History

The (Eventually) Complete History of Tucson and Southern Arizona

Being one of the oldest inhabited areas in North America, the history of Tucson and Southern Arizona is a long, complicated story to say the least. We are learning more and more every day about the ancient cultures who lived in the area, but most of the “big” events happened after the arrival of the Spaniards in the late 17th century. Much of it, also, is not American history. This region was part of Gadsden Purchase – the last territorial acquisition in the contiguous United States, and this wasn’t until 1854! As you read through this timeline please keep in mind that it is a living document – I am always adding to it, making changes/corrections and generally trying to make it more useful and interesting. Also, I am no historian and mistakes will be made. If you find one just send me a note about it (robert@betucsonan.com).

1150

A Hohokam village is established near the present-day Agua Caliente Park. This area is now referred to as the “Whiptail Site.”

1692

The Mission San Cosme Del Tucson as photographed in 1881
The Mission San Cosme Del Tucson as photographed in 1881 (from Library of Congress archives).

Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino first visits the Santa Cruz River valley and the Mission San Xavier Del Bac is founded. Kino would also establish a visita further north, near the village of Chuck Son which would be named the Mission San Cosme y Damián de Tucsón.

1700

Construction of the church at Mission San Xavier Del Bac is started. It is located in the center of a Tohono O’odham community along the banks of the Santa Cruz river (which, at the time, contained water).

1737

The original mission church for San Xavier is completed.

1751

The Pima Revolt, an uprising of Pima Indians against Spanish colonial forces.

1767

Mission San Xavier comes under the jurisdiction of Spanish Franciscans as King Charles III of Spain bans all Jesuits from the Americas.

1770

The Mission San Xavier church is destroyed by Apaches.

1775

Presidio San Augustin del Tucson is founded by the Spanish army and is included in the  the Spanish territory of Alte California including much of the rest of what is now Arizona.

1776

The Chapel of the Royal Presidio of San Agustin is founded in Tucson – this would become the Cathedral of Saint Augustine.

1779

On December 6th, 350 Apache warriors attacked Presidio San Agustin Del Tucson and were held off by the Spanish Captain Pedro Allande y Saabedra and a force of 15 men. It would be remembered as the “First Battle of Tucson.”

1782

On May 1st, some 600 Apache warriors descended on the Presidio San Agustin Del Tucson in the Second Battle of Tucson.

The Third Battle of Tucson commences on December 25th, with 200 Apache warriors attacking the presidio. Six of them were killed, decapitated and their heads mounted on the presidio walls.

1783

Construction of the Presidio San Agustin Del Tucson is complete.

Construction of the new mission church at San Xavier begins, this time by Franciscan ministers, relying on the Presidio San Augustin Del Tucson soldiers for protection against continued Apache raids.

1784

The Fourth Battle of Tucson.

1797

The new mission church at San Xavier is completed.

1821

Mexico gains independence from Spain, and Tucson (then Tucsón) becomes a part of Mexico (in the state of Occidente).

Mission San Xavier Del Bac falls under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Sonora.

1828

The church at San Xavier is vacated as all Spanish-born priests are banned by the Mexican government.

1830

The Mexican state of Occidente, including Tucsón becomes the state of Sonora.

1833

A Mexican land grant is approved for La Aribac ranch. This would be become the modern, unincorporated town of Arivaca.

1845

The United States’ Annexation of Texas increasing tensions between the US and Mexico, which would eventually lead to the Mexican-American war.

1846

The Mexican-American War begins. The Mormon Battalion captures Tucson from Mexico on December 16, 1846 and occupies it briefly.

1848

Tucson Population: 760

The Mexican-American War ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

This is the earliest date that La Casa Cordova’s initial structure may have been built. La Casa Cordova, located at 175 N Meyer Avenue, is the oldest home still standing in Tucson and the records of it’s origins are unclear but it is widely claimed that the original two-room structure was built in 1848 – it was not officially registered and noted on any map, however, until 1862.

1850

Bound for California, but waylaid by tuberculosis, early city civic leader Samuel C Hughes arrives in Tucson for the first time.

1854

Gadsden Purchase (Vente De La Mesilla in Mexico). The last territorial acquisition in the contiguous United States, it includes the lands south of the Gila River and west of the Rio Grande.

1857

The San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line (or Jackass Line) becomes the first stagecoach and mail line reaching California from the Eastern United States. This included many Tucson area stops such as: San Simon, Apache Springs, Dos Cabezas Springs, Dragoon, Benson, Cienega Creek, Mission San Xavier, Tucson, and Picacho Peak.

