Tracing our "Roots" in Pima County

Part 1:   1200 -- 1899


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Hohokam Culture thrived in the greater Tucson area.
1540 Coronado's expedition crossed Arizona in search of the "Seven Cities of Gold".
1699 San Xavier del Bac was established by Father Kino. The foundation was started the next year.
1775 The presidio of San Augustin del Tucson was established on August 20, 1775 (Tucson's official birth date) by Col. Hugo O'Connor and Father Francisco Garces.
1797 The San Xavier Mission was dedicated.
1821 Population of Tucson presidio: 395.

Tucson Presidio
Sketch done in 1848
(Source: Chamberlain, My Confession)

1852 A new supply route to Tucson was created: "Uncle Sam," the first Colorado River steamboat, arrived in Yuma (December 3).
1854 The Gadsden Purchase brought Tucson under the jurisdiction of the United States.
1858 The first Butterfield Overland Mail coach reached Tucson on October 2.
1860 Tucson (actually, the "presidio") area population: 620+.
1863 The Arizona Territory was established on February 23.
1864 Pima County became one of the first four counties created in the new Arizona Territory (Yavapai, Mohave and Yuma were the other three).
1866 Fort Lowell was established.

Tucson was designated as the capital of the Arizona Territory.

In November, the Pima County Board of Supervisors established District No. 1, Tucson's first public school district. The district's lone schoolhouse -- a rented saloon in downtown Tucson -- opened in January 1868. 55 kids showed up. The first teacher left after four (4) months... the district couldn't afford to pay him.

1868 Tucson's first courthouse was constructed in 1868 at Ott and Court Avenue. It lasted until 1881.
1870s Vendors were selling water from wooden carts... for 5¢ per bucket.
1870 Tucson's population: 3,224

Tucson was incorporated as a Village.

The first military telegraph line reached Tucson.


The first public school opened on land donated by businessman Estevan Ochoa.

A peace treaty was negotiated with Cochise.


Tucson's population: 7,007.

The railroad (Southern Pacific Railroad) arrived in Tucson on March 20.

The first hospital in the Arizona Territory was established. The efforts of the seven Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet resulted in St. Mary's Hospital being sited near the base of "A" Mountain. The initial facility had 12 beds and a vegetable garden to help provide fresh produce for the patients.


The first volunteer fire department was organized. In October, a 1400-pound bell (for the fire hall) was purchased from a Boston manufacturer for $495.

The first telephone exchange opened in Tucson.

1881-'82 The first water company (private) was formed. Sylvester Watts, former resident of the Midwest, Albuquerque and Texas, arrived in Tucson. On April 23, 1882, he founded the Tucson Water Company. The initial source of water was the Santa Cruz River near what is now Valencia Road. A perforated pipe laid in the river bed collected the water. The water was then conveyed via 4.5 miles of riveted, tar-coated 8" dia. steel pipe to downtown Tucson (that pipe was replaced in 1907 with a 12" x 20" redwood flume). The first water was delivered on September 16, 1882. By April of 1883, 35 fire hydrants were in place. In the early years, there were no meters on the water service lines to homes or businesses. The fee was simply $2 per month.
1882 Gas lights were first used in Tucson -- initially, only at the old Courthouse. Lights had to be individually lit each night.
1883 The City of Tucson Fire Department was created.
1886 The Chiricahua Apache, Geronimo, surrendered.

May 3: An earthquake was felt in Tucson that was centered approximately 50 miles south of Douglas, Arizona. The Richter Scale was not yet introduced, but estimates put it at about 7.2 at its epicenter in Mexico.

Ground was broken for "Old Main" -- the first building on the University of Arizona campus.


Tucson population: 5,150

By this time, the Tucson Water Company had 8 miles of water distribution pipe in place within the 2 square mile Tucson city limits.

People were still fishing the Santa Cruz River in the downtown area.

1890s The first subdivisions lying north of the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks were platted. New houses were built there before the turn of the century.
1891 The University of Arizona held its first classes.
1892 The Tucson Electric Light and Power Company was incorporated. This was actually the re-incorporation of a firm that had begun producing electricity for Tucson's citizens 10 years earlier.
1893 Tucson's street lights were electrified.
1895 The Mayor and Council began a process to purchase the privately owned and operated Tucson Water Company and make it a public system.
1896 The Tucson Gas, Electric Light and Power Company was formed -- combining the previously separate electric and gas companies.
1890s Up until now the disposal of sanitary sewage for the residents of the Tucson area was accomplished with privies (outhouses). With the delivery of water under pressure to homes, new indoor plumbing (water closets, kitchen drains, etc.) was connected to either the existing privy vaults, or to new cesspools (which came into their own in the 1890's - 1900's). Soon it was recognized that the abundance of sewage would be too much for the cesspools (and certainly the old privy vaults) to adequately handle. The need for sewers became apparent.
1898 A horse-powered (actually, mule-powered) streetcar system was created and put into service. It traveled along a route running from the downtown area to the main gate of the University of Arizona.
1899 Dr. Hiram W. Fenner drove Tucson's first automobile -- a 'locomobile,' a version of the Stanley Steamer -- on the city's streets. The cost of the automobile was $600, and the railroad freight from Massachusetts to Tucson was $200.

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