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Author brings history of the North Valley alive

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Do you remember Monkbridge Manor?

Francelle Alexander can’t forget the imposing mansion that once stood on Fourth Street, just north of Candelaria.

Francelle Alexander as a North Valley girl in the 1950s.

“It’s the landmark I miss most from my childhood,” Alexander said during a recent phone interview. “It was the home of George Roslington, a man who made his fortune in trolleys. He went broke after buses replaced trolleys.”

Built around 1916, Monkbridge Manor was turned into a sanitorium for tuberculosis patients after Roslington’s trolley business went bust and was later other things before it fell into disrepair and was demolished decades ago.

“Monkbridge Manor was like a palace to me,” said Alexander, 80. “It was so different from anything else we had in the North Valley. It truly was a grand place. I was never in it, and I regret that.”

Alexander writes about the old mansion in the first book of her two-volume history of Albuquerque’s North Valley. Volume one is “Los Griegos & Los Candelarias” and the second “Alameda & Los Ranchos.” Both are published by Rio Grande Books at a cost of $24.95 each.

A photo from the Albuquerque Museum Photo Archives shows a service station on North Fourth Street about 1930. The construction of Fourth Street in the early 20th century spurred population growth and development in Albuquerque’s North Valley. (Courtesy of Rio Grande Books)

Alexander defines the North Valley as running from the old village of Alameda on the north to Menaul Boulevard on the south and from the Rio Grande on the west to the sandhills east of Edith Boulevard. She tells the story of this area from the establishment of Spanish villages along the Rio Grande in the 1700s down into the 20th century.

Alexander’s project, which consumed the years 2012 to 2017, was a daunting undertaking. Her research included census records; title company records; Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District maps dating back to 1927; Bernalillo County survey maps; previously published accounts such as Kathryn Sargeant and Mary Davis’ 1986 oral history of the North Valley, “Shining River, Precious Land”; and interviews Alexander conducted herself. She said her biggest challenge was what to include, what to skim over.

“What I wanted to include is that these were primarily Hispanic villages for 200 years and they evolved into Albuquerque suburbs,” Alexander said. “I tried to interview at least a few people in each village, some from old families, some from the early 20th century and some who arrived more recently than that. I tried to cross all ethnic and classes of people. I made some very good friends along the way. They certainly enriched my life both personally and professionally.”

Alexander has resided in Placitas for 17 years, but she is a valley girl. She lived her first few years in Armijo, in the valley just south of Albuquerque, but moved with her family to the North Valley when she was in first grade and lived in a series of houses from Los Candelarias to Alameda, often along a stretch of old Guadalupe Trail.

“We moved to Placitas because my husband wanted to be closer to the mountains,” she said. “But he says he can’t keep me out of the valley. I keep sneaking back.”

Alexander graduated from Albuquerque High in the 1950s, before Valley High was established. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history and education from the University of New Mexico and a master’s from UNM in education administration. She worked for the Albuquerque Public Schools for 25 years, serving as principal of schools such as Roosevelt Middle School-A. Montoya Elementary School; Eisenhower, Taylor and Wilson middle schools; and Freedom High School.

Besides Monkbridge Manor, Alexander writes in that first volume about some of the favored Fourth Street hangouts of her youth in the 1950s, places such as the Ernie Pyle and Yucca movie theaters, Scott’s Drive-In and Hub Hamilton’s.

“We had our favorite hangouts, our favorite hamburger place,” she said.

One theme of her history is the importance Fourth Street played in increasing the population and development of the North Valley in the early 20th century. In 1905, the territorial legislature authorized the building of a north-south highway designated as New Mexico Route 1, later Highway 66/85, but known in Albuquerque as Fourth Street. Because it was connected to Downtown Albuquerque, the North Valley was suddenly more accessible.

“People either love or hate Fourth Street,” Alexander said. “It just grew topsy-turvy. There was no zoning. I don’t think they will ever totally make it respectable, but I love it.”

Another major factor in the changing character of the North Valley in the 20th century was the creation of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District in the 1920s. Even after Fourth Street made it easier to get to the North Valley, much of it was still difficult to live on and farm due to flooding and the fact there were not enough drainage ditches to remove excess irrigation water. Alexander writes that by 1917, “it was estimated that half the land in the North Valley was alkali, marsh, sandhills, or sagebrush.” The conservancy district tackled the problem by constructing new drainage ditches and realigning old acequias.

“The lands were becoming water-logged. There was water on top of the ground,” Alexander said. “But it was amazing how fast the land drained with the drainage ditches. People looked around and said, ‘Let’s move to the North Valley.’ ”

The North Valley looks a lot different today than it did back in the 1700 and 1800s when Spanish families were settling along the Rio Grande, but Alexander believes that the roots of the Hispanic culture remain in the North Valley and will continue to distinguish that part of the Albuquerque area.

Francelle Alexander tells the story of the old villages of Los Griegos and Los Candelarias in the first volume of her history of Albuquerque’s North Valley.

She noted that Los Griegos has been designated a National Historic District and that 67 of its buildings, many dating from the mid to late 1800s, had been determined to be of architectural or cultural significance. She said that Hispanic homes from the mid-19th century can be found in other parts of the North Valley, especially along north Edith Boulevard, and that old Spanish chapels, some now transformed into private residences, still exist. And if you know where to look in the North Valley, Alexander said, it’s even possible to find a morada, the religious meeting building of the fraternity of Hispanic Roman Catholic men known as the Penitentes.

“People I interviewed who are Hispanic often mention their church and their families,” she said. “Family and church are the roots of Hispanic culture in New Mexico.

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