The Tubac Presidio is one of the rare sites where the story of New Spain’s presidios can be adequately told. Tubac’s historic significance is heightened by the rarity of presidio sites. Only two others exist in Arizona: one is now under downtown Tucson and the other, El Presidio Santa Cruz de Terranate, lies near Fairbank in Cochise County.
As the Spanish Empire attempted to expand the frontiers of New Spain, Catholic missions were established throughout modern-day Mexico and the southwest. Of these many missions, one was established at nearby Tumacácori in 1691 and Tubac, then a small Pima Indian village was set up as a mission farm and ranch. Spanish colonists started to colonize the area in the 1730s. Twenty years later the Pimas led an uprising against the Spanish and the settlement at Tubac was destroyed. A year later, in 175, the Pimas surrendered and the Presidio San Ignacio de Tubac was established to protect the town and the surrounding area from further rebellion.
Threatened by the establishment of a Russian presence in northern California, the Spanish sent Juan Bautista de Anza to develop an overland route to the coast and a presidio and mission in the San Francisco area. The expedition passed through Tubac in early 1774. Several years later, the Tubac garrison was moved north to Tucson, leaving Tubac undefended against Apache raids. As a result of the continued Apache activity, the Presidio was reactivated in 1787.
Tubac became part of an independent Mexico in 1821 and then part of the United States in 1853 as a result of the Gadsden Purchase. With the arrival of the Americans came Charles D. Poston, who established the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company in Tubac. Poston performed marriages, granted divorces, officiated baptisms, printed his own money to pay his employees, established Arizona’s first newspaper in 1859. The following year, Tubac became the largest town in the state. The prosperity was not to last, however, as the area’s soldiers were called away to fight in the Civil War. The town was again unprotected from the Apaches. Apache raids continued into the late 1850s and did not end until 1886. It was at this time that the third oldest schoolhouse in the state was built in Tubac; it is still used today.
Credit for the Tubac Presidio becoming a State Park belongs, in large part, to interested and generous residents of the community. Frank and Olga Griffin were active in preserving the local history, establishing the Tubac Restoration Foundation, and influencing the Parks Board to establish Tubac Presidio as a State Park. The Griffins made the initial donation of three lots to the Parks Board on December 21, 1957. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park was officially dedicated on Sunday, September 28, 1958.
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park was due to close in March 2010 when the Arizona Legislature swept Arizona State Parks funds. The community of Tubac came together and succeeded in crafting a Public-Private Partnership that allowed Arizona’s first state park to remain open and available to the public.
Now operated by the Friends of the Tubac Presidio and Museum, the Park features a museum, underground display of the Presidio ruins, Arizona’s first printing press, a picnic area, and access to the Juan Bautista de Anza Trailhead.
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