Church, originally called the Central Avenue Methodist Church, began in a rented room.


In late 1879 the Rev. Hewett Gale arrived in Albuquerque, appointed by pioneer New Mexico clergyman Rev. Thomas Harwood, who came to New Mexico in 1869. In April 1880 Gale started the First Methodist Episcopal Church, which met in temporary quarters for that year. By 1881 construction began on an adobe building, which was finished in 1882. It was the first church built in New Town.


In 1880 St. John’s Episcopal Church began in a room converted into a chapel at the Exchange Hotel and completed its church at Fourth and Silver in 1882. Also in 1880 the Methodists started Bowman Chapel in Old Town, and the First Congregational United Church of Christ began.


The Rev. James Menaul helped found First Presbyterian Church in 1881. (Menaul School was named for him.) And German immigrants started St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.


The African Methodist Episcopal Church began in 1882. (It survives as Grant Chapel.) And Immaculate Conception Church at Sixth and Copper became Albuquerque’s second Catholic church.

In the 1880s, Manuel and Anna María Martín, founders of Martineztown in 1850, broke with the Catholic Church and became Presbyterians, which is why the first church in Martineztown, in 1889, was the Second Presbyterian Church.

The First Congregational Church began meeting in 1892. That year First Methodist  Episcopal Church acquired two adjacent lots. By 1904 the congregation had outgrown the adobe church, and it was torn down to make way for a new church, said to be built by chicken dinners because the women of the church gave so many to raise money.   

In 1897 Congregation Albert, organized by German Jews, became Albuquerque’s first Jewish congregation. On September 14, 1900 the first synagogue, Temple Albert, was dedicated on the corner of Seventh and Gold downtown. Its design was noteworthy – a brick building with a round dome, a hipped, pitched roof and twin staircases to the second-story entrance. (It was leveled in 1951.)

Churches also contributed to Albuquerque’s education system.

The Sisters of Charity opened Albuquerque’s first public school in September 1881. The nuns also opened Our Lady of the Angels Private School. Both were located in the convent. The nuns taught the private school, and Jesuit priests taught the public school.

In 1887 the Methodist Church founded the Harwood Industrial School, at 1114 Seventh St. NW, as a boarding school for Spanish-speaking girls. (The school closed in 1976. Since 1992 it has been the Harwood Art Center.) And in 1896 Rev. James Menaul got Presbyterian Mission funding for a boarding school to serve Spanish-speaking boys in New Mexico. The Menaul School became independent of the church in 1972.

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