History Lives at Tubac Presidio

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History Lives Here sign on rock at entrance to Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
A former Spanish fort in Tubac, Arizona is now a state historic park showcasing Arizona history

Tubac, a small town in southern Arizona, has a long and rich history. That history is preserved and on display at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park in the heart of town. The park was dedicated in 1958 as Arizona’s first State Park.

A presidio is a Spanish military fort or headquarters. The Presidio San Ignacio de Tubac was established in 1752, making Tubac the first European settlement in what is now Arizona. In 1775, soldier and explorer Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II set out from Tubac across country to establish a settlement in the San Francisco Bay area. That journey emptied Tubac of most of its residents. Apache raids drove other away and the presidio was moved to Tucson.

The fort at Tubac was re-established in 1787. In 1848, men left for gold in California and Tubac became virtually deserted again. It was revived in 1856 with the establishment of the Sonora Exploration and Mining Company.

Today, the history of the Tubac area before and after the establishment of the Presidio is showcased in the park. I highly recommending watching the short movie available in the Visitor Center before beginning a tour of the park. It provides good historical background. The tour of the park is self-guided. Visitors are provided with a booklet of information to help them through the tour. The booklet is to be returned before leaving the park.

A diagram at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park shows what the presidio looked like in the late 1700s
A diagram depicts what the Presidio looked like in the late 1700s
Stone markers of where former walls would have been at Tubac Presidio
Today stones mark where the walls would have been
Adobe stairway leading underground at Tubac Presidio
Stairway to excavated area

Most of the remains of the Presidio are underground. A stairway leads to an underground room where you can view layers of ash and charcoal as well as historical artifacts behind glass. In the fall of 1974, archaeologists from the Arizona State Museum and the University of Arizona excavated an area of the Presidio which included the Commandant’s house and the military headquarters. The underground viewing room was part of the central plaza between the two buildings.

Underground room with viewing windows into excavation area at Tubac Presidio
Excavation area viewing room
Entrance to old one-room schoolhouse

An old one-room school house, built in 1885 and used until 1965, sits on the Presidio grounds. When I visited, the interior of the school house smelled of wood and ashes, likely because the wood stove is still used to provide heat on cold winter days. I was struck by the good condition the school and by how large the room was. When I read that the room had once held 50 students at various grade levels, it no longer seemed so spacious. A list of instructions for teachers circa 1872 was written on chalkboards on one of the side walls. In addition to school maintenance chores, such as filling lamps, cleaning chimneys and trimming wicks on a daily base, there were rules for personal conduct. A man teacher was allowed one evening a week to go courting, two if he was a regular church-goer. Chalkboards on the opposite side wall contained punishments for student misdemeanors. Girls and boys playing together earned two lashes; misbehaving to persons on the road earned four lashes; fighting at school earned five lashes; telling lies earned seven lashes.

Old desks inside a one-room schoolhouse
School house interior
Outdoor cooking area at Tubac Presidio
Cooking area

Outdoor patio exhibits show how people lived, cooked, and worked in Spanish colonial times.

Inside the museum, well-organized displays showcase the area’s many historical periods and influences, including native culture, Spanish colonialism, Mexican Republic, the Territorial Period, hard times, and mining life.

Old printing press
Washington Hand Press, used to print Arizona’s first newspaper, The Weekly Arizonian, in 1859, is on display in the museum
Adobe vernacular row house with blue trim at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
The Rojas House is a mid-20th century adobe vernacular row house with the original furnishings of Luisa Rojas, a life-long resident of Tubac.

Check the Tubac Presidio State Historical Park web site for current open hours. The town of Tubac is known for its artists and artisans. A day trip from Phoenix (155 miles away) or Tucson (45 miles away) offers a change to take in both art and history.

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History Lives at Tubac Presidio. A former Spanish fort in Tubac, Arizona is now a state historic park showcasing Arizona history. #Arizona #Tubac #history #museum

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  1. As usual, I loved this post as much as I do your others…I always learn so much! Personally, I think we should re-instate the 7 lashings for telling lies! LOL And how cool is that printing press! What a great trip…thanks for taking me along:)

    1. Thanks Jacquie. The printing press room was pretty cool. Hard to imagine all the work putting those letters together to put out a paper.

  2. I was in Tubac a few years ago, but missed the Presidio. Great information — I’m tentatively heading back to that area this fall, so I’ll be sure to stop in this time.

    1. The Presidio Park is right in the old downtown area – easy to get to. When you first enter it, it can seem a bit disappointing because there doesn’t appear on the surface to be much there and the ruins are buried. But the movie, the school room, the excavation area, and the museum all combine to tell a great story about the area’s rich history.