1859

Mission San Xavier Del Bac comes under the jurisdiction of the Santa Fe Diocese and is re-opened.

1861

The American Civil War. A combination of Texas cavalry and Arizona militia men led by Lt. Colonel John Baylor took control of Tucson as part of the Southern New Mexico Territory, and claimed it as the Confederate Arizona Territory, with Tucson as it’s capital, on August 1, 1861.

1862

The Confederate Arizona Territory is made official by the Confederate Congress and President Jefferson Davis. 120 Confederate cavalrymen are stationed at Tucson beginning February 28, 1862.

The Battle of Picacho Peak (April 15, 1862) in which a Union patrol is defeated by Confederate Soldiers is the Westernmost battle to occur in the Civil War.

Tucson is recaptured shortly thereafter by the California Column, a Union force led by Colonel James Henry Carleton and organized to force the Confederate troops out of the New Mexico territories. They attacked Picacho Peak from Casa Blanca (now on the Gila Indian Reservation just south of Phoenix), eventually rode into Tucson unopposed and succeeded in driving the Confederate soldiers all the way back to Texas.

In the Confederacy, Tucson was the capital of the Confederate Arizona Territory, but in the Union Tucson was a part of the New Mexico Territory.

1863

On February 24, 1863, the Arizona Organic Act is passed by the Senate and the Arizona Territory is formed, with it’s capital located in Prescott.

1864

The Sam Hughes House at 221 N. Main is completed.

1866

Hiram Stevens purchases the land to build his home just South of the Duffield House. The two homes would later be joined together by Stevens and come to be known as the Duffield-Stevens House at 151 N Main.

1867

Tucson becomes the capital of the Arizona Territory.

1868

The Cathedral of Saint Augustine is completed under the direction of Father Jean B. Salpointe.

The Fish House, at 119 N Main is completed.

1869

The Arizona Citizen newspaper begins publication.

1872

The Public Schools department is organized.

Tucson Population: 3500

1873

Fort Lowell, a US Army post is built at the point where the Tanque Verde and Pantano creeks form the Rillito River. The included Military Reservation included 80 square miles and stretched East to the Rincon Mountains.

1874

George Hand opens his saloon at the corner of Meyer and Mesilla. His “saloon diary” recounting the years 1875-1878 is considered a vital piece of Tucson history.

The San Xavier Indian Reservation is formally established by President Ulysses S. Grant. All non-native residents are forced to leave.

1875

Agua Caliente Rancho is purchased by James P Fuller, from Hermosillo, Mexico, for the price of $300. Portions of the ranch would later become the present day Agua Caliente Park on Tucson’s far Northeast side.

1877

Tucson is incorporated as a town.

Phoenix is named the capital of Arizona.

1878

El Fronterizo newspaper begins operation.

1879

The Arizona Daily Star begins operation.

Pedro Aguirre establishes the Arivaca schoolhouse, now the oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona.

1880

The Southern Pacific Railroad begins operation.

The Tucson Library Association is organized.

St. Mary’s hospital opens.

Tucson Population: 7007

1881

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads begin operation.

James P Fuller opens “Fuller’s Hot Springs Resort” at the hot springs near present-day Agua Caliente Park, helping to establish Tucson’s early reputation as a healthy destination.

1882

On March 19, Morgan Earp is killed in Tombstone, Arizona.

On March 21, Frank Stillwell is killed by Wyatt Earp in Tucson, at the Tucson Depot which is located at 400 N Toole Avenue.

1883

The city is chartered.

1885

The University of Arizona is founded (the location of which was then considered to be outside of Tucson proper).

1886

geronimo
Geronimo (from the Library of Congress archives).

On September 4, Apache Chief Geronimo surrenders to the United States near Fort Bowie, Arizona, effectively signalling the end of major Apache conflict in the Southwest.

Julius Goldbaum opens “Jule’s Club,” a smoking club, at 182 E Congress Street.

1891

Fort Lowell is decommissioned as a US Army Post.

Construction of Old Main is completed and the University of Arizona is opened.

1893

Erastus Bingham Jr first settles in an area on present-day Tucson’s northside which would become the community of Binghamton in 1916.

1897

Fuller’s Hot Spring Resort, at the site of present-day Agua Caliente Park closes in conjunction with the property’s purchase by Philip H Chambers. The property would be utilized as a cattle ranch from that point until the mid-1950’s.

1900

Tucson Population: 7531

1902

Construction of the Santa Rita Hotel begins at the corner of Broadway and South Scott Avenue. The hotel would cost $75,000 and take two years to construct.

