ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Politician and businessman Elias Sleeper Stover started his life near an ocean and ended it near a river.
That ocean was the North Atlantic, off the coast of Maine, and that river was the Rio Grande, which was just a few miles from Stover’s home near Eighth Street and Central Avenue where he died. It was also just blocks from Stover Avenue – the street named in his honor.
It’s only a residential street and it’s not very long. Its prominence comes from its location. Stover Avenue runs alongside the zoo, and anyone who has ever visited there has most likely traveled along Stover Avenue.
Like many streets in that area, the name pays homage to a man who helped guide the city into a new age. Stover was instrumental in establishing what is now Downtown Albuquerque. He also served as the University of New Mexico’s first president, a state legislator and a Bernalillo County commissioner and was a co-founder of the First National Bank of Albuquerque.
It was timing and probably some luck that put Stover at the forefront of Albuquerque’s economic boom and growth that largely spurred by the 1880 arrival of the railroad. The timing was that Stover moved to Albuquerque in 1876, just four years before the railroad came. The luck was in his choice of friends and associates who helped him sketch out and achieve ambitious plans.
He teamed up with fellow city pioneers Franz Huning and William Hazeldine, notable men in their own right. They bought up land near the proposed railroad depot. The three were involved in establishing the city’s first subdivisions south of Downtown and helping bring the train to Albuquerque.
Stover’s foray into public life began well before he came to New Mexico.
He came from a family that witnessed some of the most pivotal moments of American history. His great-grandfather on the Stover side fought in the Revolutionary War. Stover’s father was a sea captain, and Stover himself was active in the anti-slavery movement. He moved to Junction City, Kansas, in 1858 to participate in the effort to keep slavery out of territory if it gained statehood. He was one of the city’s first settlers. Just a few years later he enlisted in the Union Army and spent two years fighting in the Civil War.
He was an artillery officer in the 2nd Regiment Kansas Volunteer Cavalry and saw extensive action at the Battle of Cane Hill, the Battle of Prairie Grove, and the Battle of Dardanelle.
After serving, he went into politics. He was elected lieutenant governor of Kansas from 1872 to 1874. He also served in the legislature there.
He arrived to Albuquerque in 1876 and set up a shop in Old Town. At that time, Old Town was still the center of commerce in Albuquerque. It didn’t take him long to step into the political arena again. He served as a Bernalillo County commissioner from 1881 to 1883 and on the territorial Legislature. He was also a member of a state constitutional convention in 1889.
A July 28, 1890, Santa Fe New Mexican article about the Republican League convention described Stover as a “commanding figure” and “level-headed man, and what he says is always listened to with marked attention.”
He served as president of the University of New Mexico from 1891 to 1897, although UNM archivist Portia Vescio said he did not leave a legacy worth boasting about. Stover had very little experience in academics and he had an unruly son, Roderick Stover, who was a student there. The younger Stover was a rule breaker and clashed with his father and other university officials.
His UNM presidency may not have been that remarkable, but Stover did many remarkable things in his nine decades of life. Even learning to live without a hand. According to the Dec. 25, 1886, Junction City Weekly Union Kansas newspaper, during a trip Stover “had a hand so badly shattered by the discharge of a gun while out hunting the other day that amputation was necessary.”
Stover was born Nov. 22, 1836, in Rockland, Maine, when America, New Mexico and Albuquerque were in their infancy. He died Feb. 3, 1927, at the age of 90. His Albuquerque Journal Feb. 4 obituary reminded readers of his many contributions, including to those of his final home town.
“For more than 50 years he had resided in New Mexico, but prior to his coming here, he had crowded into his 40 years possibly more experiences of a noteworthy nature than many public men encounter in a lifetime. … His civic activities were many and varied and he contributed much to the upbuilding of Albuquerque, where he came when practically the entire settlement was around the Old Town Plaza.”
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”