VAIL Preservation Society - Creating Community Connections Through Local History - Rancho Del Lago Timeline

Preservation is not just bricks and mortar.  Its true importance comes through its power to bring people together, building relationships and community as we work together to preserve our stories and cultural resources. Rancho del Lago – Timeline Variant Names Crane & Fraker’s, Flaccaus Ranch, LaLoga, Cienega Ranch, La Cienega Ranch, Maull’s Place, Vail Ranch, Vail Valley Ranch Township 16, Range 16, Sections 9, 4, 10, 3, 15, 14 Area Homestead Claims: Teclo Lujan1882, Victor Chavez 1882, Francisco Leon 1891, Carter Crane 1898, John Fraker 1902, E.O. Miller 1903, Carter Crane 1906, and Jeremiah Tattersfield 1913, Heirs of Harold Tattersfield 1913, Eric Tattersfield 1914, Casimiro Bravo 1924, Alma Tattersfield 1926, Santiago Leon 1933, and Marguerite Contzen 1936 Nearby Transportation Routes: Mormon Battalion passes eight miles to the east in 1848, San Antonio to San Diego, National and Butterfield stage routes pass nearby. Southern Emigrant Road, Hwy 80 one mile south 1927-31 (now Old Vail Rd.)


1450      …and earlier, the area was home to the Hohokam

1500      Tohono O’odham-traditional use lands

c1700    Sobaipuri, Apache-traditional use lands

1844    Punta de Agua (point of water) on Lt. Elliott’s 1844 map. Later called Cienega after the stage station of the same name about eight miles to the east. Area around stage station also called Cienega.

1873    Surveyed. Theodore White, Surveyor

1880     Southern Pacific Railroad tracks follow the Emigrant Road/Old Wagon Road into Cienega Creek

1891    Carter Crane & John Fraker “Impound the Waters of the Cienega” for farming. Irrigation canals built to water crops. Starting out with a mining water allotment, a canal 18” deep and 3’ wide, by the mid-1890s they were had built a dam       that was enlarged over the years.

1894    The Arizona Daily Star reported that the lagoons along the Cienega were full of wild ducks that drew hunters. Until about 1915 the Pantano is called interchangeably Rillito or Pantano.

1897    “Messrs. Fraker and Crane, of Vail’s station, have probably the finest single ranch there is in Southern Arizona. They have 600 acres under fence with more than sufficient water to irrigate the whole tract. Their water they developed by cutting into the Cienega… The harvest this year yielded 1,500 sacks of wheat and barley. …over 100 tons of alfalfa and barley hay. When these men first settled on their present homestead they were regarded as visionary in their ideas so far as it affected their water supply, but they went work themselves and by hard labor developed one of the finest bodies of permanent water there in in the entire country. This place is well worth a visit.” Arizona Daily Star,

1897. Crane & Fraker were supplying both ends of the Tucson to Helvetia Stage line as well as the livery in Vail where the horses were changed out for the second leg of the trip. 1897    Cienaga [sic] School District No. 36. “Commencing at a point two miles north of the residence of “Crane and Fraker” in Section 10, Township 16S, Range 16E

1898    Lillian Lively and Edna Harris, infants are buried near their parents’ home. The Harris and Lively families were teamsters who also rented a house and land from Crane and Fraker.

c1903    Mera Harris about three or four years old is taken to the doctor by wagon to Tucson. She dies later at home and is buried near her cousins.  Esmond Station train crash six miles west of Vail. The fire was so intense that the Harris and Lively families still talk about the orange glow over the western horizon to this day.

1903    Henry Dowdle buys a ranch near Vail –may have been part of Rancho del Lago- where the “grass was belly high on the cattle.” He also operated the Vail’s station store.

1907    Diversion dam built. 40’ to bedrock. Daily shipments of frogs were transported aboard the Sunset Express from the Cienega Ranch to the Adams & Co. grocery store. 1907    Jeremiah Tattersfield & Alma Monthan Tattersfield and their five sons settle along Cienega Creek at Crane & Fraker’s.

1920    Guy Monthan applies for surface water rights. 1920s    Oscar Monthan,  aviator, brings Billie Mitchel to visit and fish in the well-stocked lakes at Rancho del Lago.

1932    Cleveland Putnam purchases the ranch from Alma Tattersfield. He removed the fields, orchards, large trees and built a stable and half mile horse track in their place. He constructed a ranch house, guest houses, foreman’s residence, gate house, swimming pool, hanger and airstrip. George Genung III was six years old at the time. He was very upset when the tall shade tree that held his swing was cut down to make way for the horse track.

1930s    Diversion dam enlarged. The resulting pool was a favorite swimming hole for local youth. 1935    Cleveland Putnam and his wife Margaret enter into an agreement with Mattie Adkins for use of water to irrigate crops. Mattie was allowed to divert water from the irrigation canal between noon and 6:00 pm on Sundays.

1940s    The casitas at Rancho del Lago were a popular destination. Actors Fernando Lamas and Cesar Romero visited several times. The lake was a popular local retreat for boating, swimming and fishing.

1940s-‘56 Motorola corporate retreat

1956     Harold H. Nason purchased the Vail Ranch, “Rancho del Lago”.  Nason also owned the Westward Look; he planned to develop the property into a combination cattle and luxury guest ranch.  Accommodations for 20 were available at that time.  The ranch was comprised of 1,850 acres of patented land.

1958 Orel Burris sells La Posta Quemada Ranch to Joseph Timan, investor and developer. 1981    Horizon Corporation of Phoenix purchased Rancho del Lago for development. 1983    100 year flood severely damages development along the Pantano River and grants Vail a reprieve from development.

1989    Vail Valley Ranch development plans approved by Pima County Board of Supervisors

1992    Horizon Corporation gave 200 acres within and along the Pantano Wash to Pima County to expand the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve. In exchange it got 60 acres south of Colossal Cave Road. Rancho del Lago main house bulldozed. 19__    Vail Water Company business office in Rancho del Lago guest house until 2003. 1996    Vail Valley Joint Venture together with Bill Estes Jr. purchased the Horizon property

1998    Estes Homebuilding Company sold to Kaufman and Broad. Estes held on to a few pieces of land including Rancho del Lago. A biological survey found no threatened or endangered species. Development moved forward.

1999    Wadsworth Golf Construction Co. of the Southwest began developing an 18 hole golf course at Rancho del Lago. Nugent Golf of Chicago was the architectural design firm.

2000    Estes begins developing Rancho del Lago. Plans for the 1,600 acres of rolling hills, slopes and washes include an 18-hole public golf course, up to 5,500 homes, at least one school and businesses. Homes were priced in the low to mid $100,000s. 550 homes were planned for the first phase of development.

2006    Remaining historic Rancho del Lago guest house bulldozed by Estes Corporation.

2011    July 4th flood damages diversion dam that supplies water to Rancho del Lago Golf Course. Dam is repaired; rock is   delivered and covered with a coat of cement replacing the old canopy style spillway.