1907

The Southern Pacific railroad station is built.

The J. Knox Corbett House is built at 179 N Main Avenue.

1910

Tucson Population: 13,913

1912

Arizona becomes the 48th state, and the last of the contiguous states to join the Union.

1916

The community of Binghamton is established near present-day North Alvernon Way and Dodge Boulevard (now the site of Brandi Fenton Memorial Park).

1917

Sam Hughes, largely credited with the establishment of public education in Tucson, the namesake of one of Tucson’s favorite neighborhoods and one of Tucson’s “founding fathers,” passes away on June 20.

1919

The city airfield is established at the site of the current Tucson Rodeo Grounds. It would be the first municipally owned airfield in the country.

Hotel Congress begins operation. It was built in conjunction with the Rialto Theater (finished the following year), and both were designed by Los Angeles architect A.E. Curlett.

1920

The Rialto Theater opens.

Tucson Population: 20,292

1921

Epes Randolph – the namesake of the Randolph Golf Course, Randolph Way, and at one time Randolph park, passes away.

1922

El Charro Cafe opens (now the oldest continually operating Mexican food restaurant in the country).

The Veterans Administration Hospital Number 51 opens.

1925

Davis-Monthan Landing Field is established.

The city of Tucson purchases the parcel of land which would become Randolph Park (later renamed Reid Park).

1927

The municipally owned airfield is moved to Davis-Monthan Landing Field and renamed Tucson Municipal Airport. Charles Lindbergh commemorated the event by flying his “Spirit of St. Louis” to te airfield (which was then the largest municipal airport in the United States).

1928

Randolph Municipal Baseball Park opens in Randolph Park.

1929

The Pima County Courthouse is constructed.

The Pioneer Hotel opens. 11 stories tall, it served elite clientele and featured the largest ballroom in the country.

The Minerva Cafe opens at 100 E Congress Street. The building would later house many downtown fixtures including the Stag Grill, Rallis Grill, Congress Grill and finally The Grill and The Red Room before burning down in 2013.

1930

The Fox Theatre opens.

The Plaza Theatre opens.

1933

Construction begins on Catalina Highway, spearheaded by Frank Harris Hitchcock. A prison camp was established at the foot of the Catalina mountains in order to provide labor (this would later become Catalina Federal Honor Camp, a Japanese internment camp during World War II).

President Herbert Hoover’s administration creates Saguaro National Monument on March 1st.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park (West)

1936

The Dillinger Gang including John Dillinger is famously arrested at the Hotel Congress.

1937

The Randolph Municipal Baseball Park in Randolph Park is replaced by Hi-Corbett Field.

1938

Old Tucson Studios is built by Columbia Pictures in order to serve as a replica of 1860’s-era Tucson for the film Arizona.

1939

Catalina Federal Honor Camp is established to provide labor for the construction of Catalina Highway.

1940

Tucson Municipal Airport becomes Tucson Army Airfield.

South Tucson incorporates.

Tucson Population: 36,818

1941

Tucson Army Airfield is renamed Davis-Monthan Field.

1948

Davis-Monthan Field is renamed Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

1950

Catalina Highway construction is completed.

1952

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is founded.

1953

The first Lucky Wishbone location opens at 4872 S 6th Ave.

1957

Fort Lowell serves as the setting for the syndicated television series “Boots and Saddles.”

1960

Mission San Xavier Del Bac is declared a National Historic Landmark.

University of Arizona Poetry Center is founded.

Old Tucson Studios opens to the public as both a film studio and theme park. While it had been in use since it’s construction in 1938, it had fallen into disrepair and Robert Shelton took over the property in 1959.

El Con Mall opens.

The Reid Park Rose Test Garden is started with the planting of 232 rose beds in what was then Randolph Park.

1962

Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse opens on Tanque Verde Road.

1963

Tucson International Airport opens.

1964

Tucson Botanical Gardens opens.

The bandshell and amphitheater are installed at Randolph Park.

1965

It was donated peacocks which eventually led to the creation of the Reid Park Zoo
It was donated peacocks which eventually led to the creation of the Reid Park Zoo.

Randolph Park’s “unofficial” zoo begins with the donation of two peacocks.

DeGrazia Gallery opens.

1966

The Coronado National Forest and Arizona Game and Fish Commission build the Parker Canyon Dam, creating the 162-acre Parker Canyon lake – a popular fishing destination for Southern Arizonans.

1967

The Reid Park Zoo, already including a number of donated animals and a baby elephant, is officially sanctioned by the city.

