The Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood

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The Fort

Camp Lowell was was originally around 1867, inside the Tucson city limits and its boundaries were where Armory Park is now. Tucson was a small dusty town, and among the enterprising inhabitants were some fairly rough characters such as miners, other seekers after fortunes, prostitutes, and camp followers. There was disorder and drunkenness. The commanding officer, Captain W. Henry Brown, despaired of keeping discipline among the soldiers because of the temptations of the town. The situation distressed General George Crook and he sent out a party to explore for a more salutary site. One was selected about seven miles to the northeast of the center of town because of its abundance of water, plentiful grass for the horses, and a good supply of wood. The site selected was, of course, at the confluence of the Pantano and Tanque Verde washes where they became the Rillito -- the same place which the Hohokam had chosen some sixteen hundred years earlier. The Army also marked off some eighty square miles of Military Reservation to ensure the water supply, as well as the other natural supplies deemed necessary to sustain the Fort's existence. This was accomplished in 1872 and Camp Lowell was moved to the new location in 1873.

Post Commander Lt. Col. Eugene Asa Carr [23K]  [HS1]
Post Commander Lt. Col. Eugene Asa Carr who helped found the new Fort site

Construction of the Fort buildings was begun and the name was shortly changed to Fort Lowell. The making of the adobe bricks from the earth on the site was started with crews of Indians, Mexicans, and soldiers. Still can be seen Hohokam potsherds which were mixed with the earth in making the adobes.

Building went slowly, with various difficulties always arising, but eventually enough was constructed so that the soldiers and necessary activities could be housed. The buildings were at first fairly rudimentary. Floors were of dirt and men slogged through mud in the rainy season. Roofs of earth piled on top of beams and ocotillo branches or saguaro ribs leaked. Water at first had to be hauled on horse-drawn carts.

The selection of the site had not taken into account the many ranchers who had settled on lands along the rivers to the east of the new Fort. They felt that they had rights to the water, wood supply, and grasses. Some were cooperative and made compromises with the soldiers. Others sometimes cut off the water in the canals, or they allowed their cattle to foul it. There were arguments and recriminations. The commanding officer at one point ordered soldiers to go out and burn shacks of the offending settlers.

Medical Steward Charles H. Fearn and son [23K] [HS2]
Medical Steward Charles H. Fearn and son

Malaria, as yet unidentified as to its cause, was rampant. The doctors manning the hospital cared for more victims of diseases, diarrhea, and accidents than they did battle wounds.

Officers children at Cottonwood Lane, ca. 1890 [22K] [HS3]
Officers' children at Cottonwood Lane, ca. 1890

As time passed, the buildings of the Fort were made more comfortable, with amenities such as wooden floors and tin roofs. The seven officers' quarters contained furniture transported across the continent, even pianos, and the Fort became known as a desirable and prestigious station where officers brought their families and raised their children. There was a storehouse, a camp garden, horse barns and corrals, a rifle range, a band with its own quarters, a fine parade ground lined with cottonwood trees, a guard house, and picket fences; a school was planned. Canals were dug; water pumps run on steam were installed, supplying water tanks. There was also a cemetery.

[13K] [HS4]
The Fort Band

The band was a great attraction for the people of Tucson, who drove their buggies or rode horses from town to attend dances and concerts. A baseball team was organized; there was a great rivalry between them and teams from Tucson.

There was even a tavern right at hand, for John "Pie" Allen built one when the construction on the Fort first started in 1873. He had a rather large establishment, surrounded by an adobe wall, where he kept various kinds of farm animals and supplies. It was known as the Sutler’s Store. He stayed for only about a year, however, and then sold it to Frederick Austen. Allen went on to other activities such as becoming the mayor of Tucson. The commanding officer had some difficulties with the tavern and wrote a letter to the owner, warning about the drunkenness of the soldiers.

J.B. "Pie" Allen [13K] [FL1]
J.B. "Pie" Allen

Surgeons at the Fort hospital were also naturalists and explored the environs of the Fort, focusing in particular on the birds. New species were identified, such as Bendire’s thrasher and the rufous winged sparrow. The hooded skunk, a new sub-species, was also reported. Walter Reed, who later discovered the cause of yellow fever, was among this group of surgeons.

Today we are aware of the struggles, arguments, difficulties, and successes of the Fort occupants from the many letters and reports which, written over one hundred years ago by Fort officers and their wives, are still in existence. The communications were with Washington, with other officers, and with the surrounding people.

The Fort did protect the people of Tucson from the Apaches, particularly those who came into the valley over Reddington Pass. It came also to be used as a supply depot for other Army units in the general area. But after General Crook's campaign and the surrender of Geronimo in 1886, this Fort, which had supplanted the Hohokam dwellers, was no longer needed and it was turned over to the U.S. Department of the Interior in l891. There are people who remember being employed to haul away the soldiers’ possessions, taking them to Fort Wingate near Prescott.