2014  Flooding takes out over half of rocks from the 2011 repair/reinforcement of the Dam.

A Vail Journey Story - Oscar Monthan, from Rancho del Lago to Aeronautical Engineer

A Vail Journey Story Oscar Monthan, from Rancho del Lago to Aeronautical Engineer Oscar’s journey to become an aeronautical engineer began with the drawing of straws at Rancho del Lago in Vail, Arizona. It was April 1917 and, like many young men, the four remaining sons of Alma and Jeremiah Tattersfield all wanted to go “over there” to join the fight in the “War to End All Wars.” Alma was widowed by this time and told her sons that one of them would have to stay with her to help run the ranch. She took four straws of equal length and broke one in half. Making sure the tops were even, she held them out for each son to choose one. Guy drew the short straw. The brothers all promptly changed their last names to their middle names of “Monthan,” then Eric, Carl, and Oscar signed up and shipped out. All had become American citizens a few years earlier and were eager to fulfill their patriotic duty toward their new country.


Oscar’s presence in Vail was a long story that began much earlier in England, where he was born. His mother Alma Monthan was from Sweden, and his father Jeremiah Tattersfield, from England. The family owned a woolen mill and lived on a beautiful estate called Kilpin Hill. Unable to adapt to rapid changes in technology, the mill failed, so Jeremiah and Alma decided to immigrate to Canada, which was in the British Empire and required no passports.  After ranching in Calgary for two years, the unaccustomed cold drove them to make a long wagon trek south toward the warmer climate and more favorable ranching conditions in Argentina. But, in the end, they found those conditions in Arizona, so in 1902 they settled in Vail. They purchased land, homesteaded additional sections, and named their new home, first, La Cienega Ranch, then, Rancho del Lago.

After leaving Vail in 1917, Oscar began officer training at the Boston School of Technology.  The following year he graduated from the school and learned to fly at Wright Field in Alabama, where he flew the famous WWI-era “Tommy” and in short time received his wings.  He never flew over the battlefields of WWI due to the length of his training, but he quickly became one of the leading aeronautical engineers in the Army.   In 1920 he was Chief Engineering Officer at the aviation school at Rockwell Field in San Diego, and by 1921 he was in charge of the Air Service’s engineering school at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio.

Fishing was one of Oscar’s favorite pastimes. The lake at Rancho del Lago was always well stocked with fish, and sometimes his friend General Billy Mitchell came to Vail to visit. Billy Mitchell once boasted that he had caught 400 fish from the lake – but he had released them all, so he probably caught some fish twice!

In 1922, Oscar married his sweetheart Mae, an Army nurse. Within the year, they moved to Hawaii, where Oscar was stationed as the Chief Engineering Officer at Luke Field on Oahu.  On March 27, 1924, his life was cut short when he was killed in the crash of a Martin B-2 bomber when it took off into unfavorable wind conditions.  Oscar was co-pilot that day. On September 23, 1927, Charles Lindbergh dedicated the new Tucson municipal air field (that later became Davis-Monthan Air Force Base) to honor the service of Tucson pilots Lt. Samuel Davis and Lt. Oscar Monthan, who were killed in separate military air accidents.

Monthan is a Swedish name and pronounced “Mon-tan.” Alma was very particular about that, but with the wave of newcomers to Tucson after WWII, its pronunciation gradually changed it to “Mon-than.” Oscar Monthan’s remains returned home, like Samuel Davis, he is buried in Tucson at Evergreen Cemetery. Thank you to the Monthan Family for sharing their story.                                J.J. Lamb, Vail Preservation Society

Vail - A Changing Community - Writing Our Own Story.

Y2K had everyone on edge in 2000. In Vail we were celebrating the expanded Colossal Cave Mountain Park. More open space protected to be enjoyed by current and future generations. Preparations for massive development at historic Rancho del Lago were under way. The flood of 1983 had put the brakes on a similar development plan. Would development really take place this time? It did. Part of that development was the bulldozing by Estes Corporation of the remaining Rancho del Lago guest house in 2003, and the obstruction of a one hundred plus year old road used by the family who has continuously lived in Vail the longest, the Leon’s. They drove over curbs to get home for a few years until access was restored. Change is a part of life, exciting, and not always easy. Arizona’s settlers, to include those settling in the Vail area, had, by way of seeking a better life for their families, changed a way of life for the Tohono O’odham and Apache who considered this area home. A collision of cultures occurred as remembered by Mary Burnett whose family traveled the Old Wagon Road in the 1870s. “But the Indian fires in the darkened hills kept pace with the [wagon] train… and once, at Vail, they came upon the charred wood of a stage. In this attack, the Apaches had killed nine persons, but her[sic] train was too late to bury even the dead.” An early surveyor wrote in his 1873 notes that he “could foresee a day where this fine land, with enough water, would bring forth a fine bounty of crops”. Visionary, is how the 1897 Arizona Daily Star described the ranching and farming operation of business partners, Carter Crane, who was black, and John Fraker, who was white, at Cienega Ranch, near Vails Siding. Crane and Fraker “have probably the finest single ranch there is in Southern Arizona. They have 600 acres under fence with more than sufficient water to irrigate the whole tract. …the crops grown are equal to the best in the country. The harvest this year yielded 1500 sacks of wheat and barley and something over 100 tons of alfalfa and barley hay. …When these men first settled on their present homestead they were regarded as visionary in their ideas so far as it affected their water supply, but they went to work themselves and by hard labor developed one of the finest bodies of permanent water there is in the entire country. This place is well worth a visit.” Originally from Arkansas where his family farmed, Carter Crane was born in 1853. In 1877 while Carter was a scout for Buffalo Bill Cody in the Black hills of South Dakota, his brother convinced him to head to Arizona. They walked 1,200 miles, living mostly off of the land. Arizona Territory was untamed and unregulated, a place where hard work made almost anything seem possible. They were industrious, resourceful and bent on success, not unlike most who live in Vail in 2015. In 1898, the Arizona Daily Star reported that Miss Hattie Ferrin rode the Sunset Express to take charge of the one room school near Vail’s Siding. Children from railroad and ranching families were her students. In 2015 there are 18 schools in the Vail Unified School District. In 2015 it is no longer possible to know everyone by name. By the mid-1890s Crane and Fraker were supplying both ends of the Tucson to Helvetia Stage Line. Vail had become the break of bulk point for the Helvetia Mine’s copper as well as cattle from nearby ranches. So many people were flagging down the train that the SPRR built a new depot. In about 1907 Crane and Fraker built a dam upstream on Cienega Creek to provide a more reliable source of water. Soon after, the ranch sold to the Tattersfield’s who planted orchards with apricots, peaches, apples and built a large lake stocked with fish. They renamed it Rancho del Lago. Crane and Fraker made their vision a reality through hard work, as did other early Vail homesteaders and ranchers like Santiago Leon, Victor Chavez, Roberto Lopez, Francisco Estrada, Jeremiah Tattersfield and Leonard Wagner. In 2015 it still takes discipline and hard work. In 2015 over 5,000 rooftops dot the landscape near Vail, most sprang up between 2001and 2008 as planned communities. Ideas about land-use, lifestyle and construction have changed dramatically over the past 60 years. Many mid-century newcomers dreamed of idyllic country life with horses, chickens, plenty of open space and constructing their own home. Some call it wildcat development. To many at that time, building one’s own house was not extraordinary, it was expected. In 1971 when the Holderbaum’s built their home in the Empire Mountains they took hand-drawn plans and a check for $15.00 to Pima County and began construction. “Rocky Top”, their fourth home building project, is still there in 2015. There is lot more red-tape and oversight in 2015. The same views, fears and prejudices that are a part of the national story have played out in Vail. During the early 1950s student Emma Jean Mosely and her siblings were transported to school in Tucson instead of attending the Vail School. Why? The Mosely’s were a family of color whose father worked for the SPRR at Rita Station. The 2015 Vail community would welcome them. In the early 1980s developer Joe Timan had plans for greater Vail that included condominiums on a golf course at La Posta Quemada, an outdoor amphitheater to host rock concerts and development at Rancho del Lago very similar what is present in 2015. Joe never lived in Vail, but often brought his son Jeff to fish at Rancho del Lago. He advised his son to always build to the east of a large city, so that the commute to and from work wouldn’t be into the sun, and never get attached to a piece of property. That would affect decision making. Maxie Allen rode his donkey, Sam to school in the late 1940s. In 2015 students walk, ride their bikes or ride the bus. Charles Easter remembers being able to target shoot anywhere that was safe in the desert, and driving to Cienega Dam. He feels that “there needs to be some solid community organized leadership, even without incorporation, to make plans for the future or we will just be some more Tucson”. Vail was established as a railroad siding in 1880. As we look forward to Vail’s next 135 years, Vail’s community members, just like Carter Crane, are still leading the way with visionary ideas, seeing possibilities and focusing on potential. If Carter had decided that the walk to Arizona Territory would be too long and too hard he would never have experienced his visionary success at Rancho del Lago. Our future is full of potential. The Vail Preservation Society and partners are working together to put Vail Connects, an Arizona certified Main Street program, to work in Vail as a tool to give our engaged community a voice in our future. J.J. Lamb, 2015© The Vail Preservation Society