On December 19, an Air Force F-4D Phantom aircraft crashed into a Food Giant store at the corner of 29th and Alvernon resulting in 15 deaths.

1969

The Plaza Theatre is demolished, with the owners having been forced out as part of the City of Tucson’s “Urban Renewal” program.

Pima Community College is established.

1970

A fire at the Pioneer Hotel building kills 29 people and remains the deadliest fire in Arizona history. The ensuing arson case exemplified racial tensions in Tucson at the time as Louis C. Taylor, a young black man was convicted of the crime. New evidence suggests that it may not have been arson at all and the Arizona Justice Project pushed for a new trial in 2013 though it did not happen. Taylor was released in 2013 after pleading no contest and being given credit for time served.

1971

The Tucson Convention Center opens.

The Food Conspiracy Coop opens.

The Tucson Opera Company is established.

Trail Dust Town (including Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse) burns down. The Tucson Citizen newspaper would refer to the site as one of Tucson’s “few contemporary landmarks.” The owners immediately announced plans to rebuild.

1972

The film “Ulzana’s Raid” is filmed near Nogales, however it is made to appear as though it is set at Fort Lowell and a replica of the Fort was built to suit that purpose.

The Loft Cinema opens on Speedway Boulevard.

In December a portion of the original Santa Rita Hotel was demolished.

1973

Antigone Books opens on 4th Avenue.

1974

The Fox Theatre closes.

1975

The Center for Creative Photography opens.

1976

Pima Air & Space Museum opens.

1978

Randolph Park is renamed Reid Park in honor of Gene C Reid, the longtime and somewhat infamous director of Tucson’s city parks department.

1981

The Pamplona Crucifix, a 6 century old crucifix from Spain is installed at the Cathedral of Saint Augustine. The 17-foot tall crucifix weighs one ton and sits behind the altar of the Cathedral.

1982

The Tucson Mall opens

Casas Adobes Foothills Mall opens.

1984

The Rialto Theater (then a spanish-language movie house called El Cine) was condemned after a boiler explosion.
Pima County purchases the land for Agua Caliente Park on Tucson’s far Northeast side. The purchase was assisted in large part by a donation from Tucson businessman Roy P Drachman.

1985

Reeds and palm trees surround a pond at Agua Caliente Park
Reeds and palm trees surround a pond at Agua Caliente Park

Agua Caliente Park is opened on January 19th.

1986

The bandshell and amphitheater at Reid Park is given the name DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center after Georges DeMeester, the founder and longtime leader of the Tucson Pops Orchestra.

1987

California vs. Cabazon case in the U.S. Supreme Court enables Indian casino gaming.

Construction of Biosphere 2 begins in Oracle, AZ.

1988

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is passed.

1991

The construction of Biosphere 2 is completed and the first “mission” begins on September 26.  

1993

Daniel Contreras, of El Güero Canelo, opens his first hot dog stand in Tucson.

The major motion picture Tombstone, filmed throughout Southern Arizona including Old Tucson Studios, is released.

1994

On October 14th, the US Congress grants Saguaro National Monument status as a National Park, changing it’s name to Saguaro National Park.

1995

The Rialto Theater reopens.

On April 25 a large portion of Old Tucson Studios was destroyed in a fire. The fire is widely considered to have been arson, and while a suspect was identified he was never convicted.

1996

The Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art opens.

1997

Local musician Rainer Ptacek succumbs to cancer and passes away at the age of 46.

1999

The Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area is founded at the site of Catalina Honor Camp, a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

2002

Arizona passes Prop 202 ensuring the future of Indian Gaming and setting up revenue sharing payments to the state.

2003

The Hotel Congress is added to the National Historic Register.

The Binghampton Rural Historic Landscape, at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, is placed on the US National Register of Historic Places.

2004

The La Encantada Shopping Center opens in the Catalina Foothills neighborhood.

2005

The Fox Theatre reopens.

Jewish History Museum opens.

Southern Arizona Transportation Museum opens.

2006

Tucson Population: 535,000

In 2006 the Tucson Population of Pima County reached 1 million for the first time.

2009

Agua Caliente Ranch Historic Landscape is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The remaining elements of the original Santa Rita Hotel are demolished.

2010

Tucson Population: 520,116

2011

US Representative Gabrielle Gifford and 18 others are shot in Tucson.

2012

The Arivaca Schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

2013

On January 1st, 100 East Congress Street burns down. It’s most recent tenant, The Grill and it’s adjoining bar, the Red Room, had been closed since 2011.

2015

Tucson is named a “World City of Gastronomy” by UNESCO.