Community Services

Spanish Colonial Period 1598-1821

During the period of 1610 to 1680, New Mexico's historical archives reflect the Spanish dominance on indigenous populations of what we know today as New Mexico. Clashes over missionary efforts eventually gave rise to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. For a time indigenous peoples were victorious in driving out European conquerors. The Spanish reconquest and subsequent colonization did not truly succeed until years later when Don Diego de Vargas claimed the territory as "New Spain" in 1696. While Coronado's explorations of "New Spain" occurred as early as 1540 in the Tiguex area near present-day Bernalillo, the first colony was not settled until 1598. The Village of Bernalillo was originally a military outpost and not recognized by that name until 1695.

Mexican Rule / 1821-1846

In 1821 Mexico declared itself free from Spain. Under Mexican rule, the vast land area of "Nuevo Mejico" was divided into four cabeceras (headquarters) on January 4, 1823. This new governmental division, which extended as far south as Socorro, can be considered the origin of Bernalillo County. On June 17, 1844, the Mexican government reorganized the subdivisions of the province creating three prefecturas. The third subdivision consisted of the Rio Abajo area, which eventually evolved into the counties of Bernalillo, Socorro and Valencia.

An 1847 map which depicts the three prefecturas is more accurate than earlier maps, yet still had serious flaws that caused major problems in the development and execution of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the United States and Mexico. This map was off by 34 latitudinal miles and 100 longitudinal miles from El Paso's true location.

Territories of New Mexico & Utah

In an 1862 map (during Mexican rule) the original boundaries of Bernalillo County extended from Texas to the San Bernardino Valley, California. At that time, the town of Bernalillo was called Bernalita, meaning "little Bernal" -- a village named after the children of the Bernal family.

Manuel Armijo House

This 40-room hacienda, belonging to Manuel Armijo, Governor of New Mexico during the Mexican period, stood on the Southeast side of Albuquerque’s Old Town until its demolition in 1910. It was modeled after the governor's mansion in Santa Fe.

U. S. Military Occupation / 1821-1846

Shortly after President Polk was elected, he announced his intention to acquire the territory of California from Mexico. When the Mexican Government refused to sell the land to the United States, President Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to lead troops across the Nueces River and into to the Rio Grande. Mexican General Pedro Ampudia sent word that the US troops must move or face war with Mexico. When Taylor refused to move, fighting broke out and by May 13, 1846, U.S. Congress officially declared war on Mexico. Within one month of military conflict, the US military takeover was in full force in New Mexico. On August 18, 1846 General Stephen W. Kearny claimed New Mexico for the United States, telling the people "they had nothing to fear if they would peacefully accept U.S. rule." Kearny's conquest has been reported in history as a "bloodless affair.”

U. S. Territorial Government / 1850-1912

It appears Bernalillo County was named for the town of Bernalillo, the original county seat.  Records show that in 1849 the town of Bernalillo was one of the largest in the territory and housed the Circuit Court. The origin of the name Bernalillo is believed to be from the family name Bernal, original settlers of the village. The Territorial Legislature moved the Bernalillo County seat to Ranchos de Albuquerque in 1851 and required District Court to be held there. An 1853 recorded Oath of Office shows Lorenzo Montaño as the first Justice of the Peace (October 17, 1853), Henry Winslow as the County Clerk and Rafael Armijo as Probate Judge and Prefect. At that time the Prefect was the highest ranking County official. Albuquerque did not become the permanent County Seat until 1883.

Bernalillo County Courthouse,1886

The first constructed courthouse was built in 1886 at a cost of $62,053.81. The three story building was constructed of gray stone with a peaked shingled roof and an exterior tower. The courthouse stood at the current San Felipe de Neri School site in Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza.                                                     



County Seats & Courthouses

1849 records show the town of Bernalillo as the first County Seat housing the Circuit Court. The Territorial Legislature moved the Bernalillo County seat to Ranchos de Albuquerque in 1851 and required District Court hearings to be held there. In 1854, the legislature transferred the County Seat to Albuquerque’s Old Town, where the Armijo's adobe hacienda served as the County headquarters until 1878. During a bitter election in 1878 the County Seat was returned to the town of Bernalillo and remained there until May of 1883. Albuquerque became the permanent County Seat May 15, 1883 with offices in the home of Ambrosio Armijo at Old Town Plaza and later in the Meddler Building on South Second Street until the beautiful gray stone courthouse was built in 1886. The current Bernalillo County Courthouse was built in 1926 and at one time housed all county offices, including the jail. Today (2015), the courthouse is used for county staff offices.

1964 Courthouse

This courthouse was built in 1926 with bricks imported from Colorado. Built in the center of its own park, the symmetrical design gave the building a Grecian, temple of justice effect. During the national urban renewal movement, the courthouse was renovated and refinished with sheets of marble to update its look in 1964.


PowerPoint Presentation created by George Powell, Media Specialist, Bernalillo County Public Information Media Services.

Click here to download the presentation.

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