Vail Preservation Society – Connecting Community Through Local History Since 2006

In Their Own Words This series will feature stories of the greater Vail area told through oral histories, VPS has collected over 70. Ramon Morales lived in the Empire Mountains with his family until he left to serve in WWII. After his return, he worked off and on with the Hilton’s. The scenic Sonoita Highway winds between the Empire and Santa Rita Mountains just southeast of Vail proper. Perry and Louisa Hilton were some of the earliest homesteaders in the Empire’s. Perry died in 1919, Louisa in 1950, and their son, Ed, in 1974. They would all be amazed at the many homes dotting the landscape along Hilton Ranch Road in 2015. Ramon’s recollections, recorded by Mr. Thayer, are an important part of our community’s story. Two Dollars a Day and Free Goat Meat! Ramon Morales Reminisces About His Work on the Hilton Ranch. When young Ramon Morales wasn’t hauling ore, he “used to cowboy for Mister Ed Hilton for two dollars a day, it wasn’t much, but it was money! Just two dollars, and free goat meat! Sometimes, Mrs. Hilton would leave free eggs, when the chickens were laying strong.” According to Ramon, “The first time I saw Perry Hilton was when he ran us (Morales family) off the well. He had a beard about this long (chest length). It was in 1918, he was a real tough guy. Mister Perry Hilton was hard to work for. He kept us working in the summer until the sun went down behind Mt. Fagan. He used to say that he hated the winter because the days were too short. Perry worked by the sun, not the clock!” Among his other business interests, “Perry raised goats, Angoras for wool, and Nubians for meat. He also successfully grew milo maize to feed the goats, as well as truck crops, frijoles, corn and so forth, for the family. Perry Hilton’s goat ranching caused a problem with the Vail Land and Cattle Company. There were enough wild horses and burros running loose, so the Vail’s didn’t want the goats. They got very angry with him! Perry didn’t have any fences. His whole place was open range. Those Vail Company Cowboys sure didn’t like those goats! I never heard if there was a shoot-out. They probably just used words.” “Mister Hilton had around two, maybe three thousand goats. That was in the (teens), twenties, and early thirties. He would sheer them two times a year, in the spring and in the autumn. Three or four men had to roll them into the truck. At the shearing shed, they had a platform, we would set up some planks, and roll the bales into the truck. He had a bale box, about 6’ X 8’; it was made out of real thick lumber. We would throw the mohair in there, and, he had a top for it, the same size as the box. We would press it with a big screw-jack. We put a bar, or a crowbar, in there and turned it. He always had some baling wire, and, somehow, we tied them (bales) inside the box, with the baling wire. After we got them out of there, we would cover them with a double layer of gunny sacking. The heaviest ones were over four-hundred pounds. Very heavy! I’m sure the wool went to England. Mr. Hilton got paid from there (England).” “He didn’t have too many shearers. One man was from Texas, and there was Pedro, from Solomanville, he would hog-tie them. Perry wouldn’t tie those goats…I don’t know how the hell he did it. He was a little man of around a hundred and twenty-five pounds, and he took those goats…close to a hundred pound goat, and held them with one hand, and sheared them with the other. He would get one of the goat’s legs between his, I don’t know how, and they couldn’t get away.”                                                                                                               To be continued… Bill Thayer, Interviewer J.J. Lamb, Editor Vail Preservation Society – Connecting Community Since 2006 We would like to do a little bragging on our preservation students. Cienega H.S. Construction Tech students had the front of the 1915 Section Foreman House all ready for Esmond Station K8 student’s picture day in May! Students continue to learn the installation of electrical systems over the summer. Thank you to Mike Pena of Lucas Electric for leading these student workshop days. The student’s next priority will be the kitchen which will have a 1915 look, but be a fully functional so that Esmond Station K8 students will be able to process the produce from their gardens which will be donated to IMPACT of Southern Arizona. Jenifer Heckman, the president of the SkillsUSA Club at Cienega H.S. recently attended, and presented a session at the Arizona Preservation Conference about the 1915 Section Foreman House and preserving Vail’s history. She did a fantastic job! Additionally, she and her SkillsUSA officers, working with VPS, submitted and were awarded a $25,000. grant from Lowe’s to be used towards the kitchen of the 1915 Section Foreman House. A big thank you to the Catalina Rotary Club! They just awarded VPS a $5,000. grant to fund a Heritage Garden and appliances for the 1915 kitchen at Esmond Station K8! We appreciate their support very much! SAVE THE DATE Vail History Bus Tour – Saturday, August 29, 2015 from 8:30-Noon. Prepare to be amazed at the history you will discover! A $50. donation includes annual VPS Partnership. Email to register. 1st Annual Vail Preservation Society Horseshoe & Corn Hole Tournaments, Saturday, October 3, 2015 at the Rincon Barn and Farmers Market. Take the challenge, enter your team for $65.00 and support VPS and Vail student Clubs. Email Paul O’Bert, Tournament Master at to register or for more info.

