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Free Tucson Historical Treasures

Historical Mission San Xavier Del Bac

Located south of Tucson off the freeway exit at: 1950 W. San Xavier Road, 294-2624, open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. every day of the year. Free Admission & Free Parking.

It is often called the White Dove of the Desert because its white limestone outer layer could be seen for miles before arriving when traveling through the desert by walking, horseback, or wagon in the 1700's and 1800's. The mission church seen today was built from 1783 to 1797 on top of an original structure which was made of logs and hauled-dragged in to the site by Indians using Spanish ox carts. The church has been called the finest example of Mission Architecture remaining anywhere in the United States. It is regularly undergoing continued restoration efforts by a core preservation group, but the church and its interior still never fail to amaze one with its unique beautiful structure, altar, various wall paintings, and many painted domes and arches. All that you see were originally and still remain hand painted works often from native desert materials. A museum and gift shop is now attached to the church, and under the Ramadas on the east side of the parking lot, members of the Tohono O'Odham Indian Nation, on whose land the church now sits, gives one a little taste of their culture with conversation, fry bread, honey, and sometimes more.

Historical Southern Arizona Railroad-Station Museum

Located downtown at: 414 N. Toole Ave., 623-2223, open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays. Free Admission, Free Parking in front of the depot or in two gravel lots across from and west of the depot. It is located right next to the railroad tracks and the Downtown Historic Train Depot, the museum offers a  train model, and an audio documentary featuring the voices of the actual past men and women railroad workers of Tucson. Each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the historic locomotive No. 1673, used in the filming of "Oklahoma!," is open to the public. Also, walk through and explore around the still operating main train station depot building, which has been completely restored to the way it was back in 1941 as hundreds of local men took off on the train bound for World War 2. It is said that the ghosts of some who did not return can be heard in the station at times.

Tucson Museum of Art

Located at: 140 N. Main Ave., 624-2333, Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-4 p.m. Sundays. Closed On Mondays. There is usually a general admission fee, but it is FREE on the first Sunday of every month. Parking: adjoining north lot. Weekend street parking is free. On "free day," the entire museum is open. The exhibits are varied and captivating for all age groups.

Center for Creative Photography

Located at: 1030 N. Olive Road, right on the University of Arizona campus, 621-7968, open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 1-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Free Admission. Pay hourly parking is available at the Park Avenue Garage located on the northeast corner of North Park Avenue and East Speedway, with direct access to the center via a pedestrian underpass. Founded in 1975 by the then University of Arizona President John Schaefer and the world famous photographer Ansel Adams, the art center holds many archives of more than 50 popular photographers, including notables like Adams, Edward Weston and Richard Avedon. The 5,000-square-foot gallery also hosts many traveling exhibitions as well as the permanent collection that highlights the history of photography.

 Historical Presidio San Agustín Del Tucson

Located at: The southwest corner of West Washington Street and North Church Avenue, in the Downtown area, 884-4214, open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. Free admission. Pay parking: Alameda Street Garage. Weekend street parking is free. You take a self-guided tour through this reconstructed fort that dates to the late 1770s, when it housed Spanish soldiers and their families. There is a small museum on the site. There are often living history programs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends when kids and adults alike are invited to dress in period costume, drill with the uniformed Spanish soldiers, experience the firing of a cannon from that time period, and listen to fascinating real stories about Tucson and the Spanish West. Call for more info.

The Historical Presidio Trail

Located in downtown Tucson, it is a historical walking tour of the area, 325-6974. Free anytime, free weekend street parking. Starting at the Presidio, you follow the turquoise color striped path that takes you to twenty two (22) other Downtown historical sites. Just pick up your free map inside the Presidio's museum that will also indicate parking, water fountains and restroom availability. The complete historical walk is about 2.5 miles long and usually takes about two (2) hours to finish, and you can do it in segments if you wish since over twenty (20) restaurants and other diversions are located right within just a few blocks of the walk. Most of the historical sites are marked with a bronze plaque. Some include: the Historic Pima County Courthouse, El Tiradito Wishing Shrine, the St. Augustine Catholic Cathedral, Armory Park, Hotel Congress, the Fox Theatre, Old Town Artisans, Carillo's House, and many more.

AFRO-American Heritage Museum

Located at: 1834 South Park Avenue, 792-9484, open Saturdays 11am-5pm or by arrangement. Features a large diverse collection of both AFRO-American and other historical exhibits, items, photographs, manuscripts, news articles, posters from the 1800's in Tucson and beyond over a wide range of historical time periods. Privately funded, Donation to help with expenses is encouraged. 

Historical De Grazia Gallery In The Sun

Located at: 6300 N. Swan Road, 299-9191,open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Free Admission and Parking. Take the turn off Swan Road, and suddenly you have arrived in a whole other world, and it is the mesmerizing world of the late artist Ted De Grazia that he crafted for himself, and his friends in the lower foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Ted was the son of hard working Italian immigrants and lived from 1909 to 1982. De Grazia was known best for his deeply revealing works of wide-eyed Indian children. They have appeared  in everything from his greeting cards to magazine covers all over the world. However, the gallery itself gives much more of the sense of the artist through paintings and sculpture going well back to the very early 1940s, when Ted studied with world revered Mexican Revolutionary Muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. On one end of the gallery is what De Grazia's studio actually looked like, complete with his bottle of Chivas Regal and his long cold cigar still resting on his favorite ashtray. Video documentaries of Ted De Grazia's life are also shown in the gallery's viewing room. Right off of the parking lot, his "Mission In The Sun" designing which De Grazia built to honor Father Kino and the Aztec Culture features its roof open to the sky along with the striking wall murals he painted during his lifetime.

