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Gary’s Glimpses: Going back in time at a senior center

Visitors look at photographs Martha Liebert, at front of the room describing another photo, at Meadowlark Senior Center Wednesday afternoon.
Photo by Gary Herron/Observer

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Being a lifelong learner and especially interested about history in recent years, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to hear about the history of Sandoval County.

Last Wednesday afternoon, I headed to Meadowlark Senior Center, where, along with about two-dozen other folks, I was treated to just that by renowned local historian and archivist Martha Liebert. When a person has a library named after them, as Liebert has in Bernalillo, instant credibility is attached.

Liebert started her presentation with geology — where it all started 110 million years ago, give or take a century. She explained how the Rio Grande Trench cut the state in half, a little about the formation of the Valles Caldera and a series of arroyos leading into what is known as “Rio Abajo” from the Sandias to the east.

The area was besieged over a few hundred years, she said, by stretches of drought, followed by stretches of flooding and then back to drought.

“Bernalillo began on a flood plain,” she said, showing photos of 20th-century flooding and talking about destruction in 1949 of Our Lady of Sorrows Church there.

Gary Herron

Liebert kept her talk, for the most part, in chronological order, which I appreciated: the Indian Period, Coronado’s arrival in 1540 — and she chuckled as she said she recently learned the viceroy of Spain had sent Coronado to the New World to find a land bridge to China; the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the Spanish Inquisition; the arrival of the U.S. Army, which repossessed land from earlier settlers; the arrival in 1880 of the railroad; and a few more highlights from her life in Bernalillo.

She had quite a few old photos, plus reproductions — arguably one of the neatest was of San Felipe Pueblo in 1880.

Liebert told how Bernalillo was the original choice of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad to be its division point. The area’s major land-owner asked for an exorbitant price per acre, sending the ATSF to Albuquerque, which meant countless jobs and other economic opportunity.

Of course, back then, Bernalillo had the White Pine Lumber Co., which had its logs hauled to the town by rail from the Jemez Mountains. That mill “died” when workers went on strike in the 1930s — apparently workers thought they were worth more than 20 cents a day.

The rails were removed during World War II, with the steel needed for the Allied war machine.

In an interesting link from the past to the present, Liebert told about the August feast of San Lorenzo, more than 300 years old and still gloriously celebrated annually.

In some of my own research, I have been reading about the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos in 1943-45, with that research leading to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, ending World War II.

Yes, she knew Los Alamos back then was part of Sandoval County, but she had no information to share — nor, she added, was there anything about the Atomic City at the DeLavy House, where the county museum’s collections and monthly talks take place.

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