  3. Hi Donna, I thought it was interesting that male teachers got one night a week to go courting, but TWO if they’d just go to church regularly. Lol I bet that policy kept church attendance fairly regular. Was also interesting that boys and girls couldn’t even play together or get whipped. Wow harsh!

    1. It was fascinating to read those rules on the chalkboards. They gave a real sense of the time period. Teachers’ entire lives were under scrutiny. And their responsibilities were custodial as well as educational. Any school or teacher that gave students lashes for anything these days would likely face legal charges. Sometimes change is for the better.

  4. Hi Donna – I’m thinking the Presidio San Francisco doesn’t count? Thanks for a fascinating glimpse into daily life in this settlement. LOL on the church attendance policy. Talk about motivation!

    1. Betsy, I found the church attendance policy pretty funny tool. I think the Presidio San Francisco counts, although I’ve never been there. And it seems to have a connection to the Tubac Presidio since people set out from Tubac under Anza to create a settlement in San Francisco.

  5. Such fun to look at your photos of the school and read the rules for students as well as the various chores that had to be done to keep the school in good working order. We always try to watch the movies because understanding the history makes a tour so much more interesting! I’d love to visit the Presidio Park.

    1. Anita, I don’t always watch the movies for various reasons. But this one was so interesting and helpful I will make more of a point to do that in the future.

  6. You do such a good job of looking at a place in detail. I vow to do the same in my next trips from now on. I have been to Tubac twice and did not even know about the Presidio. I guess I just go to the one or two things on my list and leave after just a short time!

    1. Thanks Carol. You can’t always see everything in a visit. The Presidio is the kind of attraction I tend to seek out.

  7. I love these kind of museums. The exhibits tend to give you real insight to what life was really like then. Interesting that the male teacher could even be a teacher if he wasn’t a regular church goer. I’d want to be a good student. All those lashes don’t sound like much fun!

    1. Nancie, the exhibits at this museum were very well put together to give that insight. I agree the lashes wouldn’t be much fun. Discipline in the school system has changed quite a bit.

  8. This is kind of embarrassing. I can’t remember if I visited the Tubac Presidio or not. If I did, it was in 1995 when my husband attended a conference in Tuscon and they put together a tour for the spouses. They took us to see San Xavier del Bac and I know we ended up in Nogales, Mexico. Looking at the map, it looks like we would have had to go past Tubac and the name sounds very familiar. This is why everyone my age should have a travel blog—-so we can remember where we’ve been. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Suzanne, that is one of the best reasons I’ve heard for blogging in a while. LOL. Even the just over 2 years I’ve been blogging, I find myself going back to a particular post to remind myself of some detail I’m trying to remember.

  9. I have never visited a Presidio, but thanks for sharing the interesting history of this place. I like the schoolhouse, with its rules. It reminds me of the one-room schoolhouse my dad attended in Saskatchewan. He apparently experienced the lashes now and then for violating the rules.

    1. Shelley, I too liked the schoolhouse. I don’t know that it reminded me of anything in particular, but it felt comfortable.

  10. Donna, My mother-in-law just moved to Tucson, so I guess I’ll be heading there more often (I’ve never been.) I’m glad to see there are plenty of places to explore and photograph!

    1. Corinne, Tucson is a lovely place with lots to do in and outside of it. I’ve not spent a lot of time there to date, but have a few day trip planned later this month that I’m looking forward to.

    1. Carole, I enjoyed reading about the SF Presidio, especially after visiting the Tubac Presidio and knowing the connection. I will certainly make an effort to visit it next time I am in San Francisco.

  11. Oh Donna thanks for this tour. We went to Tubac with friends who live in Tucson (a day trip in the area) and by the time we got to the Presidio we looked at the rock outline and went on our merry way – the spice shop called out. NEXT TIME thanks to you, we will give this place its due. Great post!

    1. Jackie and Joel, I was a little disappointed when we first entered the park, seeing the rock outline and what appeared to be little else. But I discovered there was a lot more to the park than appeared. It provided a wonderful look at the history of the area.

  12. I love these great off-the-radar historical finds. I’ve been learning quite a bit about Tubac from your blog. Hope to get a chance to visit soon. Headed to Arizona soon — maybe I can put it on the itinerary.

    1. Cathy, I agree about the off-the-radar historical finds. From what I’ve read in your blog, I think you’d like Tubac.

  13. Your posts are always so thorough and I truly appreciate your attention to detail. I don’t believe that I will ever get there, so you have a provided a virtual tour. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Suzanne. I seem to remember performance reviews at work mentioning attention to detail. LOL. Although Tubac is a wonderful little place, it is a little off the beaten path and there are lots of people who won’t get there. I hoped I piqued interest for a few and that the others just enjoy seeing it through my eyes.