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A Visit to The Historic Fort in Downtown Tucson

Updated on March 15, 2013

Area Has Been Continuously Inhabited for Over 10,000 Years

Tucson, or more precisely downtown Tucson which, rather than being the center of the city is actually on the western edge as, in recent years the city has spread rapidly eastward through the valley, claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States.

Archaeological evidence shows communities existing along the banks of the Santa Cruz river at the base of the city's 'A' Mountain almost continuously for the past 10,000 years.

For most of this period it was various native tribes, most of which vanished long ago, who resided here. And, for the past two hundred and fifty years or so Spanish, Mexican and now Americans have built upon the remains of these past communities.

Interior of San Xavier del Bac Mission in Tucson

The old San Xavier del Bac south of downtown Tucson is a structure that has survived from the Spanish period.

However, most of the structures in downtown Tucson date from the Mexican and nineteenth century American presence in the city.

Many old buildings that were either destroyed by Urban Renewal or saved in the backlash against Urban Renewal were themselves responsible for the destruction of the older Spanish buildings as these structures were torn down to make way for these, what are now considered old buildings.

Last Piece of Presidio Wall in 1915 Museum Photo

Last Piece of Presidio Wall Destroyed in 1918

The last remaining piece of the original Presidio wall that enclosed the original Spanish community was torn down in 1918.

It wasn't until eight years later that the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution decided that the location of that last section was worth remembering and installed a small plaque at the corner of Washington and Main streets noting that this was once the location of that wall.

North East Section of Presidio Became a Parking Lot

Like other old cities, time took its toll on the original Spanish Presidio and other original structures built by the early Spanish.

Some were remodeled with additions added. Some were partially destroyed with the remaining parts becoming part of a new building. Many were simply demolished to make way for new structures. And then the remains of some simply sank into the earth.

Of course the once new buildings that replaced the older original structures, themselves became old and were eventually torn down to make way for newer buildings.

This was the case with the Dodge Boardinghouse located on Church St. which, by 1954 had outlived its usefulness and was demolished in December of that year. The land on which the boardinghouse had stood was combined with adjoining vacant land and the whole area on the corner of Church and Washington Streets paved over to make a parking lot.

However, before it became a parking lot, George Chambers, a local newspaper executive, history buff and author, arranged for an archaeological survey of the site. The survey uncovered a number of artifacts, both Native American and Spanish, and a corner section of a three foot thick adobe wall.

Chambers tried to get the corner lot preserved as a park but failed in that effort and the area was paved over to complete the planned parking lot.

Baking Bread in outdoor oven.
Baking Bread in outdoor oven.
Officer's wife preparing dinner
Officer's wife preparing dinner

Times Change and Parking Lot Gives Way to Newly Reconstructed Portion of Presidio

Despite this setback, interest in the area and in the secrets it held beneath the ground continued.

In the 1990s a local group, the Center for Desert Archeology, began an extensive study of the area where the Presidio was believed to have been located. And, by 2006 enough had been learned to begin the reconstruction of the northeast corner of the original Presidio.

Today, sitting in the middle of downtown Tucson, in full view of the neighboring office buildings towering above it, is a fully reconstructed section of the original Presidio.

By simply strolling over to the corner of Church and Washington Streets, visitors and office workers have the opportunity to step back in history and experience Tucson as it was almost 250 years ago.

On alternating Saturdays, the Presidio becomes a living history museum with members of a local reenactment group, dressed in colonial garb, offering samples of food of the era and demonstrating and explaining tools and crafts of those times.

And, just like 250 years ago, Spanish colonial troops are on duty patrolling the Presidio.

Satellite View of Presidio on SW Corner of Church & Washington Sts.

Church & Washington, Tucson, AZ:
N Church Ave & W Washington St, Tucson, AZ 85701, USA

get directions

Corner of N. Church Ave and W. Washington St. where the reconstructed section of Presidio San Agustin de Tucson now stands.

