Tubac Presidio State Historical Park is Arizona’s first State Park. The presidio was first built in 1752 and was the first European settlement in Arizona. It has been under the control of Spanish, Mexican and United States governments. The park offers a museum, several historic sites, interpretive events, picnic grounds and the Anza Trailhead. The trail covers a little over four miles and travels along the Santa Cruz River between Tubac to Tumacacori. It is part of the National Historic Trail from Nogales to San Francisco.
The Village is where many visitors enjoy their stay in town. There are nearly 80 businesses, which include studios, galleries and restaurants. Be sure to check ahead of time for times. The Tubac Center of the Arts is a place for showcasing and encouraging the arts. The center includes an exhibit space, a performance stage, gift shop, art library and Members’ Gallery. Visitors will find this stop to be relaxing and beautiful. Make sure you call in advance for times.
Tubac Festival of the Arts February
Art Walk March
Los Tubaque os Living History May
Anza Days October
Luminaria Night December
There is a disagreement over the origin of the name Tubac. Some believe that it stands for “place of brackish water” or “black pool of water.” Yet, others believe the word means “low area” or “low ruins” or “low houses.”
Tubac has been the home for many cultures and five flags. The first people to live here were the Hohokam Indians. They arrived between 300 and 1400 A.D. Then in the 1500’s, the O’odham or Pima/Papago took over. Today, the O’odham Indians continue to live in the area on their Indian Land.
The Spanish arrived in 1691, when the Jesuit missionary Father Francisco Eusebio Kino traveled through the Santa Cruz Valley. Father Kino worked hard converting Indians and constructing missions and farms. It was here that a village and a visita for the mission at Guevavi were created. The village used irrigation for farming and raised cattle, sheep and goats.
It wasn’t until 1751, when the Pima Indians had had their fill of intrusion. Mining, military, church and settlers all closed in on the Pima’s way of life. The Pima Revolt created widespread destruction with the killing of two priests and a hundred settlers. The Spanish troops came into the region after the revolt and defeated 2,000 Piman warriors. Once the Indians had been subdued, the Spanish wanted to leave a mark. They established a presidio or military fort in 1752. El Rio Presidio de San Ignacio de Tubac was built to protect those living nearby in Tumacacori and San Xavier. Captain Juan Thomas de Belderrain was stationed at the presidio, along with fifty troops. Tubac became the first European community in Arizona and the second oldest west of the Mississippi River.
Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II also served at the presidio. His command stretched from 1760 to 1776. The chapel of Santa Gertrudis was constructed in Tubac under Anza’s command. Anza used the presidio as his base for two overland expeditions to California. In 1775, he embarked on his second trip. It was this last trip for which he is credited for bringing the original group of colonists to found San Francisco.
Once Anza returned from his last expedition in 1776, the Tubac Presidio moved to Tucson. This left Tubac unprotected, until 1787 when Spain reopened it. The Spanish also renamed the presidio El Presidio de San Rafael de Tubac. Mexico took control of the land in 1821 through the Mexican War of Independence. Still, the Apache Indians took their toll on Tubac. Tubac remained mostly abandoned.
Finally, in 1853 the United States became the owner of region with the Gadsden Purchase. It was during this period that stories of lost Mexican mines came alive. Many prospectors flocked to the area to try their hand at locating precious minerals. Charles Poston and Hermann Ehrenburg arrived in 1856. Both of them, along with some others created the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company. The company owned the Heintzelman mine, just thirty miles away from the presidio. The company used nearby Tubac as their base camp.
The town’s population boomed to nearly 1,000. It soon became an important settlement in this part of the country. Tubac was enjoying all of the advantages of being a big town. The Butterfield Stage serviced Tubac regularly. The first Arizona newspaper began in 1859 and was named “The Weekly Arizonian.” By 1860, Tubac was known as one of the largest towns in Arizona.
Unfortunately, this excitement was short lived. The Civil War broke out and many left to fight the war. This also meant Tubac was left behind. The town and mine were both abandoned, due in most part to the lack of protection and the Apache raids that had surfaced again.
Then in 1862, the Confederate Territory of Arizona was established. Soon after the Confederate Troops seized Arizona, the region was lost just a few months later. During this time of occupation by the Confederates, Tubac was known as Camp Tubac.
It wasn’t until much later, before Tubac came back to life. It was possible when the warring Indians in the area were finally subdued. When the attacks ceased, the town began again. A small group, including T. Lillie Mercer and Sabino Otero, established the town of Tubac in 1882. The same group built the schoolhouse in 1885.
Tubac continued to be a tiny settlement, until Dale Nichols built the Artists School in 1948. From that time on, Tubac has been a haven for artists. The town is also proud of its past. The Tubac Presidio State Historic Park was established in 1959 and the Museum in 1964.
Today, the small, picturesque community continues to be center for art and an important historic site.