The strange link between Albuquerque High School and a college in Colorado Springs

The strange link between Albuquerque High School and a college in Colorado Springs

Nestled on a plot of land where Interstate 25 and Interstate 40 meet in Albuquerque’s Martineztown-Santa Barbara neighborhood, Albuquerque High School serves the educational needs of some 1,700 students each academic year.

But turn back the pages of its history a bit and you’ll come to the school’s founding figure who, at first glance, seems like he doesn’t belong in the story at all: Edward Payson Tenney, the second president of Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Tenney was a deeply religious man from Ashland, Massachusetts, where he was the pastor of the First Congregational Church. He moved to Colorado Springs in 1876 after accepting the role of president of Colorado College, which was founded just two years prior.

E. P. Tenney, the second president of Colorado College (Photo from the CC library archives)

Within a year of moving to Colorado Springs, Tenney began working to establish a private preparatory academy in Albuquerque, 350 miles south. The two cities would not be linked by a railroad for a couple more years, and at the time, the fastest means of transport between the two cities was an overland stagecoach.

As early as 1877, Tenney began negotiations with New Mexico territorial officials — like Gov. Elias Stover and Judge William Hazeldine — for the preparatory academy in Albuquerque. Tenney envisioned a private school that would be affiliated with Colorado College, and staffed by college employees. Tenney then sent an emissary named C. R. Bliss to Albuquerque by stagecoach to meet with territorial officials.

The meeting went well, and in 1879, the Albuquerque Academy (no relation to the modern-day Albuquerque Academy) opened its doors to students.

The academy was originally located in what is known today as Old Town, on the east side of the plaza, reportedly where the now-shuttered Hacienda del Rio restaurant is today, according to Ann Piper’s book, “Education in Albuquerque.”

Photo courtesy the City of Albuquerque

So why did a man from the east coast who had just moved to Colorado to take a new job decide to start a private school in New Mexico?

The answer is twofold: money and evangelism.

First, the money: In return for establishing the Albuquerque Academy, Tenney negotiated for Colorado College to receive $60,000 over eight years — somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million today.

It’s not clear if that money was supposed to come from tuition payments, some kind of government transfer, or something else entirely. It’s also unclear if the college ever received the money, though is it perhaps worth noting that a history page on the Colorado College website states the school “incurred heavy financial losses during the Tenney era,” and that he “vacated the presidency” in 1884. He was replaced by a series of professors who served on an interim basis for the next four years.

But even if a school in Albuquerque didn’t prove to be financial successful, Tenney had other motives: He sought to spread Protestant Christianity to the heavily Catholic New Mexico Territory.

Tenney was far from alone in such pursuits. The late 1800s were a chaotic time, especially in the west, and many territorial governments struggled to establish schools, leaving private groups to fill the need. For instance, the Sisters of Laureate operated a small school at San Felipe de Neri. The Sisters of Charity operated the Old Town Public School and Our Lady of Angels Private School. Sometimes parochial schools even got grants from the territorial government.

Tenney had plans beyond New Mexico, too. He also envisioned opening a Protestant school in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was part of an effort to evangelize Mormons, “thus weakening [their] resistance to Christian civilization,” according to a report presented to the members of the Chicago Association of Congregational Ministers in 1879. Though Tenney was successful in establishing the Salt Lake school, it closed not long after its opening.

The Albuquerque Academy, on the other hand, thrived, welcoming its first students in 1879 into an adobe building provided by Franz Huning. A seven-member board of trustees convened, with Stover (who would go on to be the first president of the University of New Mexico) as president, Huning as vice president, and Hazeldine as secretary. The other four spots were filled by local merchants. The school opened with 26 students, 10 of which were the children of trustees.

The next several years saw many location changes for the academy. In 1881, the trustees decided to move it to “New Town,” the present-day downtown core. Stover donated land along Lead between Third and Fourth for a new school. But it soon moved again, this time to Silver between Fifth and Sixth, then to present-day EDo.

A new classroom building being constructed at Broadway Boulevard and East Central Avenue in Albuquerque, July 1936

In 1891, the territorial legislature created a public school system, shifting tax subsidies that had supported the Albuquerque Academy to a public board of education. Without that territorial funding, the Albuquerque Academy closed for good in 1892. However, the newly created Albuquerque Public Schools entity agreed to lease the building, and it was eventually named Albuquerque High School. It later moved to Broadway and Central, known today as Old Albuquerque High, a series of buildings which have since been converted into lofts and condos.

The school moved to its present location in the Martineztown-Santa Barbara neighborhood In 1974.

Nearly 150 years later, Albuquerque High and its precursor institution still loom large in Albuquerque; however, it does not seem to have dominated the thoughts of its founding father. Tenney published a memoir in 1910, entitled “Looking Forward Into The Past,” but the academy he established in Albuquerque received only a cursory mention, noting that some 3,000 students were enrolled over a 13-year span. Tenney died in 1916 at the age of 81.

A version of this story originally appeared in Downtown Albuquerque News.

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