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U.S. Territorial Transportation & Communications
Transportation U.S. Territorial Period, 1846-1912

When Mexico ceded New Mexico to the United States in 1846, the Santa Fe Trail linked the United States with its new territory. The government built a string of forts to protect the trail, including Fort Union in 1851 in northeastern New Mexico.

Traffic on the trail increased. An indication of volume is the record in 1858 of 1,827 wagons carrying $3.5 million in goods – including housewares, drugs, groceries, whiskey, hardware and ammunition. In time freight included furniture, musical instruments and heavy machinery.

Beginning in 1849 with the first stage line, the trail also hauled passengers, bumping along in stagecoaches. Fare from Kansas City to Santa Fe cost about $200 and included 40 pounds of baggage and two blankets. The trip took two, bone-jarring weeks.

Albuquerque got its first ferry boat in 1856, when the military commander recognized the need. For more than 20 years the ferry, near the present Barelas Bridge, hauled people, livestock, stagecoaches and freight wagons. Previously people had waded across when the water was low or used log canoes or skiffs.

When the railroad chugged into Albuquerque in 1880, El Camino and the Santa Fe Trail became obsolete.

The railroad didn’t exactly run through Albuquerque. Tracks were laid east of town to accommodate north-south track alignment and to avoid washouts when the Rio Grande flooded. On April 10, 1880, the tracks gained Albuquerque and on the 15th a freight train pulled in, without fanfare. On April 22nd a trainload of dignitaries arrived from Santa Fe, which occasioned parades, music by the Ninth Cavalry Band, speeches and fireworks.

The railroad spawned a second town, as stores and saloons sprouted along the tracks in tents and quickly built shacks. In time the new commercial district gained permanent structures of brick and brownstone. It was known as New Town, and the original community became Old Town.

For some time the depot was a boxcar set on pilings. Construction began on the depot and railroad complex in 1901. By then work had started on the Alvarado Hotel. Completed in 1902 at a cost of $200,000, it was considered the finest railroad hotel of its time.

The railroad brought goods in quantity that freighters had previously hauled on wagons and mule trains. It also brought newcomers. Before the railroad, Albuquerque’s population was largely Hispanic with a sprinkling of Anglos. By 1885, the town counted more than 20 ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Chinese and Italians who were building the line.

With accessible transportation, the town’s economy changed dramatically. Albuquerque became a shipping point for livestock and wool, and the lumber industry boomed. In the early 1900s, American Lumber Co. was second only to the railroad as Albuquerque’s largest employer. Its 110-acre complex was built between 1903 and 1905 near Twelfth Street. That’s how the Sawmill Neighborhood got its name. At its peak it employed 850 men and produced milled lumber, doors and shingles.

Because Old Town had housing and New Town had jobs, a trolley system linked the two. The Street Railway Co. began running mule-drawn trolley cars along Railroad Avenue (Central) from the train station to Old Town. In 1904 Albuquerque got its first electric street cars, which operated until Dec. 31, 1927. The next morning they were replaced by a fleet of five buses with eight miles of routes.

In 1891, when Albuquerque incorporated as a city, it had 5 miles of graded streets and 9 miles of sidewalks. It wouldn’t be long until the first automobiles were driving over city streets. In November 1897 R. L. Dodson bought a “Locomobile” in Denver and drove it to Albuquerque. It was the first car in the city.

In 1900 Louis Galles, who had come to New Mexico as a soldier in the Indian wars, bought another automobile. In 1908 he started the city’s first car dealership, Galles Motor Co. As cars began to proliferate, the municipal council that year set Albuquerque’s first speed limit for automobiles of 8 miles an hour.

In 1910 Fourth Street became part of New Mexico Route 1.

Albuquerque gained its first communications link to the world on Feb. 12, 1876, when the telegraph arrived. That year Maj. Melchior Werner opened the Centennial Hotel west of the plaza, which became a communications center of sorts; it housed both the post office (Werner was postmaster) and the telegraph office.

The city got its first telephone system in 1882. In 1901 the Mutual Automatic Telephone Company introduced dial telephones to the city.

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