Lesson Plan

How the Early Railroads Changed New Mexico


This is a lesson that can be used to teach geography, history and economics using pictures, maps and scale models.


Students will:

Know: The first groups of people in New Mexico: Native American, European, and Spanish. The Transcontitental Railroad: What did it look like? What parts of the U.S. did it operate? The A.T.&S.F. Railroad and its significance to New Mexico.

Understand: Westward expansion and the railroad: involving the significant changes in daily life of people living in New Mexico.

Be able to do: Discuss what changes were involved with the introduction of the railroad in the Southwest.  Be able to answer how those changes impacted and altered the lives of people in Albuquerque.


Focus Question:


How did the different groups of individuals get to the Albuquerque area throughout time?

Put the following information on the board-

The Native Americans- 1250 AD

The First Europeans-1750 AD

Spanish Conquistators- 1600 AD

Since 1850: Developments

Each group and time period should include extended information on transportation means and resources available.


Handout #1

Reading #1

Reading #2

Reading #3




Step 1:

Guiding Question: What groups of people lived in New Mexico before the introduction of the railroad? What resources were available? Refer back to Background.

Step 2:

The teacher will discuss the three stories of expansion-

1. First Transcontinental Railroad

Focus Question: How did the railroads unite the United States and open the West for settlement after the Civil War? (refer to reading #1)

The teacher will tell the story of the first transcontinental railroad by using a map of the United States (locate Promontory Summit, Utah), scale models of the "Jupiter" and the "119," as well as the Union Pacific poster.

Step 3:

The First Railroads in New Mexico-

Focus Question: How did the A.T.&S.F. railroad win the race to New Mexico?

Using the New Mexico map, tell the story of how the Santa Fe railroad won the race to Raton Pass, and its progress across New Mexico. (Refer to Reading #2 and Handout #1)

Step 4:

Albuquerque's "New Town"-

Focus Question: How did the the railroad introduction change daily living in Albuquerque in 1880's?

Using old photos, maps and scale models, the teacher will tell the story of the Santa Fe railroad reaching Albuqueruque in April, 1880. (Refer to Reading #3)


Focus Question: What changes did the railroads bring to New Mexico and Albuquerque?

Put student answers to the focus question on the board. (Possible answers: population and economic growth, statehood,...)

Group Activity: Divide the class into four to seven groups. Give each group a set (2) of "then and now" pictures from the photo album. Have the students find the differences (changes) in the photos. After five to ten minutes, bring the groups together to discuss the changes they found, and how these changes impacted the lives of the people of New Mexico and Albuquerque.

Park Connections

Westward Expansion


1. Draw a map of Albuquerque in the 1880's. Show major streets, buildings, parks, schools, fair grouds and rail yards.

2. Write a five paragraph illustrated essay comparing the Albuquerque of 1880's with today.

3. Create an illustrated timeline of railroad history in New Mexico.

4. Draw a collage of the future of railroads in New Mexico.

Additional Resources

Bryan Howard. Albuquerque Remembered. University of New Mexico. 2006

Editor, Sheck, Ree. (1982) Railroads and Railroad towns in New Mexico. New Mexico Magazine, page. 3 & 4.

Fye, Sandra. Historic Photos of Albuquerque. Nashville, TN: Turner Pub., 2007.

Palmer, Mo. Albuquerque Then and Now. San Diego, California: Thunder Bay Press., 2006.

Williams, John Hoyt. A Great and Shining Road. New York: Times Books, 1988.


Transcontinental Railroad
A.T.&S.F. Railroad
Westward Expansion: Influence in Albuquerque