The strange lineage of Albuquerque High traces back to a small college in 19th century Colorado Springs

The strange lineage of Albuquerque High traces back to a small college in 19th century Colorado Springs

From Downtown Albuquerque News

You probably know Albuquerque High first and foremost as a place near the Big-I where Downtown area teenagers go to learn things, or perhaps through its famous former location in EDo, which was turned into a collection of lofts and condos 20 years ago.

But turn back the pages of its history even more and you eventually come to a founding figure who, at first blush, seems like he would have no business in this story at all: Edward Tenney, the second president of Colorado College, who directed the Albuquerque school’s creation remotely in an era when the fastest means of transport between the two states was an overland stagecoach.

Tenney was a deeply religious man from Ashland, Massachusetts, where he was the pastor of the First Congregational Church. Colorado College, which was founded in 1874, hired Tenney as its second president, and he moved to Colorado Springs to take up the job in 1876.

Not long after, Tenney began negotiations with the New Mexico territorial officials like Gov. Elias Stover and Judge William Hazeldine to establish a preparatory academy in Albuquerque, according to historian Charles Biebel. The two cities would not be linked by a railroad for a couple more years, so in 1878 Tenney sent an emissary named C. R. Bliss to Albuquerque by stage to meet with territorial officials about establishing a school that would be affiliated with and staffed by Colorado College. (When the academy eventually opened, it was run by Charles S. Howe, a professor from the college, though it’s unclear if any other staff members made the move from Colorado Springs.)

Founded in 1879, the Albuquerque Academy (no relation to the modern-day Albuquerque Academy) was originally located on the east side of the Old Town Plaza, reportedly where the Hacienda del Rio restaurant is today, according to Ann Piper’s book, “Education in Albuquerque.”

So why did a man from the east coast who had just moved to Colorado to take a new job start a private school in Old Town? Two answers: 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 says the school “incurred heavy financial losses during the Tenney era,” and that he “vacated the presidency” in 1884. He was replaced by 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 a financial boon, there were other motives: Tenney 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 early on territorial governments struggled to establish schools, leaving private groups to fill the need. 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 Old Town, too. He envisioned opening a school in Salt Lake City, 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 UNM) 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, then to the historic collection of buildings at Central and Broadway we know as Old Albuquerque High.

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. Financially kneecapped, the Albuquerque Academy closed for good in 1892, but APS decided to set up a school in the same building, then located at Edith and Central, thus creating Albuquerque High. It later moved to the collection of buildings that are now the famous lofts at Broadway and Central, and in 1974, to its present location off of Odelia.

Nearly 150 years later, Albuquerque High and its precursor institution still loom large over greater Downtown’s history and present, but it does not seem to have dominated the thoughts or legacy of its far-off 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. He died in 1916 at the age of 81.