Tucson’s Loss, Vail’s Gain

           “We have always had a well founded belief that the Santa Rita’s when energetically          developed would take high rank amongst our mining districts…”                                                                                     Arizona Weekly Star, December, 1878

R. Pinckney Tulley and Estevan Ochoa hauled 5,000 pounds of copper to Tucson from the Santa Rita Mountains in 1875. Their find sparked great interest and led to the development of mines in the area during the 1880s and 1890s. Copper became a valuable commodity in the 1880s when Thomas Edison improved the light bulb and utility companies began to string copper wire across the country. The price of copper spiked and copper mining became very profitable. The Helvetia Copper Company, located near present-day Corona de Tucson, needed to transport the ore from its mines to the Southern Pacific Railroad for shipment to Globe for smelting. In 1899, the company spent $10,000 to build a 17-mile freight road to the nearest railroad stop, Vail. Helvetia’s freight wagon road was the forerunner of our present-day Wentworth Road.

               …Mr. Seager, general manager

of the Helvetia mines, …offered to bear

half the expense of building a fine road

from Tucson to Helvetia. After giving

the supervisors ample time, and no

action being taken on his proposition,

a road was built to Vail’s station by

the mine company. Tucson necessarily

losing by the loss of freighting.

                                         Arizona Daily Star, August 31, 1899

  Helvetia’s new stamp mill, needed to crush ore, was at the Vail station waiting to be transported over the new wagon road in 1898. Helvetia mining operations supported a booming community of nearly 500 miners and their families in the Santa Rita’s. Twenty seven copper claims were being worked. Twelve horse teams pulled wagons loaded with 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of ore to the station at Vail. Vail was the “Break-of-Bulk” point; where materials were shifted between different types of transport. The transfer of copper ore from the freight wagons to the railroad cars required large numbers of men, providing jobs and business opportunities. Vail grew from 25 residents in the mid-1890s to over 100 by 1900. The Tucson to Helvetia Stage Line transported passengers daily between Tucson and Helvetia in the Santa Rita Mountains. The stage stopped in Vail at Carter Crane’s and John Fraker’s Livery to change to draft horses for the final leg of the trip. Like most in Arizona Territory Crane and Fraker had multiple business ventures operating simultaneously. They were farming their homesteads, ranching, and investing in land in Tucson. Harry Man, Vail’s first postmaster, formed the Empire Valley Mining Company and served as its president, he was also the Southern Pacific Railroad Agent. Vail’s second postmaster, Otto Schley, operated a successful mercantile, bar, and multiple mining claims including a bat guano claim at Colossal Cave. Sam Hughes, an early Tucson pioneer described this way of life as having “a spoon in every soup.”

The Trotter Sisters - Delivering the 3 Rs in Vail

trotterThe Trotter sisters haven’t lived in Vail for sixty years, but their legacy remains strong in the town between the tracks. During the 1930s, ‘40s and into the ‘50s they taught school in the tiny rural Arizona community of Vail to the children of railroad and ranching families. The love of learning, a desire to do one’s best and live by the ‘Golden Rule’ manifests itself in the voices and eyes of those ‘children’ 60 years later as they remember their days in the two room school at Vail. Miss Lottie had grades one through four, and Miss Esta the students in fifth through eighth. In the late 1940’s there were between 30-40 children. They were brought to school in the earlier years by one of the moms in a large, lumbering sedan that would make the rounds along the dusty, washboard roads filling the seats and finally depositing the students at the Vail school, just north of the east-bound railroad track. Some students rode their horses or donkeys to school, using a fence post to help climb from or to a saddle whose stirrups were far too high for their young legs to reach. Vail, situated between two passing railroad tracks, is defined by the rhythmic click-clack of trains and punctuated by the passing locomotives’ clear, penetrating whistle. Almost fifty trains pass through every day. The Trotter sisters arrived at the beginning of every school year from their home in Columbia, North Carolina, bringing with them an easy southern grace, and well-bred manner that resonated with the rural community. They lived in the ‘teacherage’, a small white house that had been built in 1908 by the Vail postmaster for his family. There was no well. The Southern Pacific Railroad supplied the precious liquid via a tanker car that regularly filled a cistern. The only running water was a drinking fountain with a direct line to the school from the water tank. Water was hauled from the tank or from a dam one mile east on Cienega Creek by Vail villagers. The first well at the original town site wasn’t drilled until 1992. Student holiday plays filled with crepe paper angel wings and tinsel, recitations and songs brought a welcome respite into the lives of hardworking ranching and railroad families. The Trotter sisters planned and brought together the students’ families to enjoy these special occasions. Recesses were spent building ‘forts’ in the desert surrounding the school, or honing the fine motor skills needed for a game of jacks or marbles. Catching lizards was another favorite pastime. When rodeo time came around in February the children, and some of their parents, decked themselves out in their best western duds, climbed about the Andrada Ranch ‘Drag’ wagon and proudly joined the Fiesta de los Vaqueros Parade in Tucson, twenty miles to the west. One year the Esta and Lottie talked their grown nephew into dressing like a caveman in honor of the local Vail attraction, Colossal Cave, and riding on the wagon. A street has been named in honor of Esta and Lottie; it is called Trotter Sisters Lane. These sisters educated the children for Vail for nearly 30 years. Esta and Lottie Trotter are wearing the hats in this photo taken at the Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert. Courtesy Vail Preservation Society, Baker Collection

