Even before the steady traffic of tourists heading to points north, Albuquerque  was a way station. It was established in 1706 as a small farming outpost on the banks of the Rio Grande, where Pueblo Indians had already been cultivating crops since 1100, and named after a Spanish duke, then a viceroy in Mexico. When the Camino Real, the main trade route north from Mexico, developed decades later, the Villa de San Felipe de Alburquerque (the first “r” was lost through the years) was ideally situated, and the town soon prospered and outgrew its original adobe fortress, the central plaza ringed with one-story haciendas and a church.
Life continued relatively quietly through the transition to U.S. rule in 1848, but then, in 1880, the railroad came through town—or near enough. The depot was about two miles from the original plaza, but investors were quick to construct “New Town,” which became the downtown business district. Railroad Avenue—later named Central—connected the two communities, though increasingly “Old Town ” fell by the wayside, its adobe buildings occupied primarily by the Mexican and Spanish population maintaining their rural lifestyle, while Anglos dominated commerce and the construction of the new city.
Developers rapidly built up the land around the train station, with hotels, banks, shops, and more, while other visionaries looked to “the heights”—the sand hills east of the tracks—as the site for a new university.
In the early 20th century, Albuquerque’s crisp air became known for its beneficial effect on tuberculosis patients, and a number of sanatoriums flourished. Then Route 66 was laid down Central Avenue in the 1930s; by the next decade car traffic and business were booming, and by the 1950s, the characteristic neon signage on the numerous motor-court hotels and diners was in place.
Albuquerque’s character again changed drastically after World War II, when recruits trained at Kirtland Air Force Base returned to live; at the same time, the escalating Cold War fueled Sandia National Labs, established in 1949, and engineers relocated to work on defense technology (thanks to the labs, Albuquerque still has more PhDs per capita than any other major city in the United States).
Streets were carved into the northeast desert in anticipation of the tract houses these new workers would inhabit, and during the course of the 1940s, the population exploded from 35,000 to 100,000; by 1959, 207,000 people lived in Albuquerque.
Growth has been steady ever since, and in the 1990s, the city experienced another development boom, helped along by the construction of one of Intel’s largest American manufacturing plants. Subdivisions have spread across the West Mesa, and small outlying communities such as Bernalillo and Placitas have been consumed by expanding sprawl. But areas in the “valley” along the river, such as Corrales  and Los Ranchos de Albuquerque , retain a village feel that’s not too far from the city’s roots as a farming community three centuries back.