Editor’s note: The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a monthly column in which staff writer Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.
Passing a castle – or anything resembling one – while driving along Central Avenue isn’t what one expects.
So cruising by an apartment complex at 15th and Central named after a castle, lit up whatever part of my brain regulates curiosity.
It’s not an accident I do this job. I’ve always been a person who wanted to know the why behind something and then the why behind the answer.
Down the rabbit hole I like to merrily go.
Turns out this rabbit hole isn’t that deep. It didn’t take very long to discover the answer. A quick internet search and a discussion with a nearby resident explains why the white adobe complex with one portion resembling a castle tower is called Huning Castle Apartments.
They are named for German immigrant and Albuquerque pioneer Franz Huning, who built a mansion on that exact spot in the early 1880s. He called the two-story, 14-room Italianate mansion, situated on hundreds of acres, Huning Castle.
The estate had orchards, fountains, a gravel drive, green lawns, an artificial lake stocked with swans and lilies and was separated from the road by a white picket fence.
Construction began in 1881. Huning and his wife, Ernestine, moved into the home on Christmas 1883. The home straddled old – Old Town – and new – Downtown Albuquerque.
In fact, his daughters were only allowed to attend school in New Town after it was determined they slept on the side of the house that sat in Downtown. The property spanned from Central south to the Rio Grande, and east and west between 10th and 17th streets.
The apartment complex marks the entry to the Huning Castle Neighborhood, which includes opulent homes, tree-lined streets and such Albuquerque landmarks as the Albuquerque Country Club, ABQ BioPark Zoo, Tingley Beach and Albuquerque Little Theater. It’s also one site of the annual Christmas Eve luminaria display.
Huning Castle Neighborhood Association board member Len Romano has lived in five different countries and said the neighborhood is a special place to live. Residents, he said, are very aware of Huning’s legacy and his once beautiful home. The bosque is not far from the neighborhood and local restaurants and businesses are within walking distance.
“They (other neighborhoods) cannot offer what this community does,” he said. “The old tree growth changes the atmosphere of where you are. … There is a sense of history, preservation and community here.”
By the time he built his castle, the 56-year-old Huning was already in the twilight of his life. He was a successful landowner, developer and merchant. He platted the city’s first subdivision – Huning Highland – and was responsible for helping bring the railroad to Albuquerque.
Huning was born in Germany in 1827, the sixth of 13 children, to a family of farmers.
Huning says in his memoirs that it was evident from a young age he would not become a farmer or a great scholar, saying he was “thoughtless and lacked perseverance.” In school, he said he spent most his time reading and not paying attention to his coursework, hiding his open book under the desk.
But perhaps it was apparent, even at a young age, that he would have great adventures and wasn’t afraid of hard work.
You’ve heard the joke “When I was your age, we walked five miles to school, uphill both ways. In snow.” For Huning, the joke was reality, except the uphill part. He went to school for the first time at age 9. He and his siblings had to walk five miles each way and even during brutal German winters they schlepped along “rain or shine.”
He came to America in 1848 with his first stop in St. Louis where he worked as a clerk in a mercantile shop. He didn’t stay long. His adventurous and ambitious nature would soon lead him on his next journey. He went on a treasure hunt at the urging of several other young men.
No gold was found.
Time for another plan.
With the promise of $30 a month and food, he signed up to be a bullwhacker, although he had no experience driving oxen. The group headed West, he on foot.
It almost killed him.
He recalls driving the oxen “lips parched, throat dry and choked with dust” with no water in sight.
At one point, his exhaustion got the best of him. He lay in a field waiting for the end to come. But it didn’t.
Hours later he found the strength to walk the last few miles to the spot the group had stopped to camp. He was sick the entire next day and hardly left his bed.
This didn’t slow him down and his adventures continued.
Huning traveled around the state meeting a variety of characters, and even went on another treasure hunt with the military searching for $40 million in gold said to have been buried by Jesuit fathers. He finally settled down in Albuquerque and went to work amassing his fortune.
Huning died on Nov. 6, 1905, in the castle he loved surrounded by family.
“The end came to one of Albuquerque’s oldest and most prominent pioneers at 11:45 o’clock this morning at Castle Huning …” read an Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper article the day of his death. “The direct cause of his death was a complication of diseases due to old age, he being 78-years-old …”
His body may have been worn down and his time on Earth at an end, but his palatial home would stand erect for another 50 years.
His son Arno moved into the castle and lived there until the 1930s.
It then became a school before it was sold to developers W.A Keleher and A.R. Hebenstreit.
The home had fallen into disrepair, and with no historical preservation groups or concerned citizens to save it, crews demolished the once grand home of the Huning clan in 1955.
A Nov. 23, 1951, Albuquerque Tribune article noted its decline but not its sway over the neighborhood.
“The paint is peeling, only one tower remains, and the once-green lawns are now dust, but old Castle Huning, 1508 W. Central, looks out over busy Highway 66 traffic with the hauteur of an aristocrat.”
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseno at email@example.com or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”