The Shrine that Love Built

Caroline was a young woman when the World Exposition was held in her hometown of New Orleans in 1884. Her family provided accommodations at their Esplanade Avenue residence for foreign delegates. Mr. Tamari and Jokichi Takamine, Japanese scientists resided in the Hitch household for the duration of the year-long event. It was an exciting time of discovery as experts from around the world met to discuss and promote progress and good will between nations. Caroline and Jokichi fell in love. And, before he returned to Japan he had proposed. He pledged that when he was financially established he would return. Their love was unconventional for the time; they were wed in August 1887. Her beautiful white dress embroidered with chrysanthemums was designed, and made in Japan. The couple honeymooned in South Carolina and Washington D.C. taking time to work and study during their travels before sailing from San Francisco to Japan to establish their first home. They were very much in love, and two sons were soon born. Life was very difficult for Caroline who never felt completely accepted in her adopted home. In 1890 the family returned to the U.S. where Jokichi’s hard work paid off. One of his many patents was “Adrenalin”. He became increasingly wealthy and famous, even receiving the Order of the Rising Sun from the emperor of Japan. In about 1909 Takamine encouraged the Japanese government to send a gift of 2000 cherry trees to Washington D.C. Then, in 1922 his health failed and he left Caroline, his wife of nearly 35 years to mourn his passing. Their son Eban had come to the Vail area as a health seeker. He introduced her to Arizona and to Charles Beach, a ranch hand living in Vail who would become the second love of her life in 1926. Charles had graduated from the University of Arizona in 1917. He had land in the Santa Rita Mountains from a government homestead land-swap based upon an original claim on Navajo lands in Northern Arizona. They married and built a ranch house calling it “El Rancho de los Ocotillos”. Caroline, a devout Catholic, was very active in the small Vail congregation that met at the school house. She felt very strongly that they needed a permanent place to worship. That need grew into action as she planned and built the beautiful Shrine of St. Rita in the Desert as a memorial to her first husband, Jokichi Takamine. The faith and loves that filled Caroline’s life live on in her gift to Vail, The Shrine of Saint Rita in the Desert.

Old Spanish Trail

‘OST’ branches off from Broadway in Tucson meandering eastward and ending at the entrance to Colossal Cave Mountain Park. Until the 1950s, it was a patchwork of roads, called alternately; Old Spanish Trail, Freeman, MacDonald, and Pistol Hill Road. It begins appearing on maps exclusively as Old Spanish Trail in the 1950s. Here is one version of how it came by its name. The winding dirt road from Tucson to the Rincon Valley was often a topic of conversation at poker games held by local ranchers and businessmen in the 1950s. Joe Maierhauser, a young entrepreneur, and new operator of Colossal Cave, was eager to see improvements to the road. He was also a poker player, and sometimes hosted the monthly Poker game inside Colossal Cave in the Drapery Room. Mr. Jackson, one of the card-playing group suggested that the entire length should be called ‘Old Spanish Trail’, and it stuck. Joe encouraged everyone to work together to pave the road. In the 1950’s it was possible for an individual to put up $1,000.00, Pima County would match the $1,000.00, and pave one mile. The catch was that the ‘mile’ could not be contiguous. Joe would visit the road grader operator encouraging him to put a slight crown in the road so that it would be ‘pavement ready’. Even Jack Daniels got involved. Given now and again as a gift to the operator, Jack helped ‘pave’ the way! The first section paved on OST was from Saguaro National Monument east one mile. By about 1958, the scenic byway was paved, one ‘non-contiguous’ section at a time. Towards the end of the process Pima County was convinced to pave adjoining sections. The other Old Spanish Trail passed through Vail, via Highway 80. It was the name given by a tourism association formed in 1915 to promote business along an all-weather, southern route traversing the country from Saint Augustine to San Diego. The project was put on hold during WWI and wasn’t completed until 1929. The Old Spanish Trail organization was quite successful until the completion of I10 in the 1960’s. When you drive along the frontage road in Vail, you are driving The Old Spanish Trail. In 1916 the first Official Guide for The Old Spanish Trail was published. Before the internet, before GPS or Smart Phones, for one dollar, travelers could hold “the most accurate, detailed and attractive Automobile Tour Guides developed” in their hands, with all the details needed to travel safely along the “all season transcontinental highway. The Old Spanish Trail follows the line of least resistance for automobiles between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.” Transportation routes connected population centers, and have changed significantly since 1916. The Tucson to Empire Ranch stretch description reads, “Most of this road is completed State Highway, and is in good condition. Wonderful views of mountain and plain are obtainable in the Santa Rita Mountains. The grades are long, but not steep. Oil and gas are found at Vail. (at the 1908 adobe Vail Store) Tucson has everything that a motorist requires…Reset speedometers at Congress and Sixth streets in Tucson.” In 1960, Joe Maierhauser, Operator of Colossal Cave Park, was president of the local Old Spanish Trail chapter. They met at the Pioneer Hotel in downtown Tucson. His proposed signage featuring a Spanish Conquistador was adopted for the entire transcontinental route. Towns or attractions purchased two of the distinctive porcelain on metal conquistador signs; one for eastbound and the other for westbound traffic. One of these historic signs is on display at Colossal Cave Mountain Park’s Ranch Museum.

Teamsters and Tenant Farmers in Vail: the Harris and Lively Families,

Three small graves rest on a low rise on the north bank of the Pantano Wash where Mera Harris, Lillian Lively and Edna Harris are buried. They were born in Vail to three families who were no stranger to the hard work it took to make a life in Arizona Territory. George Harris, father of Edna, was born in Utah, just three years after his parents had been a part of the first wagon train led westward by Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley. Lillian was born to David Lively and his wife Annie. Mera’s parents were Alma and Florence Harris. Florence and Annie were sisters. The men met in 1882 while hauling freight in New Mexico. They were experienced teamsters with their own teams and freight wagons. They had hauled ore in Greaterville during the early ‘80s gold rush. The mining boom in the Santa Rita Mountains presented them with employment opportunities. In 1898 a new wagon road built by the Helvetia Mining Company and jobs hauling ore brought them to Vail. Their homes overlooked the Pantano Wash where the Harris’ and Lively’s were tenant farmers. They grew crops for Carter Crane and John Fraker whose operation supplied feed for both ends of the Tucson to Helvetia Stage line. Most of the farm work likely fell to the women. They were resourceful, harvesting and selling honey, as well as cheese made from the milk of wild cows. In addition to ore, George, Alma and David also hauled hay. The Vail livery was located at the west end of Vail’s Store. The wooden building burned in 1908 and was rebuilt from adobe. Locals call it the Old Vail Post Office. This was the break point for the stage line where fresh horses were hitched up for the second stage of the journey. Coaches ran daily ferrying passengers and mail between mines in the Santa Rita Mountains and Tucson. Remnants of the old wagon road can still be seen in Vail between the railroad tracks. For the most part, life was uneventful, but on the night of January 28, 1903 the eastbound Crescent City Express and the westbound Pacific Coast Express, had an appointment with destiny. The Pacific Coast Express had just passed through Vail, and was running about two hours late. There was some confusion with communications at Vail that resulted in the engines colliding head on about six miles west near Esmond Station. The trains caught fire and to this day the Harris family talks about how the entire horizon west of Vail glowed orange throughout the night. These early Vail residents sought out multiple sources of income, working hard to make a life for themselves and their families. Their dream of owning their own land and a home with glass windows and a real floor, not dirt, was not realized for many years. Daily they were faced with the harsh reality of growing food, finding forage and water for stock and an endless grind of chores just to provide necessities. Life was hard in Arizona Territory, especially for the very young. In 1900 17% of children did not reach their first birthday. A bout of diarrhea causing dehydration could cause death within a matter of days. Infants Lillian and Edna, along with the little girl Mera, have been at rest along the northern bank of the Pantano for over 100 years. Mera’s parents Alma and Florence had made the almost two hour wagon ride to Tucson with their little girl hoping the doctor there could help. Despite their efforts the little girls whose laughter had delighted them as she played with her brother Bob, would join her cousins Edna and Lillian at the little cemetery overlooking the Pantano. Their mother’s lullabies have been replaced by the wind that still carries the sounds of the train as it rushes by. The tall grasses and marshes of Punta de Agua where Cienega Creek meets the Pantano have changed to a sandy, dry wash. The open spaces, farmed fields and orchards dotted with adobe and wood plank houses have been replaced by orderly rows of homes with glass windows and real floors. Most of the dirt roads have been paved. But some things remain the same, playful laughter is still carried by the wind to parents who are working to make a better life for their children in Vail.


