Digital Storytelling and Visitor Analytics for City and Cultural Institutions
The Sosa-Carrillo-Fremont House is operated by the Arizona Historical Society and shared by the offices of Borderland Theater. As of this writing, they open at 10 AM weekdays but are closed on the weekends. Either way, proceed to the front door. Standing outside by the front door, you are now on what was Calle Real, the Royal Road.
If the house is open, go in and look around. As you enter, on the right are the offices of the theater company. On the left are rooms and (representative) furnishings from the time Mr. Carrillo and family lived here. While the furnishings of this house are original, the house itself is not. Rather it's a near-exact replica of the house that the Carrillo family lived in at this site. The original was so dilapidated that it could not be saved.
In his diary, George Hand mentions an incident that may have occurred here:
In those days, people typically did not go to a hospital to die. If possible, they preferred to die in their own bed surrounded by family. Tucson did not even have a hospital until 1880 when St. Mary’s opened with 11 patients.
Leopold Carrillo was very popular with the children. Why? He opened Tucson's first ice cream parlor. His gardens were located where Carrillo Middle School is today just south of the Convention Center. He started the first fired brickyard, participated in the governance of the city, and founded Tucson's Republican Party. Were he alive today, he probably would be a U.S. Senator from Arizona. Check out the over 100-year-old fig tree in the backyard. It still produces bushels of excellent fruit.
Carrillo developed an 8-acre park just south of his home and called it Carrillo Gardens. It had a lake in which you could swim or paddle a small boat (cool in the summer), a restaurant and saloon, shooting gallery, and bowling alley. He planted hundreds of fruit trees (shade and fresh fruit) and over 2,000 grape vines (think wine). Carrillo installed a zoo, brought in circus performers, hosted dances, and perhaps most important, offered 12 bathhouses.
Truth be told, the Sosa-Carrillo-Frémont House would not exist today had it not been for the name "Frémont." The Anglo-dominated city leadership in the 1960s cared nothing about preserving Tucson's long and rich Hispanic heritage. Without solid evidence, they believed that at one time, John C. Frémont, governor of Arizona Territory (1878-81), had lived here. Therefore, saving this house fit their narrative celebrating the hardy Anglo pioneers who founded modern Tucson.
There is no credible record of Gov. Frémont ever having lived here. However, in 1881 his daughter Lily did rent the entire house from the Carrillo family for one year. At this time she was a single woman, 39 years of age. Her father was a famous explorer, Civil War general, and politician. Having conquered California for the United States, Frémont became the new territory's military governor in 1847. From September 1850 to March 1851, he was one of the first two senators from the new State of California.
The Frémont family maintained a residence in the territorial capital at Prescott for three years (1879-81). Sometime in 1880, Governor Frémont made plans to spend time in Tucson, the largest settlement in the Territory. Prescott at this time had a population no greater than 2,000. Tucson's population was about 7,000. The Governor sent his daughter ahead to make arrangements. Elizabeth lived in this house with a maid and her faithful Chinese cook whom she brought with her from Prescott.
The Royal Road was the main highway that stretched 1500 miles from Mexico City north through Nogales, Tubac, and eventually Tucson. Until the mid-19th century, Tucson was the terminus. There was no wagon road going north or west from here. In 1774, with the blessing of the King of Spain, Juan Bautista de Anza, commandant of the Tubac Presidio some 40 miles south of Tucson, led an expedition to discover a viable land route from Tucson to Alta (northern) California.
It may have been the "Royal Road," but it wasn't pretty. This was a simple dirt road. In the dry season, it was very dusty. In the wet season, it was ankle-deep in mud. Transportation in the 18th and 19th centuries was animal-powered with wagons pulled by oxen or mules; carriages pulled by horses; burdens carried by donkeys. Most folks rode a horse if they could afford one. What do oxen, mules, donkeys, and horses do besides eat hay? They pee and poop ... a lot. And where there is a lot of pee and poop, there are usually clouds of flies. The nicest thing you could say about this portion of the "Royal Road" was that it stunk. And if you had been here back in the day, you would be standing in it. (I never said history is pretty.)
Cover photo: azadventurervnrl via Instagram.