Long before the Spanish arrived on the banks of the Rio Grande, the Corrales area was occupied by Tiguex Indians. Pit houses dating back to 500 A.D have been found above the valley floor. Yet by the time the Spanish settled, the Tiguex had moved elsewhere.
In 1710, the Spanish king awarded the Alameda Land Grant to a Spanish soldier, Francisco Montes Vigil. Vigil, unable to fulfill the condition of settling the land, sold the land to Captain Gonzáles. Both Casa San Ysidro museum and Casa Vieja restaurant were Gonzáles family homes.
The early inhabitants of Corrales settled two areas along the river – 26 families farmed the floodplain of lower Corrales and 10 families lived where the current center of Corrales is, considered inferior for farming.
Life was not easy for these settlers. First they had to dig ditches (acequias) for irrigation. The land was divided into long, narrow strips, providing equal access to acequia water. In each narrow strip of land, the more fertile part close to the river was used to raise crops, whereas the sand hills in the west were used in common for pasturing livestock.
Major floods were recorded in 1864, 1868, 1879 and 1904 which destroyed many original buildings, the village church being one. A new church was built on higher ground farther west of the river. San Isidro Church is still used for many local events.
Ethnic diversity entered the valley in the 1860’s with the immigration of Italian and French farmers to New Mexico. By 1900 Corrales had become known for it’s vineyards and wine thanks to these immigrants.
The 20th century brought more changes to Corrales farming traditions. In 1924, 55,000 acres of grassy mesa west of the village, held as common grazing land for over 200 years was purchased by Robert Thompson, a cattle rancher.
Prohibition put a damper on the winemaking vineyards of Corrales. In the 1930’s the vineyards were further affected by the rising water table which increased soil alkalinity lessening the quality of the grapes. By the late 1930s most of the vineyards had been replaced with orchards, pastures and cornfields.
After World War II, a new bridge constructed over the river made Corrales more accessible to the population boom from Albuquerque. In the 1960’s the Thompson ranch was sold to develop Rio Rancho. In response to this threat of suburbanization, the residents worked to incorporate the village in 1971. After incorporation, Corrales maintained its rural character while growing from 3,000 to about 10,000 residents.
Though few residents make their living from the land now, rural traditions still define the community’s character. Many maintain urban farms and gardens including commercial tree nurseries, flower gardens, and apple orchards. The vineyards of the last century are making a comeback with new vines added each year. Tourism is important also. Visitors and residents alike can enjoy galleries, unique shops, and fine restaurants and wineries all set in a beautiful rural landscape with true New Mexican historical roots.
This article was originally published in the 2016 Balloon Fiesta, a publication that highlights Balloon Fiesta activities and vendors.