stea, amd steel In March of 1880, 2,000 of Tucson’s inhabitants jubilantly welcomed the Iron Horse with a 38-gun salute. About April 15th the Southern Pacific Railroad Company was laying track through Cienega Creek. On April 24, 1880 an SPRR Facilitating train passed through Vail’s Siding located on the last flat stretch of land before the long upward grade leading east to Dragoon Summit. The track between Vail’s Siding and the town of Pantano proved to be the most difficult stretch to construct and maintain across Arizona. The original track wound its way through the Cienega stream bed. S.P. survey engineers were not familiar with the relentless summer rains and violent flooding that often followed. Tracks washed out regularly, causing major delays, twice during the summer of 1880 alone. In 1887 the Southern Pacific Railroad relocated the tracks between Vail and Pantano to higher ground. Railroad Matters

“In the Cienega a large number of China-men are engaged excavating, as they there encounter considerable elevation through which cuts have to be made, and the grade has to be raised a number of feet above the low, marshy ground…”

Arizona Weekly Star, April 15, 1880

  Vail, gets its name from Walter and Edward Vail, ranchers and businessmen who negotiated easements and deeded right-of-way to the Southern Pacific. Like other railroad towns, it had train maintenance and freight structures, a section house that provided housing for S.P. employees, and even a pool hall. By 1895 passenger tickets began to be sold at Vail by potential passengers who flagged down the train. In 1900 a passenger station was constructed on the north side of the east-bound track in response to the increased need. The Helvetia Mining Company had a road built from Helvetia in the Santa Rita Mountains, and a railroad spur constructed for loading ore into box cars. A thriving freight business generated by the mines from the Helvetia District created a flurry of activity at the Vail station between 1895 and about 1912.

School is Where You Find It

First Hilton Ranch School_Bejarano (55)For the children of the miners at Hilton Camp in the Empire Mountains, south of Vail, school was held under the shade of a large cottonwood tree. Sheltered in a small ravine within the little community of about 200, the children listened eagerly to their teacher, Mrs. Naegle. There was a wonderful new frame two-room schoolhouse under construction complete with quarters for their teacher. The children looked forward to studying in a ‘real’ school, but were more than happy to enjoy learning outdoors. In January 2012 a raging fire claimed both the tree, whose stump still stood 6’ high, and the “new”, 1925 school. But, the fire could not claim the memories that live on in the minds students, now in their 90’s, who recall pleasant school days spent under the shade of Cottonwood branches, and in the ‘new’ school house. The sounds of children studying, laughing, and sneaking to pass notes lives on only in the stories they have shared. Like so much of Vail’s past these buildings have been lost to time, carelessness or development. Mrs. Naegle, their teacher, would be amazed the wonderful facilities students and teacher enjoy today.

An Old Leather Boot, a Teacher, Football, and a Dog = Success

Ring, an almost blind and deaf dog, a leather football with a boot tongue sewed on the side and a caring teacher created a turning point for a twelve year old boy in Vail. Every day after school Ed would spend an hour or two practicing with the unusual football behind the Vail Store and Post Office. He lived in the adobe store between the railroad tracks. Back and forth, over and over, he would practice passing and kicking the football. Ring, his dog, was happy to play the “game” and looked forward to it every day after he had helped his aunt, Mary Jane, the Vail Postmistress, get the mail bag ready for the train. Mr. Van Dorn traveled to Vail from Tucson two or three times a week to teach shop and other classes. He had advised Ed, who was tall and sturdy for his age, that studying hard and becoming really good at football could provide him with a way to escape poverty, and attend college. With an education he would be able to make a better life for himself. Mr. Van Dorn took an old leather boot, cut the tongue off, and sewed it by hand to the leather football. He told Ed that he would have to be disciplined. He would have to study and then practice throwing and kicking the football every day. Untitled1Why the leather tongue on the football? There was no football field in Vail in the 1930s, no football team, and no one to practice with Ed every afternoon. The tongue hanging off the side of the ball was for Ring, Ed’s faithful dog. Ring would retrieve every toss, every kick, helping Ed to hone his football playing skills. Ed stuck with it, and lived up to Mr. Van Dorn’s expectations. Football took him to California, far from family and friends in the little town of Vail. He moved to Las Angeles and played on the East L.A. High School football team. He went on to earn a college scholarship and after serving in WWII graduated from college. He became a successful businessman and a Poet Laureate, but he never forgot the teacher who believed in him, or the home town he came from. The “game” that Ring and Ed played every day instilled a perseverance that served him well. Ed ‘Snip’ Woolsey and his dog c1935. Vail Preservation Society Stories from the 1908 Old Vail Post Office J.J. Lamb 2009©

Punta de Agua

Punta de Agua, where Cienega Creek meets the Pantano Wash and the Cienega and Rillito Watersheds intersect is just about 1 mile northeast of the Vail town site. In 1880 as the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived at the new Vail’s Siding. The location, Punta de Agua, was described as a series of succeeding marshes full of native grasses by rancher and entrepreneur, Edward Vail. At nearby Vail’s Siding no water was to be had. Until 1992 water was trucked in. In early days it was brought in by the Southern Pacific Railroad. A tank car filled with water was parked along a siding to provide water for the railroad workers who lived in the Section House. These workers maintained the tracks and kept communications running smoothly for the Southern Pacific. In 1896 mining to the south in the Helvetia Mining District brought a spike in population. The Southern Pacific responded by building a cistern that could be kept filled and from which water could be sold to meet local needs. When the water in the cistern and the water tank got low a tanker car would arrive on the next train. Belen Lopez, who grew up in Vail during the 1920s, remembers with wonder, watching the long canvas hose carry water from the tanker car to the tank and cistern. The water would drip and splash providing an opportunity for children to play in the precious cargo. Simple pleasures brought joy to the children of Vail who were used to hard work and creating play from the objects found around them. Vail’s first well between the railroad tracks was put in by the Kelley family in 1992. It was 612’ deep. The waters of Cienega Creek no longer run to Punta de Agua. Those waters brought the Hohokam, the Tohono O’odham, kept the fields that supplied both ends of the Tucson to Helvetia Stage Line productive by homesteaders Carter Crand and John Fraker,, later they watered the orchards and truck farm planted by Jeremiah Tattersfield. Cienega Creek’s waters supplied the well-stocked lakes at Rancho del Lago. Presently, in 2015, they are captured about a mile east of the Pantano bridge and travel through a pipe to water the lush, smooth, greens of the Rancho del Lago golf course. J.J. Lamb, 2010©

