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Territorial Government
U.S. Territorial Government, 1846-1912

When Mexico and the United States went to war in 1846, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny approached Albuquerque expecting opposition. Instead crowds of people welcomed the Americans and wanted to sell them produce and eggs. As crowds swelled, the atmosphere was downright festive. After years of neglect by Mexico, the change was apparently welcome. At least one observer said residents believed that the presence of American soldiers would discourage Indian raids. Kearny did promise to stop the raids. It was a promise he was unable to keep.
For four years after the United States took possession of New Mexico, the new Territory of New Mexico was ruled by American military commanders, which didn’t please residents. They petitioned Congress to establish a stable, civil government.

On March 2, 1863, Albuquerque residents elected seven aldermen – four Hispanics and three Anglos. Two of the new aldermen were Salvador and Cristóbal Armijo. They passed 25 ordinances that governed animal and traffic control, sanitation, public works, zoning and establishment of a magistrate court and town marshal. The new ordinances prohibited citizens from throwing trash in the plaza and streets and relieving themselves in public and required them to remove dead animals. Demonstrating that the new council was serious, Alderman Salvador Armijo fined a number of individuals.

Between 1880 and 1885 the Townsite Co., a railroad subsidiary, had created New Town but it wasn’t a governing body. Citizens formed a county precinct in 1881 and elected a constable and justice of the peace. In 1882 businessmen formed the Board of Trade, a kind of chamber of commerce, which also functioned as the town’s government. The group established a Merchants Police Force and assessed members to pay for municipal projects. Prominent merchants Franz Huning, William Hazeldine and Elias Stover were on the board.

In 1882 businesses contributed money for the town’s first fire cart, and Perfecto Armijo and others donated materials for a small station. A year later the first flood control efforts began.  Floods had long been devastating to Albuquerque. In 1883, Bernalillo County organized a River Commission with authority to levy assessments on property owners within five miles of the river for earthworks at weak points in the river bank. They asked Congress to provide funding for flood control and also acted on their own to build levees, dikes and drainage ditches.

In 1884 Santiago Baca, William Hazeldine and Harvey Fergusson led a drive to incorporate Albuquerque as a town, which they accomplished in 1885. Citizens elected as mayor Henry Jaffa, president of the Board of Trade. They also elected four trustees to serve on a municipal governing board. The trustees, like Jaffa, were all small business men.

The new trustees passed ordinances to regulate dance halls, gambling dens and saloons. As a result, business licenses provided the new town government with revenue. They levied the largest fee on saloons, which outnumbered all other businesses. Fines for unruly gambling halls provided a second income stream.

Civic improvements quickly followed, as trustees approved franchises: the Street Railway Co. in 1881, telephone system, 1882; the Albuquerque Electric Light Co., 1883; the Water Works Co., 1885; the Albuquerque Gas Co., 1886.

After several disastrous fires in wooden buildings, the trustees in 1885 required all new construction to be masonry. They declared a fire zone between the tracks and Fifth, Copper and Lead and prohibited construction of wooden buildings or storage of flammable materials inside the zone. Three volunteer crews pulled fire carts; volunteer firemen had to be physically strong and fast runners as well.

In the mid-1880s, citizens raised money to develop a park on an odd triangular lot set aside by the Townsite Co. To raise money, young female contestants sold votes. The railroad’s superintendent bought the most votes for his daughter Lena. That’s how Robinson Park got its name.

By 1890 most streets in the business district were graded, guttered and had boardwalks.

In 1891 Albuquerque incorporated as a city, with four wards, each of which could elect two aldermen.  That same year the new city established a public school system, a sewer system and a public library.

For years Albuquerque boosters had campaigned to make their city the state capitol. By the end of the century, after numerous political and legislative battles, they gave up.

In the early 1900s, the state’s movers and shakers grew serious about achieving statehood. Gambling had been wide open in Albuquerque, but in 1907 political leaders believed that for appearances, they must ban gambling. That year the Legislature obliged with a new law.

From its incorporation, the city’s elected officials had no regular meeting place. Aldermen usually convened in the office of the city attorney. City government completed its first City Hall 1912 after passing a $30,000 bond issue. It was at Second and Tijeras.

County Government
Bernalillo County was one of the first nine counties created by the Territorial Legislature in 1852. The county seat was initially Ranchos de Albuquerque, but as Albuquerque grew, the seat moved here in 1854. The adobe courthouse stood north of the plaza on Main Street (Rio Grande). In 1875 leaders in Bernalillo, led by the Perea family, began to press for moving the county seat to their town, and during an election in 1878 Bernalillo prevailed, but not for long. Albuquerque continued to outstrip Bernalillo in growth, and in 1883 Albuquerque won back the county seat. In 1886 the new courthouse was built southeast of the plaza and served until the present courthouse was built in 1926. A county jail was built in Old Town near the county courthouse.


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