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The road to learning: Albuquerque boulevard, school named after a Presbyterian reverend


Donaldson Hall at Menaul School houses classrooms, the auditorium and administration offices. It was named after a longtime superintendent, Harper Donaldson, who held the position from 1916 to 1953. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Menaul Boulevard is the street you can probably find any piece of furniture you ever wanted.

It’s also teeming with restaurants, hotels, retail stores and more recently, a large homeless population. But the street wasn’t always known for its urban activity. Its roots can actually be traced back to the Presbyterian missions and Indian boarding schools.

Menaul Boulevard used to be named Menaul School Road in honor of Menaul School, which is still there today. The school property, according to a booklet the school handed out during a birthday celebration in 1981, consisted of “dry sand, on which grew cactus and loco. It was riddled with rattlesnake holes; and shortly after the first substantial building was erected and used, it burned to the ground. One Bible was saved!”

History has not looked kindly on boarding schools of that era because they separated Native American children from their families and their culture by forcibly removing them from their reservations. One of the goals of these types of schools was to assimilate its students into dominant Anglo society, suppressing their native languages and cultures.

During its 222nd General Assembly in 2016, the Presbyterian Church issued a formal, public apology for its treatment of Native Americans in Alaska, Hawaii and the continental United States.

Harper Donaldson stands in front of the hall at Menaul School that was named after him (Courtesy of Menaul Historical Library of the Southwest).

To understand how the school came to be, and how it was named, you have to go back to 1881. It was in that year that the government contracted the Presbyterians to start the now mostly demolished Albuquerque Indian School near 12th and Indian School NW. The school provided boarding and education for Native American children. This was the church’s first attempt at education in the Albuquerque area, and when the government took over management of the school in 1886, the Presbyterians decided to open a separate boarding school.

They purchased 200 acres along what would become Menaul Boulevard. The school only lasted four years before shuttering.

But it wasn’t the end for that campus.

Presbyterian reverend James Menaul, founder of Menaul School. The road was named after the school. (Journal File)

In 1895, Presbyterian Rev. James Menaul received funds from Presbyterian organizations to use the same campus to open a school for Spanish-speaking boys who were currently boarding at a similar school in Las Vegas, N.M.

This became what is the present-day Menaul School, named in honor of James Menaul after his death, with the road leading to it also taking on his name.

James Menaul was born in Ireland in 1842 and spent his young days farming before immigrating to the United States, although records don’t indicate when that happened. He came to Albuquerque in 1881 when it only had a few thousand people. He organized the First Presbyterian Church before turning his attention to education.

The reverend’s time in Albuquerque was well documented in the local newspaper. An April 15, 1883, Albuquerque Journal article documents the arrival of a 750-pound bell for his church from a Presbyterian church in Troy, New York. There are other articles that talk about him performing marriages, entertaining friends, getting a visit from his brother and spending the summer of 1884 in New Jersey.

The first graduating class of Menaul School in 1906. Pictured from left to right (bottom row) are James Gonzoles, Timoto Romero, Cosme Garcia, Av. Lucero, and from left to right (top row) are Charles Cordova and Clifford Perea. (Courtesy of The Menaul Historical Library Of The Southwest)

During the school’s 100-year celebration, Menaul’s grandson, David Alexander Lawson Jr., said his grand-father “knew what it was to be a true Christian.”

Today Menaul Boulevard services much more than a school campus. It goes from the North Valley, where it merges with Indian School, past Tramway in the east. It’s a useful road to use when traveling from one end of town to the other, although it doesn’t cross the river.

The west leg of the road once ended at Sioux Street, just west of 12th. It was eventually rounded off and merged with Indian School near that location in the North Valley to allow travelers access to Rio Grande Boulevard. I always wondered why those roads came together there. There is a small spur of Menaul Boulevard there as well that was once part of the original route.

Just as the street and its usage has changed, so has the campus and the nationwide approach to education.

The goal is to preserve, not eradicate, the culture of individual students. Diversity is now a core value of Menaul School. The Presbyterian Board of National Missions gave up control of the school in 1971 and passed it to an elected board of trustees. It’s currently a sixth through 12th-grade private day and boarding school. Most of its boarders are international students.

Menaul died in 1897, a year after the school opened, and is buried in Fairview Memorial Park along with many other city leaders and founders.

Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”


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