From Vail Student to Principal-Micah Mortensen

Mrs. Liz Bradshaw remembers her 1984 3rd grade class well. Bright faces, eager to learn, filled each desk. Micah Mortensen was one of those faces. His family moved to Arizona in 1980, they lived in an old adobe home rich with local history on the Thunderhead Ranch. It was built by one of the Escalante brothers, early settlers in the Rincon Valley and for whom Escalante Rd. is named. He remembers when development began limiting his childhood adventures and ‘fort’ building as planned neighborhoods replaced open desert. He was about 12. The development of the Thunderhead did bring new friends to share desert adventures, but it also brought firmer boundaries and changed the freedom to roam that he and his friends had enjoyed.  He looked forward to school each day. For the most part, the 15-40 students in each grade shared eight years together. There were two classes to each grade and a comfortableness to the rhythm of the days. Mrs. Bradshaw made a lasting impact on his life, now they are colleagues. The red brick building at the Vail School was only a few years old then. The bus ride had seemed forever. Open desert filled the bus windows that today are full of rooftops. Playing baseball and recess adventures on the expansive fields at the only school in Vail are favorite memories. Lunches could be eaten under one of the outdoor ramadas. A few students still rode their horses to school, and the Pantano Wash had no bridge. Micah remembers pen pals from Jerusalem and special Thanksgiving lessons that Mrs. Bradshaw crafted to inspire her students. She made learning fun. Micah’s mother, Janis, was at the school almost every day, volunteering. She helped start the aVAILable volunteers and was part of laying the groundwork for the Vail Education Foundation (VEF) helping to write the organization’s Bylaws. Vail had no high school so after 8th grade Micah went on to Santa Rita High School, Janis was active there to. In retrospect he realizes that his mother’s support was intuitively instilling the value of learning and a respect for education. Micah was a good student and excelled in sports, but lost focus in his later teen years. After graduating from Santa Rita High School he attended Pima Community College. His natural inclination to always do his best led to being a trusted and valued employee wherever he worked. He later attended the U of A, still not sure what the end goal would be. In the back of his mind were memories of his days at the Vail School. He had been very comfortable in that environment and decided to be a part of that tradition. Guiding young people to experience the satisfaction that comes from academic achievement and a task well done is very rewarding to him. It wasn’t easy, Micah worked more than full time at Red Lobster, often 15 hour shifts. The multi-tasking required to take accurate orders, deliver them correctly, support management and make each guest feel special has served him well. Along the way he met his wife and started a family. With her strong support he continued to juggle work, higher education and family to achieve his goals. Micah’s life is a great example of never giving in to the difficulties of the moment and carefully prioritizing each day to ensure that time is invested in the truly important things. He graduated from the University of Arizona and began teaching in the Vail School District where his ability to effectively balance multiple tasks and provide leadership were recognized. After teaching at Desert Sky for a few years and dedicating Monday evenings to completing his Master’s Degree with colleagues, Micah had the opportunity to return to Vail School, now named Old Vail Middle School. He served as Assistant Principal to Principal Laurie Emery for one year. It was great to be back where he had started and accumulated so many fond memories and see students experiencing many of the same things that he had. The same encouraging culture he experienced as a young student at Vail School continues throughout the Vail School District under the leadership of District Superintendent Calvin Baker. Micah Mortensen has advanced from classroom teacher to Principal of Desert Sky Middle School where he is genuinely vested in creating an environment where each student can achieve their personal best. He is disciplined and dedicated to his family and the families of his students. He often gets up at 4 a.m. to respond to emailed questions and concerns so that he can help them guide their child’s education experience while still carving out precious time for his own children. He even finds time to coach his son in baseball. In his words there is a genuineness about Vail. Even while managing the explosive growth of the past decade, through the leadership of the District Superintendent and Board it was always about the community and the great people in it. It is about providing the very best educational opportunities possible while integrating those values that the District and the people who live here have made part of the fabric of the greater Vail area. Micah Mortensen is glad that his path led him back to Vail where he has the privilege of working with his 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Bradshaw, and his mother Janis. Janis has been back in the thick of things in Vail for many years and is now at Mesquite Elementary where she was awarded Support Staff of the Year in 2007. They are both proud of where the seeds of discipline and dedication that were planted many years ago have taken him. “We can’t stop growth, but we can conserve the culture that resides in the Vail School District and Vail, one that values people and community.” J.J.Lamb, 2011©

Pantano Gets a New School and a Dancehall!

“Let’s measure. I sure hope it will be wide enough!” Mario and Hector Bejarano were hoping the new school house being built for Pantano in the early 1930’s would also be the right size to hold weekend dances in! As it was, the young people had to make their way to the Wagner’s in Vail, where they enjoyed Mrs. Wagner’s fresh tamales, or to Benson or Tombstone dancehalls on the weekends. After measuring, they discovered the new school that had been carefully marked out on the ground that day, was not quite wide enough. Would anyone notice if they moved the markers, just a little, on either side? “No, no one will notice.” one of them said, and no one did, until the building was almost complete. The new schoolhouse was built on-site, except for the roof trusses which went up last. The trusses had been pre-built by a carpenter according to the blueprint. When they were lifted to the top of the walls, they were not quite wide enough! What had happened? They were re-done and the new school house opened. The Pantano students were thrilled to move from the two small, cramped rooms they had studied in, to the brand new building. They were even more excited to discover that it was just the right size to hold weekend dances in! A new century has come, and the town of Pantano has long since returned to the desert. It is marked by the footprint of the ‘new school’, and the water tower that served passing trains, but memories of the weekend dances and the secret that made them possible are still fresh in the minds of some. Two boys wishing to have “dancing space” pulled the markers for the new school footer, and moved them about three feet, as a result, Pantano not only got a new school, but a ‘dancehall’ as well! The school was moved to the site of Old Vail Middle school, and later to the Shrine of Santa Rita where it is still in use. Memories of Chico Bejarano, as told to J.J. Lamb

