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Hometown History: Mary Davis dives deep into how Corrales came to be

This bridge, pictured here in about 1950, was the only way to get from the east side of the Rio Grande to Corrales from 1912 to 1957. (Courtesy Corrales Historical Society)

CORRALES – “That’s another whole story – about the artist who built his house down there. And the stories about that road. That’s another thing. It just goes on and on.”

Mary Davis is speaking about the intimidating nature of her latest book, “Hometown Corrales: A Family Album.” Profusely illustrated with photos, “Hometown Corrales” (Sunstone Press, $25) tells the story of Corrales through the profiles of about 100 longtime village families. From her hilltop home on the western edge of Corrales, Davis can see the entire village of about 9,000 people just below. But being able to take Corrales in at a glance and getting the whole story of the village into the pages of a book are two different things.

“I just couldn’t get it all in,” she says. “This book is just skimming the surface of these people’s lives. I’m hoping that what the book does is to show that this place is full of wonderful stories and full of the people who have stayed here. Corrales has not been diluted by people who moved here more recently.”

Chasing names

Davis, 85, chair of the Corrales Historical Society’s archives committee, worked with the City of Albuquerque’s Historic Landmark Survey from 1978 into the 1990s. She is the author of the Corrales entry in the Arcadia Publishing series “Images of America” (2010) and, with Kathryn Sargeant, of “Shining River, Precious Land: An Oral History of Albuquerque’s North Valley” (1986).

Mary Davis

A native of Delaware, Davis moved to Albuquerque in 1961 when her husband, Paul, joined the English Department at the University of New Mexico. They got to Corrales in 1972 and have lived in their present house since December of that year.

She said work on “Hometown Corrales” started not long after the publication of her Arcadia Publishing book. She soon realized there was much more to the Corrales story.

“People called me and said, ‘I’m not in the (Arcadia) book,’ ” Davis said. “Even in (“Hometown Corrales”) there are some families I could not get enough on.”

Fifty-nine family surnames – some shared by more than one family – are covered in the book. The names stretch from Alary to Yunkers with Caplin, Cordova, Findley, Griego, Lucero, Minge, Perea, Rivera, Salce, Targhetta, Wagner and many more in between.

The families include those who can trace their origins back to the early Spanish settlers in the 17th century; those descended from Italian, French and German immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and those who arrived during the Great Depression or after World Wars I and II. All of the families profiled in the book had put down roots in Corrales before 1970.

“The biggest challenge was getting all the families straight, getting the marriages and the children straight,” Davis said. “It really hit me how many people in Corrales are connected by marriage.”

Rio Grande refuge

“Hometown Corrales” is fueled by interviews with family members but is built around the numerous photographs provided by families and the Corrales Historical Society.

“The number of photographs is stunning,” Davis said. “You didn’t get many pre-1900, but after that … We got a lot more photos as the project went on. There are pictures of very stylish young women in the 1920s. We weren’t a backwater. People paid attention.”

Although some Corrales residents were in tune with the rest of the world, Davis said the fact that for many years the village was a difficult place to get to helped it retain a unique character, some vestiges of which still exist today.

Rachel Fermi’s 2008 photograph of the San Ysidro Church cemetery in Corrales. Courtesy Mary Davis

“Corrales’ inaccessibility contributed to the special place it is,” she said. “The only way you could get here was this rickety bridge and this dirt road. It had this wonderful quality of being all by itself on the West Mesa. There was this wonderful view to the Sandia Mountains with no subdivisions in between because Sandia Pueblo was there.”

According to “Hometown Corrales,” a bridge had been built over the Rio Grande from Alameda to Corrales by the end of the 19th century. That bridge was washed away in 1904 and was replaced in 1912 by a narrow, metal truss bridge that would be the only way to reach Corrales from east of the river for the next 45 years.

Artists, back-to-the-land enthusiasts and others who appreciated natural beauty and the village’s seclusion moved in between World War II and 1970.

“The big jump (in population) came in the 1970s and ’80s when the freeways went in,” Davis said. “Corrales became much more accessible.”

Different world

Besides the family profiles, “Hometown Corrales” has a dozen sidebars on topics such as the Corrales Art Association, San Ysidro Church, the Adobe Theatre and Anita Targhetta’s Depression-era recipes, which include “Jack Rabbit” and “Wild Dandelions.”

In these pages you will find out how Corrales byways such as Mama Road and Hollywood Boulevard got their names and learn that “Laverne & Shirley” TV actress Penny Marshal taught dance in Corrales when she was a student at UNM.

The book is sprinkled throughout with the italicized thoughts and recollections of village residents, such as this observation by Jackie Cordova Barajas – “Corrales is changing so much, but we can’t go back to where it was.”

Even so, Davis writes that the village, trapped as it is between Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, is hanging on as best it can to its open spaces and flowing acequias and “the sense that when you enter Corrales you enter a different and more peaceful world.”

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