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.
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.
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.
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.
Tubac Presidio State Historical Park is open daily, except for Christmas Day, from 9 am to 5 pm. 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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