Lamar Cobb, Arizona’s First Highway Engineer

“I leave my patriotism to be judged by my actions.” Lamar Cobb, Tucson Daily Citizen, 1918. Lamar Cobb did not live in the Vail area, but his service to Arizona and the legacy of good roads statewide that he began as Arizona’s first State Highway Engineer are commemorated here. At the beginning of State Route 83, the Sonoita Highway, which he designed and engineered, is a lonely concrete obelisk. It is devoid of the brass plaque whose words identified its purpose. Standing off the southwest quadrant where Hwy. 83 intersects Interstate 10, hardly noticed, carpoolers surround it with parked cars and trucks. It is a monument to an Arizonan who rolled up his sleeves, was part of turning a territory into a state, writing its constitution and making the communities that dotted the landscape accessible to each other through planning and good design. The Sonoita Highway, built in 1918, replaced an earlier dirt wagon road called the Borderland Road. Traces of the Borderland Road can still be seen today. During the rainy season flooding often closed the road. People from the Vail area who had traveled to Tucson for grocery shopping or other errands often were unable to get back home without traveling the long way that avoided the low places in the road. They had to head south from Tucson towards Patagonia and return to Vail by way of the Empire Ranch. This detour made the trip three or four times as long! Lamar Cobb was born in Athens, Georgia in 1870 and died in Phoenix, Arizona in 1926. He served in the 23rd Territorial Legislature as a delegate from Graham County and one of the framers of Arizona’s constitution. He was Arizona’s first Highway Engineer from 1912-1915. By June of 1914 his report to Gov. Hunt stated that Arizona’s official road system had two roads consisting of 251 miles. Almost every city, town, and county needed to be connected with someplace else. As we approach the Arizona Centennial there are about 6,000 miles of roadways that connect us. In 1914 Lamar was invited to be a founding member of the American Association of State Highway Officials, this group began laying the groundwork for a planned national network of roads. Up to this time roads were built mostly as a local response, often out of a need to get farm products to market. They were often a dirt patchwork whose travel conditions alternated between miry mud and clouds of dust. By 1916 he was one of seven on the executive committee that met in Washington D.C. In 1918 Lamar ran for governor of Arizona against Gov. George Hunt. It was an unpleasant contest, whose financial and emotional cost was very high. Mr. Cobb returned to his native Georgia for a time, but soon came back to Arizona to work for Portland Cement until his death in 1926. In 1927 Governor Hunt had the state highway department place a monument to honor his service to Arizona along one of the roads he had designed. It was the road leading to Sonoita, Hwy 83. You can see an historic photo of the monument in better days on the Arizona Memory Project website at: Lamar Cobb’s vision for connecting the communities of Arizona touched our region creating better transportation between Vail and Sonoita. The Empire Ranch whose history is tied to the greater Vail area is reached by way of the Sonoita Highway. As the greater Vail area grows it becomes ever more important to connect to each other and to our past as we plan for our future. J.J. Lamb, 2011

Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert

VAIL Preservation Society

Connecting Community Through Local History Beginning as a railroad siding in 1880 Vail has grown into a community that stretches from the beautiful Rincon Mountains, south to the Santa Rita’s. Preservation is not just bricks and mortar. Its true importance comes through its power to bring people together, building relationships and community as we work together to preserve our stories and cultural resources. Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert The Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert is one of the two sole remaining historic buildings in Vail. Located between the railroad tracks the Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert along with the 1908 adobe Vail Store and Post Office alone are left to reflect the early history of Vail. The Shrine is the only Catholic Church in the United States built in memory of a Japanese citizen. Dedicated to Saint Rita, patron of impossible cases, it is a place where people come to remember, to pray, visit, rest, unite to serve others, grieve, celebrate holy days and enjoy an annual festival for the residents of Vail and surrounding area since 1935. The Shrine was financed and built during 1934-1935 by Caroline Takamine Beach in memory of her first husband, Dr. Jokichi Takamine (1854-1922), a Japanese biochemist and medical researcher. During his life Dr. Takamine isolated and patented adrenaline, significant enzyme processes, was instrumental in bringing cherry trees to Washington D.C. from Japan and founded the Nippon Club to promote Japanese American friendship. After Jokichi’s death Caroline married Charles Beach and settled near Vail. Caroline was a devout Catholic and had facilitated services in the Vail School for local parishioners who otherwise had to travel 25 miles to the parish they were assigned to, San Xavier del Bac, or wait for intermittent services held by a traveling priest. Caroline Beach wanted a place of worship for the people living in and around Vail. She was a strong, independent woman with the means to accomplish this goal. Architect Herman Einar Axel Figge, originally from Denmark, completed the original design. He “planned the mission so it would carry some of the feeling of a rural Mexican church”. Figge moved to California and was not involved at the time of actual construction. Figge’s original design was modified by D. Burr DuBois. DuBois designed lighting fixtures and interior features for the chapel as well. Construction began in October 1934 and was led by builder and contractor John D. Steffens. The beautiful stained glass windows are the focal point of the Shrine, the center piece around which the building was designed. The windows were purchased by Caroline Beach c1931. They had been salvaged from the 1st United Methodist Church built in 1906 on 6th Avenue in Tucson. The Methodist congregation had relocated and built a new church on Park Avenue in 1929. The graceful arch of the large tripartite lancet style windows is incorporated throughout the design of the Shrine. Hand dressed granite quarried from the Santa Rita Mountains to the south add locally sourced, rustic design details to the sanctuary exterior window sills and stone beading ornamentation on the bell tower where the bell commissioned by Caroline’s son, Ebon Takamine, and cast in New York hangs. The five ton granite altar inside the Shrine was also hand hewn from stone quarried in the Santa Rita Mountains. Ownership of the land that the Shrine is located on was transferred to the Tucson Diocese in 1939 by Charles and Caroline. Since its dedication attended by over 600 guests on March 31, 1935 by Bishop Gercke the Shrine has been an important part of connecting the community of Vail. Its graceful lines almost seemed out of place isolated in the rural desert landscape. Father Jonaitis who served the parish from 1943-1947 wrote that, “It was as if this beautiful Shrine and rectory just dropped out of the sky.” A bronze plaque installed near the entrance to the Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert reads: Memorial to the Takamine Family 1935. J.J. Lamb

The Last Race

One clear, crisp day in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains a group of local cowboys and ranchers gathered, as they often did, to prove their horses speed. A quick, well-trained mount was and is a key part of the success of a wrangler. There were several dirt racing tracks in the Vail area where a horses’ speed could be tested by enthusiastic riders, each sure that theirs was the fastest. There was discussion about whose horse was the quickest, claims were made and bets were placed. The horses could sense the excitement in the air, eager for the pistol shot that would signal the start of the race. Hooves pounded the ground, chests heaved, riders crouched low in the saddle as they neared the finish line. It would be a close race. It was very close, two of the riders finished neck and neck. Heated discussion ensued about the payment of bets that had been placed. The cowboy who had come in a close second refused to pay. Heated words and flying fists ended with a gunshot. The wrangler who refused to make good on the bet lay dead. He was carried to a low hillside and buried. His grave is still there, one of the unmarked resting places that look north to the Rincon Valley. His name is lost to history. This was the beginning of the cemetery that overlooks Old Spanish Trail. This story was told to one of our Vail Pioneers when he was a boy by his father; he is now in his 80’s. If you know more about that last race please contact the Vail Preservation Society at 419-4428 or by email at

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