Editor’s note: The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a twice a month column in which staff writer Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.
The Rio Grande didn’t always trickle.
It used to gush with enough power to destroy.
And destroy it did, all up and down the valley, gobbling crops, homes and whole communities.
A combination of drought, increased demand and management have depleted the waters of the river, making it more benign, but many Albuquerque area settlements along its bank are still thriving.
One of those is the unincorporated community of Alameda, which has a major east to west road of the same name running through it. The street was only two lanes not that long ago, making travel along it impossible and useless during rush hour.
It was eventually widened to four lanes and expanded further east, turning it into a viable road for traveling between the city’s east and west sides.
In 1903, the flooded river destroyed the village of Alameda, including its plaza, Catholic church and many homes. Both the plaza and church were located near the current intersection of Alameda and Rio Grande boulevards. Bernalillo County uncovered the church’s old cemetery in the early 2000s while doing work for a utility project. The village was abandoned after the flood and rebuilt east of original location along with a new church, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is still standing.
The first thing that probably comes to mind for most Americans when they hear the word álamo, is the famous battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” The rallying shout became popular in honor of a small number of Texans who faced off against thousands of Mexican troops, while barricaded inside the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas.
Despite its Texas fame, the word also has historical significance for the Alameda community.
Alameda is the Spanish term for a public promenade bordered with trees, according to Merriam-Webster. It’s derived from the Spanish word álamo, which refers to a cottonwood or poplar tree.
Current day Alameda was once part of the San Carlos de Alameda, or Town of Alameda, land grant. The grant went through several legal challenges and its exact boundaries are not known because the Rio Grande has changed course numerous times. Before the Spaniards settled there, the area was home to a Tiwa pueblo people.
The Tiwa are a prominent part of New Mexico’s modern day cultural map, calling the Isleta, Sandia, Picuris and Taos pueblos home.
According to Robert Julyan’s book “The Place Names of New Mexico,” Coronado found Tiwa people, where present day Alameda is now, when he arrived in 1540. The pueblo was destroyed during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and its displaced tribal members relocated 25 miles south to what is now Isleta.
In 1710, the grant was awarded to Francisco Montes Vigil, who migrated from Zacatecas, Mexico, for his faithful service to the throne of Spain. Vigil requested that specific piece of land, making sure to boast about all he had done for the crown, including his participation “in all of the efforts to pacify the Indians.” He claimed his large family was in great need of the land for their cattle.
Turns out his need might not have been that great.
He sold it two years later for a profit to Captain Juan Gonzáles who settled the area with his family and built a chapel there. The parish was called San Carlos. He constructed a large ranch home and the community sprung up around him.
Although the greater Albuquerque metropolitan area has swallowed up this once distinct town, the community retains a unique identity. There are families still living there whose ancestors farmed the land, using acequias to draw water from the Rio Grande.
Today some of the city’s most beautiful, unique homes sit along the bosque in Alameda and the Catholic church remains a center of the community. The Catholic cemetery along Alameda road is named San Carlos, most likely in connection to the original church, community and land grant.
It’s also a great community to enjoy the outdoors. The county’s Bachechi Open space, with its small forest, provides bird watching opportunities as well as a chance to witness the state’s ancient acequia system at work. In nonpandemic times, the county offers family events and educational courses there. Next door to that, is the Alameda Open Space, a launching spot for the paved and dirt trails along the bosque.
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at email@example.com or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”