Progress and Preservation Have to be Kept in Balance

Change is a part of life and this is true for the creations of people as well as people themselves.  Without change there would be no progress.  

However, it is nice to be able to preserve or re-create part of the past which both allows us to know where we came from as well as to better appreciate what we have now.

Reconstructed buildings along north side of wall.
Reconstructed buildings along north side of wall.
Mural giving view across entire Presidio
Mural giving view across entire Presidio
Barracks for enlisted men.
Barracks for enlisted men.

Firing the Cannon

The photos below show the process by which the cannon is prepared and fired.

The process involves first wiping the inside of the cannon with a wet poker to dampen any hot or burning embers from the last firing least they ignite the new powder charge and injure the person loading it.

A new powder charge and projectile are then loaded into the barrel. Of course, for demonstrations, only powder is placed in the cannon as the objective is to demonstrate rather than destroy so there is no need to fire a deadly projectile.

A small amount of powder is poured into the hole on top of the barrel. Igniting this charge results in the main charge being ignited, the blast from which propels the projectile out and towards the target.

Even with a small cannon and small demonstration powder charge, the noise and shock wave from the explosion is deafening. The shock wave from the firing here was not only felt by the viewers but, despite the walls and buildings, was sufficient to set off a car alarm about a block away.

The noise from the blast was deafening - I know, because I chose to use my hands to hold my camera to take a picture as the cannon was fired, rather than holding them over my ears. I was momentarily deafened and my ears were ringing for the next couple of minutes. And I was about fifteen feet away when it was fired.

Firing the Canon

Troops approach the canon
Troops approach the canon | Source
Preparing powder charge
Preparing powder charge
Loading Canon
Loading Canon
Getting flame to ignite powder
Getting flame to ignite powder
Firing canon
Firing canon | Source

Presidio San Agustin de Tucson in Relation to Tucson Airport

N Church Ave & W Washington St, Tucson, AZ 85701, USA:
N Church Ave & W Washington St, Tucson, AZ 85701, USA

get directions

Location of Presidio San Agustin de Tucson.

Tucson International Airport:
Tucson International Airport (TUS), 2700 E Corona Rd, Tucson, AZ 85706, USA

get directions

Tucson International Airport


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Muy buen artículo, pero tiene un error muy importante. En español el presidio se llama Presidio Real de San Agustín de Tucsón, con la palabra Tucsón con acento y no ''Tucson'' que es en inglés.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub with beautiful images! Made me want to go there...

    • juneaukid profile image

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      9 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      I very much enjoyed reading this travel hub. Haven't quite made it down to Tuscon from Phoenix and points north but will the next time I'm in Arizona.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      What a great history and tribute to Tucson. Chuck, you have outdone yourself.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Very interesting hub, our west coast was at one time occupied territory!

    • entertianmentplus profile image


      9 years ago from United States

      Very good hub I enjoyed the read and the pictures.

    • msorensson profile image


      9 years ago

      Informative, thanks!! I love your statement of balancing progress with preservation.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Chuck, the picture are beautiful and tell the story better than we could. We have advanced since that time and no longer use such cannons. The Spanish were run out of the State. About the document being signed, if you are not a citizen of the United States you have no constitutional rights. There are so many things that I feel has taken the toll on our civil rights that it is hard to believe. If you drive you have to have identification on you, and your car or you will be arrested. Your car towed in and your licensed suspended until you go to court. We are all profiled already, there is a file on most people that tell your life story. If you did anything that warrents investigation a record is kept. I was licensed by the SEC for 12 years, and I was finger printed 3 times by the FBI, because I moved to other states, and changed names. They need to know if you are the same person. WHO ARE WE ANYWAY!

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 

      9 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this hub. By remembering the past, we can better appreciate the present.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      9 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Wow, very cool hub, I love history and this is awesome. Those beds, OMG I am so happy I live in this time and place. I enjoyed the pictures, so great. Thanks for sharing this, thumbs up....


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