When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed...

I spent a good chunk of this weekend running errands from the North Valley to Barelas. I couldn’t help noticing that the lilacs are everywhere this time of year.

Whenever I see lilacs, I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s moving elegy to Abraham Lincoln.

Oddly enough, I never made the connection between lilacs blooming and the time of year that Lincoln’s assassination must have occurred until just now. This despite having attended numerous productions in the infamous Ford's Theater and descending to the basement during intermissions to peek at the macabre exhibits related to Lincoln’s shooting and subsequent death.

What’s all this got to do with Barelas? Well, aside from the lilacs blooming all over the neighborhood, there’s only a tenuous connection, helped along by some serious free association. (Think lilacs-Whitman-Lincoln-Civil War-Albuquerque-Barelas Crossing.)

Those of you who’ve clambered on the cannons in the Old Town Plaza may have a glimmering of what I’m getting at here – the Barelas Crossing of the Rio Grande contributed to the short-lived Confederate takeover of Albuquerque.

But there's plenty more about Barelas Crossing in Albuquerque’s history. Check out some of the highlights below.

Zebulon Pike, of the eponymous Pike’s Peak in our neighboring state, spotted Barelas Crossing on his excursion to find the headwaters of the Arkansas River. Matthew Kanapilly and other historians have concluded that explorer Zebulon Pike’s 1807 description below is most likely Barelas Crossing.

“We crossed the Rio del Norte just a little below
Albuquerque where it was 400 yards wide, but not more
than three feet deep and excellent for fording. The citizens
were beginning to open canals, to let in the water of the
river to fertilize the plains and fields which border its banks on both sides…”

(Alan Oppenheimer, The Historical Background of Albuquerque,
Albuquerque City Planning Department, 1969, per Mathew Kanapilly).

Fifty-five years after Zebulon Pike traversed Barelas Crossing, Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley’s brigade left Fort Craig (yes, the same fort that’s been in the news lately), fording the Barelas Crossing en route to their takeover of Old Town Albuquerque.

On March 2, 1862 the Confederates (aka los Tejanos) arrived in Albuquerque, occupying the Plaza and Old Town. Upon conquering the town, they hoisted the Confederate flag over the plaza and struck up the band, playing Dixie. Their reign lasted approximately five long weeks.

Things began to change on April 8 when the Union Army returned. Fortified and coming off the heels of victory at Glorieta Pass, they headed south to Albuquerque in hopes of reclaiming the town. Skirting around Old Town to hunker down in Barelas and what is now the Country Club area, they plotted their strategy to take back Old Town Albuquerque.

Soldiers holed up in Franz Huning’s flour mill, located at what is now Laguna and Central. Their commander, encamped in Barelas, gave orders to fire their cannons at the Confederates in Old Town. Confederate cannons returned fire, starting the so-called “Battle of Albuquerque”.

(Fortunately for all, the battle was short-lived, with artillery fire lasting for only several hours and no casualties.)

On April 12, 1862 four days after the “Battle of Albuquerque” had ended, the Confederates retreated from Albuquerque, once again using Barelas Crossing to make their way over the Rio Grande.

For a time, a ferry service operated just north of Barelas Crossing. If you look due west to the Rio Grande from the polar bear exhibit of the Rio Grande Zoo, you’re looking about where J.A. Chavez and sons operated their ferry service in the 1870s.

Fast forward to April 15, 1880. The scent of lilacs wafts through the air, greeting the arrival of the railroad in Albuquerque just north of Barelas. Commerce picked up considerably for Old town residents, but South Valley ranchers and farmers were stuck without a way to easily transport their goods to the train depot across the river.

About a decade after the railroad’s arrival, the Barelas bridge was built, making it possible for South Valley ranchers to use the railroad to export sheep and cattle, among other things. Here’s a few images of the Barelas Bridge circa 1902 and 1910.

In 1911, one year after the Barelas Bridge became the first permanent steel bridge in Albuquerque, the Barelas Bridge served as the turn-around point for the first aeroplane flight in New Mexico. Here’s a shot of Charlie Walsh’s Curtiss model biplane(scroll down to the third image).

Barelas Bridge traffic has increased steadily over the years – in 1928 3500 vehicles passed over it daily as part of the pre-1937 Route 66; in 1948 records indicate 15,000 vehicles traveled it every day. The most recent Barelas Sector Plan report lists 39,000 vehicles a day as the average weekday traffic count for Avenida Cesar Chavez just a few blocks east of the bridge.

I found on Sunday that takes only 3 minutes to stroll the length of the bridge – considerably less time than it took the Confederate army to make it across, I’d wager.

Oh, and one last thing I uncovered while researching this post.

It turns out that the anniversary of President Lincoln’s death is April 15th.

So after you’ve popped that package in the mail to the IRS, you might want to take a minute to think about another reason this is a date worth remembering.

Views: 87

Comment by hannahbee on April 15, 2008 at 8:17am
Thank you for this lovely and informative post!
Comment by Luann Wolfe on April 15, 2008 at 10:33am
WOW! Thanks for the wonderful post.
Comment by Paul on April 15, 2008 at 12:16pm
Planted 2 lilac bushes this weekend, along with some rose bushes, some assorted vines, and a whole bunch of hollyhocks.
Comment by SoyJames on April 15, 2008 at 2:18pm
Comment by mombat on April 15, 2008 at 9:54pm
This was so lovely and well written- thank you.
Comment by dolores on April 16, 2008 at 7:24am
"April, is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dead roots with spring rain" t.s. elliot

"Now that lilacs are in bloom, she has a bowl of lilacs in her room and twists one in his fingers while she talks" t.s. elliot


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