Historical Arizona State Museum

Located at: 1013 E. University Blvd., by walking just inside the University of Arizona Main Gate, 621-6302, open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Free right now (but a donation is "suggested"). (The University plans to start charging you in the future). Free weekend parking is in nearby UofA lots. The main attraction of the museum is the permanent exhibit, "Paths of Life, The American Indians Of The Southwest," which focuses on the artwork, artifacts and dioramas the history and culture of Northern Sonora Mexico and the Southwestern Indians, including the Hopi, Apache and Navajo. Along with an encompassing Southwest Indian pottery collection, "The Pottery Project" highlights the over 2,000 years of pottery making around the Southwest and offers you some hands-on exhibits and real video interviews with the archaeologists and native potters.

Arizona Historical Society History Museum - Tucson Branch

Located at: 949 E. Second St., 628-5774, open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Normally an admission fee is charged however it is Free on the first Saturday of every month. Operated by the Arizona Historical Society based in Phoenix and owned by the State of Arizona, there is Free Parking in the University of Arizona parking garage "Arizona Historical Society" section at  the corner of  East Second Street and North Euclid Avenue. The collections include many fascinating historical displays, and hands-on exhibits as the museum takes visitors back in time to the 1870s and beyond, as experienced by the many different cultures that have called Tucson their homes.You can also experience a full size replica of an 1800's Arizona mine operation, check out a real 'Concord Brand' Stagecoach, early everyday tools and instruments, bicycles, even the local Tucson Sheriffs 1923 Studebaker patrol car. There is also a historical collections library and archives reading room for research.

Historical Fort Lowell Military Museum

Located at the Tucson City Park at: 2900 N. Craycroft Road, 885-3832, open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Normally charging an admission fee it is Free the first Saturday of the month with Free parking. Operated by the Arizona Historical Society-Tucson Branch and the City of Tucson. Now located in what is the City of Tucson's Fort Lowell Park, the U.S. Army's Camp Lowell began construction in 1873 on land then miles away east of Tucson to provide military protection of Tucson's citizens against the rampant Apache Indian attacks. Its mission to protect citizens, miners, settlers and to guard supplies from marauding Apaches was short lived however with the end of the Apache Wars in Arizona. Approximately 130 U.S. Army officers and 240 enlisted men lived at the fort in adobe brick walled buildings with dirt floors and outdoor plumbing that included a hospital once run by Dr. Walter Reed, soldiers barracks, parade ground, marching band, laundry women, horse stables, supply warehouses, and officers quarters. The military post was abandoned in 1891 after the end of the Apache Wars and due to many complaints by Tucson businessmen and farmers that the Army was using too much of the nearby rivers water, and the soldiers horses were eating up all the available grass supplies in that area. Upon the forts abandonment many Tucson residents wasted no time stripping the fort of all of the usable building supplies, materials, doors, water pumps, windows, wood stoves, door handles, cabinets, hardware, tools, etc. Today the Fort Lowell Museum is the rebuilt commanding officer's quarters which features photographs, displays of household goods, uniforms and period dress, medical items including amputation saws, scalpels and old medicine bottles, and even some ghosts that are rumored to still haunt the area.

 Historical Downtown Tucson Museum

Located at: 140 N. Stone Ave., 770-1473, open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. Normally charging admission fees it is Free the first Friday of each month. Operated by the Arizona Historical Society. Pay parking is available at the City of Tucson's Joel D. Valdez Main Library Garage, on West Alameda Street a half-block west of Stone Avenue. As you enter through the Wells Fargo Bank building, you can explore the "History in the Heart of Tucson" exhibits, and along with the treasures is the 19th-century hotel lobby and old-time barbershop from Tucson's 1800's downtown era. The museum is dedicated to downtown Tucson's history, and also features exhibits and photographs of Tucson's early police force, firefighters, businesses, theaters and, the capture of  the 1930's Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger one night at the Club Congress Hotel after a freak fire in the hotel suddenly forced Dillinger and his gang out into the street in their underwear. A savvy fireman recognized the wanted outlaw Dillinger from his old photo's in the local newspaper and told Tucson Police Officers who were directing the traffic and crowd around the fire. 

Historical Postal History Museum

Located at: 920 N. First Ave., 623-6652, open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday. Free Admission. Parking: Use the parking lot in the back. Here you can explore a 1800's era post office in Tucson, check out the stamp collection that starts back in the 1840s, and even mail a letter when you are there. There is also a comprehensive youth education program and a library containing more than 45,000 publications dating back to literature from the Civil War era. One exhibition shows items from Wells Fargo and the Pony Express.