If you want to understand Tucson’s history & rich cultural heritage, you will find these downtown museums both educational & fascinating.
The Jewish History Museum
It was our good fortune that a docent was speaking to a small group when we arrived. The Jewish History Museum is housed in an old synagogue built in 1910, and is not spacious. Yet it houses many serious exhibits related to the contributions of many Jews, such as the Drachman brothers, to the vitality of early Tucson. Did you know, for example, counting the current mayor, Tucson has had 5 Jewish mayors.
Your understanding of Tucson history will be seriously incomplete if you are not well-grounded in the Jewish community’s contribution to the development of our city. One caveat. If you go, I suggest you arrange to visit at a time when a docent can be there to enlighten and entertain. Just seeing the exhibits and reading their captions, will not reveal the rest of the story – and that story is rich indeed.
564 South Stone
Tucson Museum Of Art & Historic Block
If you enjoy Southern Arizona and love art and history, you will surely appreciate our Tucson Museum of Art. The permanent exhibits in the main gallery are small, but worthwhile. However, on permanent display in the adjacent historic buildings are several treasures, including the Pavilion of Western Art in the Edward Nye Fish House, and Latin American, pre-Columbian, and Spanish Colonial era art in the Stevens/Duffield House.
The historic Romero House is where you will find students of all ages busy in the Museum’s ceramics programs working their potter’s wheels and firing their clay creations in the kilns. La Casa Cordova, one of the oldest buildings in Tucson, houses displays showing life in the Old Pueblo when it was still a small Mexican village.The J. Knox Corbett House, once home to a wealthy Tucson merchant, was built at the turn of the previous century and is filled with furnishing from that era. We have a video tour the Corbett House. To watch, click HERE.
Every few months, the Museum offers new shows from major traveling exhibits. These temporary exhibits are always visually stunning and are usually accompanied by compelling narratives, such as the recent Frida Kahlo exhibit and Scott Baxter’s amazing portraits: 100 Years – 100 Ranchers.
Dining At The Museum of Art
Another delight at Tucson Museum of Art is Cafe’ A La C’art, where you can get a fine salad or sandwich. They also have the best desserts.
The Museum is located on a full city block bounded by West Alameda, North Main Ave, West Washington, and North Meyer in the historic El Presidio Neighborhood located in the heart of downtown Tucson. The official street address is 140 North Main Avenue.
El Presidio San Agustin del Tucson
The Spanish built a fort, or presidio, in this remote northern region of New Spain at the same time a few British colonists on the Atlantic coast of America declared their independence from the English Crown, 1776.
Originally, the “fort” was only a few scattered buildings, some behind wooden palisades. It wasn’t until 1783 that the thick adobe walls were completed, following a near-disastrous Apache attack. At it zenith, the presidio encompassed about 11 acres of what became Downtown Tucson.
This walled compound was constructed only a few city-blocks east of the Santa Cruz River on a Ho-ho-kam’ village site that had been abandoned around 900 C.E. Their descendants, the Pima and Papago (now Tohono O’odham) Indians had lived here for hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived. When the presidio was completed, the natives lived outside the walls.The presidio was still intact when the United States bought what is now the southern half of New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico in 1854. However, soon thereafter, the Americans began dismantling the massive walls to make way for their town. The last standing section of the presidio walls was destroyed in 1918.
Reconstruction of a portion of the old presidio began in 2006. Today, you can visit the presidio and its permanent exhibits & gift store, and occasional festivals, re-enactments, and official ceremonies.
To watch our interview with a 1776 Spanish soldier stationed at El Presidio San Agustin de Tucson, click HERE.
133 W. Washington Street
Arizona Historical Society Downtown Tucson
Here you will find the story of Tucson from the late 19th to the early 20th century. It is a most interesting story, particularly when you consider what locals had to endure without air conditioning.
Excellent exhibits depict early Tucson businesses, such as drug stores, barbershops, hotels & saloons, and introduce us to many of the growing community’s prominent individuals.
Here too is the Dillinger exhibit about how, in 1934, Tucson police captured one of America’s Most Wanted.
To see our brief video, click HERE.
The museum is located in the Wells Fargo Building at 150 N. Stone Ave. Be sure to call for hours. (520) 770-1473
Southern Arizona Transportation Museum
Located at the west end of the restored Train Depot is the Transportation Museum. I know. When I first heard about it I wasn’t in any hurry to go either. But there is no way to understand the history of Tucson until you witness the incredible impact the arrival of … Continue reading
To learn about more worthwhile museums in Tucson, whether art or other, see our list of the Best Museums here.