05 Jan La Magia de Martineztown
Martineztown is one of the most unsuspecting neighborhoods in Albuquerque.
And it’s where my family is from.
This little Spanish-American village is a stone’s throw from the 1970’s time-warped downtown Albuquerque and it doesn’t help that it’s also hidden beneath and between busy freeway on and off ramps. Yes, you could say that Martineztown is essentially all but forgotten, except by those who live, have lived, are from, and simply know about this place for whatever reason that may be.
Martineztown is the third oldest neighborhood in the city. It was founded in 1820. The two oldest neighborhoods in Albuquerque are Barelas Barrio (1662) and Old Town (1706).
Despite it being nearly 400 years old, there isn’t much written about Martineztown. Though, there are a few books out there that are written by highly specialized historians who’ve interpreted its origin and history from a handful of remaining texts; texts in which the town is mentioned in mere paragraphs. Thus, much of what I know about Martineztown, the town in which my paternal side comes from, is that which has been passed to me through spellbinding lore.
For one, I know that the town and its people have been through hell and back. In recent years its been plagued by drugs, gangs, and severe poverty. Historically, Martineztown has been shadowed by political difficulty and religious controversy. All of this as if cursed by a vengeful bruja.
Before there were People
Before anyone lived in Martineztown, it was called the Commons. It was a wetland that was used as a pastureland where colonial folk from Old Town would herd their livestock for grazing in the summertime. Back in 1820, this was about a two mile trek one way.
20 years later, in 1848, a period of great change would occur in the area. It was the end of New Spain’s Viceroyalty, which meant the collapse of Spanish government, the breakup of the Spanish monarchy and the start of a series of events that would cause a fight of empirical landownership of the New Mexico territory. The territory was passed through many hands, such as from the Spanish to the Indians, from the Indians to the Mexicans, and eventually from the Mexicans to the Americans. New Mexico became a State in 1912.
For Martineztown settlers, however, this was also a period of documented land grant acquisition & settlement. It followed the dint of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, just after the war with Mexico, and it was when my family, the Martin’s, the founding family, would gain ownership of the Commons land.
Shortly after my family acquired the Commons, the boom of railroad engineering swept through and changed it forever. The industrial boom caused large farms located in the valley to gradually disappear. Thus the Commons’ pasturelands were replaced by a self-sufficient village, with various stores and a bakery. The village was even annually visited by a traveling carnival.
Furthermore, the rather busy and bustling Old Town changed into a dated old place and the Commons became known as Martineztown and grew with live and energy.
Martineztown was named after Manuel Antoñio Martin. He was an early Hispanic settler who was son to Maria Antoñio Augustina. He was born in Old Town and baptized in San Felipe in 1823. Baptism records were the record of someone’s existence in this era.
Having grown up in Old Town, Martin lived a typical Hispanic settler lifestyle. He married, he herded livestock, farmed, and eventually had about nine kids; kids were considered assets back then. One of Martin’s children was my two times great grandmother Aniseta Martin. That makes Martin (senior) my three times great grandfather.
In 1850, Martin moved his large family from Old Town to the Commons where he settled and built Martineztown (in other words: “Town of Martin”). Being among the first descendants that came with Don Oñate (founder of New Mexico & first governor anointed by the Queen of Spain in 1598), Martin was able to acquire land rights for new settlement.
In 1918, Martin sold three properties to Ambrosio Baca (my two times great grandfather); which connects this story to my second bloodline- the Baca family.
Many years later, the death of Martin and his wife left property inheritances to my two times great grandmother, Aniseta Martin. With a land grant under her belt, ownership became a big controversy, as those not listed on the land grant would ultimately not benefit from its potential riches. Naturally, Aniseta kept documents of her inheritance in her home, which was eventually burned away in a tragic fire, speculated to have been started by jealous and vindictive townsfolk.
But even more drama would plague the town come 1922, when the Presbyterian Church (1922) rivaled the Catholic San Ignacio Church (1912). Families became divided, converted to and fro between religious and never spoke with each other again. This story is still told in my family, as a matter of fact.
Despite the fire, all three properties remain in the family to this day. Each property was and is approximately 12.5 yards x 51 yards; really narrow and pretty long from east to west. But as a result, my family is not part of the documented land grant of Martineztown today.
Nonetheless, I don’t visit as often as I should. The memories I have of the town as special though. Spending every summer here as a child until I was 14 was magnificent. It seemed I was related to just about every kid on the playground across from the San Ignacio Church and the old people, folks who I had never met, would immediately recognize me as la hija of my dad, who also grew up in Martineztown.
And despite the fact that the town looks really nothing like it used to, for some reason I still find its beauty to be remarkable. A bit rough around the edges, you can see its beauty in characteristics that are not traditionally considered beautiful, like it’s old school alleyways, it’s two rather ungilded churches and various overgrown porches.
If you ever find yourself visiting New Mexico and its famed Duke City (aka Albuquerque), I highly encourage you to make your way here, to the historical Martineztown. It’s a place where one can divulge in its perpetual mix of new and old and bask in the wonder of its history; both in terms of the people who built it, and the period in which it blossomed.