Check out & Enjoy the REAL Presidio in Downtown – It’s Where Tucson Started
February 18, 2015
By Cristina Manos
Presidio San Agustin del Tucson, also known as the Presidio, is tucked into Downtown’s El Presidio District at 96 N Court St., and many Tucsonans don’t even realize it’s there. Most locals associate the Presidio with the Old Tucson Courthouse or Presidio Park.
Presidio San Agustin del Tucson is the partially reconstructed northeast corner of Fort Tucson, which was built by Spanish soldiers in 1775, and is the location of the origination point of the City of Tucson. Fort Tucson was home to many throughout the Spanish Period, The Mexican Period and the American Period. Residents of this mini city included soldiers and their families as well as Native Americans, primarily the Pima Indians. Occupation shifted over the years and the Fort was eventually dismantled between 1856 and 1918.
As the Fort of Tucson was torn down the bricks were taken to nearby locations and used to construct other buildings. By this time Arizona had become a state and Tucson was starting to thrive. Life went on. In the 1950s George W. Chambers, manager of Tucson Newspapers, Inc., and Emil W. Haury, head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, realized that a historical site was about to be turned into a parking lot. Prior to paving, the men were able to perform an excavation of the area to uncover much of the history. The location is actually a corner of Fort Tucson and some original pieces of the structure, including an original colonial era house, are still there.
In 2007, as part of the Rio Nuevo initiative, reconstruction of the Presidio resulted in a refurbished historical site that now involves the Tucson community in education through programs like Living History and Friday at the Fort. Within the walls of the Presidio, the Spanish Colonial history and the way of life during the Fort Tucson era are studied, re-enacted, and taught to children and adults. Parents often especially love watching their children learn colonial skills such as washing clothes by hand, and appreciate the fact that their children are enjoying doing chores!
Educational programs at the Presidio are made possible by a crew of community volunteers who participate in studying, re-enacting and teaching Colonial skills to visitors. All of the volunteers are history buffs and take their costumes and positions seriously while engaging visitors in serious, historical, fun activities. Visitors experience everything from working with Colonial fibers to learning how to lasso a cow.
The Presidio will feature Living History once a month. The next Living History day is March 14th. It is a fun filled day for all involved. The quaint gift shop at the front of the fort is located within an original territorial house. Those who don’t want to charge on the front lines with a musket can relax and enjoy the museum exhibits and watch the excitement of children who enjoy the both activities and the Colonial characters.
Friday at the Fort is an educational program whereby schools within the area schedule field trips for free and bring students to the Presidio for a live history lesson. Over 1500 school children have been served to date by Friday at the Fort.
Amy Hartman, the executive Director of the Tucson Presidio Trust wants to “take it to the next level” this year. There are a lot of educational initiatives in the works and the Presidio needs more volunteers. The Presidio is also at a point where it needs an increase in funding. Hartman wants to be able to offer some aspect of the living history program every day, so as visitors filter in on slow days they can still see a few people weaving or blacksmithing. The Presidio will also engage in native gardening, and has plans to offer more native food at the fort for visitors to taste.
Hartman feels blessed to have all the volunteers who work hard to create a place in Downtown that offers history, education, and culture in a way that is fun for the whole family. The Presidio had over 20,000 visitors in 2014. Look for the Presidio to throw a benefit concert this summer to continue to search for funding that can keep this experiential history alive. After all, the Presidio and surrounding area are where the City of Tucson started. Support your roots and look for more information on events and how to donate or volunteer at www.tucsonpresidio.org