Martineztown: A Family History

Martineztown, founded in 1820, is a small Spanish-American town that sits a stone’s throw from the 1970’s time-warped Albuquerque Downtown and beneath and between the busy Interstate 40. It’s the third oldest town in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the oldest is Barelas (founded in 1662) and the second oldest is Old Town (founded in 1706). Despite it being nearly 400 years old and central to everything in the city, most of Martineztown’s history is all but forgotten, save for a few books in which it’s mentioned in mere paragraphs. Thus, much of what I know about Martineztown, the town from which my paternal side comes, has been told to me by family.

Of all that I’ve come to learn about Martineztown, the main message is that it has endured a lot to stand today. In recent years, the town has been plagued by drugs, gangs, and severe poverty, as well as historically it’s been engulfed in political and religious controversies. Yet, Martineztown still stands, which is why I feel compelled to tell you about it, to share a piece of its living history and explain why it will forever be significant to Albuquerque’s history and culture.

An organized Martineztown backyard junkyard An organized Martineztown backyard junkyard (2018) A collection of toilets tidily lined up in someone's backyard, Martineztown (2018) A collection of toilets tidily lined up in someone’s backyard, Martineztown (2018) A lazy dog and old Ford pickup truck in an overgrown driveway, Martineztown (2018) A lazy dog and old Ford pickup truck in an overgrown driveway, Martineztown (2018)

Before It Was Martineztown

Unlivable, speckled with cottonwoods and the white micro flowers of the spreadwing plant, Martineztown didn’t look like it does today – it was a wetland. Colonial folk of Old Town called this wetland the “Commons” and they used it as a pasture where they herded their livestock for grazing in the summertime. Back in 1820, this was about a two-mile trek one way, mind you.

20 Years Later

When the year 1848 arrived, a period of great change took place with the end of the New Spain viceroyalty, which meant the collapse of the Spanish government, the breakup of the Spanish monarchy and the start of a series of events that resulted in a fight over empirical land ownership of the New Mexico territory. As a result, the territory was passed through many hands; 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, this was also a period of documented land grant acquisition and settlement. It followed the dint of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, just after the war with Mexico, and it was then when my family, the Martins – the Martineztown founding family – gained ownership of the Commons.

The Family That Made Martineztown

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 town with various stores and a bakery. The town was also visited annually by a traveling carnival – my remaining aunt still talks about this. Furthermore, the rather busy and bustling Old Town changed into a dated place and, so, The Commons became the new center and people called it “Martineztown” and it flourished with life and culture.  

The Namesake

Martineztown was named after Manuel Antoñio Martin – 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 owned livestock, farmed, and had many kids – 9, in fact; kids were considered assets back then. One of Martin’s kids 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 (literally translated: “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 a new settlement.

One of three family homes made of adobe in Martineztown (2018) One of three family homes made of adobe in Martineztown (2018) One of three original adobe Martineztown homes in my family's possession (2018) One of three original adobe Martineztown homes in my family’s possession (2018)

Land Rights

In 1918, Martin sold three properties to Ambrosio Baca (my two times great grandfather on my paternal mother’s side), which connects this story to my second bloodline – the Baca family.

Many years later, the death of Martin and his wife left three 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. Aniseta kept the documents stating her inheritance in her home, which was eventually burned in a tragic fire that was speculated to have been started by jealous and vindictive townsfolk.

The original San Ignacio Catholic Church (built in 1912) in Martineztown (2018) The original San Ignacio Catholic Church (built in 1912) in Martineztown (2018)

More drama would plague the town come 1922 when the Presbyterian Church (built 1922) rivaled the old Catholic San Ignacio Church (built 1912). Families became divided, converted to and fro between religions, and some never spoke with one another again.

Present Day

Despite the large breakup up of my family, the fire, and it burning all documentation proving my family is part of the Martineztown land grant, all three properties remain in my family today. Each property was and is approximately 12.5 yards by 51 yards – really narrow and pretty long from east to west – which makes them unique adobe features reflective of the original Martineztown aesthetic.

Furthermore, the gangs, drugs, and crime that have riddled Martineztown in current times have been counteracted by the community, old and new members alike, who have worked with organizations such as Habitat For Humanity to build new homes for low-income residents, as well as implemented community art on structures to help lift community spirit.  

A memorial painting on a Martineztown home (2018) A memorial painting on a Martineztown home (2018)

Although Martineztown is scarred by unfortunate events in history, the memories I have of my patron namesake town remain special. I spent every summer there as a child and I can remember distinctly believing I was cousins with just about every kid on the block because, what seemed like, every kid on the block was introduced to me as my cousin; this is not uncommon of Hispanic families because we are large and extended. I also recall elders who I had never met immediately recognize my sister and me as las hijas de mi padre, who also grew up in Martineztown.

Even though Martineztown doesn’t look much like it used to when I was a child, I still find it just as beautiful as I remember. The beauty is in its old alleyways, two non-gilded churches, various overgrown porches, culture, old cemetery, and on the smiles of faces who have lived through and seen it all.

My Auntie Eva in her Martineztown home (2018) My Auntie Eva in her Martineztown home (2018) My Auntie Eva's window chimes and decor My Auntie Eva’s window chimes and decor (2018) My Auntie Eva's spiritual shrine in her Martineztown home (2018) My Auntie Eva’s spiritual shrine in her Martineztown home (2018)

What do you know about the place you come from? Please share with me in the comments below!


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