The Sosa Carrillo Frémont House is operated by the Arizona Historical Society and shared by the offices of Borderlands Theater. As of this writing, they open at 10 am weekdays but are closed on the weekends. This article is a sampling of our Self-Guided Tour Book and our a part of our Downtown History and Libation Tours October - April. Read to the end to learn more about this part of our tours. Our next tour will be February 16, 2020.
The Royal Road and Anza Expeditions
The main highway 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.
Every autumn, Tubac Presidio State Park puts on a festival called Anza Days. Great fun!
This map of the Downtown area above depicts the streets that existed here (straight red lines) before the Barrio was bulldozed to clear the land for the Convention Center. You can orient yourself by locating the Sosa-Carrillo House on this map. After 1872, the Royal Road became Main Avenue as it is today.
To the east, the next street over was Meyer Avenue, named for Judge Meyer. It is a quiet neighborhood with many historic houses. Worth a walkabout.
Both streets Main and Meyer exist today north and south of the Convention Center. You can also see other points of historical interest that no longer exist, such as George Hand's Saloon, which will be your next stop after leaving the Sosa-Carrillo House.
It may have been the "Royal Road", but it wasn't pretty. Use your imagination. 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. 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 & 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.)
Go Inside and Explore
If the house is open, go in and look around. As you enter, on the right are the offices of the Borderlands Theater Company. On the left are rooms, representative furnishings from the time Mr. Carrillo and his family lived here. To my knowledge, none of the furnishings are original to this house. In fact, the house itself is not original, but rather 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. You may find an exhibit here, reflecting Spanish and Latin heritage.
In his diary, George Hand mentions an incident that may have occurred here.
December 27, 1878. Cloudy and cold. Jerry Kenny came in here (George’s saloon) very early – he was very tight (drunk). Tom Roddick is in town today – sober. Shorty Holt got some money for a mine. Leopold Carrillo’s mother-in-law died today.
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. On the other hand, Tucson did not even have a hospital until 1880 when St. Mary's opened with 11 patients.
No Governor Frémont Here
Truth be told, the Sosa-Carrillo-Frémont House would not exist today had it not been for the name "Frémont". Remember, the Anglo dominated city leadership in the 1960s cared nothing for 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.
Her mother, Jessie Benton Frémont, was a mildly successful author, whose income from book sales and magazine articles was often necessary to support the family. John made, lost and remade multiple small fortunes in mining and other ventures, then lost everything in the Panic of 1873. He died poor in 1890. His wife outlived him by a dozen years.
Elizabeth Benton Frémont never married, but was devoted to her parents and served them in many capacities. The Frémont family maintained a residence in the territorial capital at Prescott for three years (1879-81). However, toward the end of their first year in Prescott, Mrs. Frémont " ... was so seriously affected by the high altitude that she was sent home to New York." Jessie Frémont never returned to Arizona.
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.
When she announced her decision to move to Tucson, someone told her, "You will die of the fever in Tucson." She almost did. In Elizabeth's Recollections, published in 1912, she writes:
"For weeks, I lingered between life and death, fast in the grip of typhoid fever." "... and did truly make my last will and testament."
"At this time, father was in New York ... purchasing arms for Arizona, as the Indians were growing more desperate and defiant ..."
About her life in Tucson living in this very house, Elizabeth wrote:
"Tucson was about three thousand feet lower than Prescott, and perhaps was then the oldest as well as one of the most unsanitary towns in America. The heavy summer rains drew the poison out of the sun dried soil, until even the seasoned Americans fell by the wayside, as flowers fall after a blighting storm."
"... I kept house with no butter, no eggs, very little milk. The town depended upon the water from a spring which was peddled around from house to house. I did manage to obtain some Chinese sugar and to exist after a fashion.
Butter was a luxury which I scarcely ever tasted during that time in Tucson; it had to be shipped in from California and there were then no refrigerator cars. In crossing the desert the jars of butter were melted into liquid oil, and as ice was twenty cents a pound in Tucson, only the enormously rich could afford to boast always of a plentiful supply."
In her Recollections, Elizabeth relates a story about a historical event that occurred while she lived here. On July 2, 1881, Elizabeth, a Prussian soldier from Fort Lowell, Bishop Salpointe and two nuns were chatting in the parlor "when the front door burst open and a man, a stranger to me, called out:
"Miss Frémont, Garfield has been shot and is dying!"
"... we were all paralyzed, as it were, with the shock and the fear of the consequences.
Finally, the tenseness of the situation was broken and I looked to where the good nuns had been sitting: they were down on their knees imploring the Heavenly Father to save the President.
"... nowhere on God's green earth was there more genuine affection and solicitude displayed for the safely of Garfield than in the bowed forms of those gentle nuns, prostrate in prayer in the humble adobe on the fringe of civilization."
Garfield died on September 19th of infection from the bullet and his doctors' gross medical ignorance.
After a year of struggle in the Old Pueblo, Elizabeth Benton Frémont was happy to leave for home in New York City where she joined her parents.
Leopoldo Carrillo's Story
Nevertheless, the house was "saved" and has an important story to tell. Once inside, you will see portraits of Leopoldo Carrillo and his family.
Señor Carrillo (1836-90) was a very enterprising man. Near Sabino Canyon he had a large cattle ranch from which he sold beef to the Army at a fine profit. At one point, he owned 100 rental properties. He also recognized what early Tucsonans wanted desperately ... simple conveniences and some entertainment.
Hard to believe now, but back in the 1870s, the good citizens did not have running water in their homes. No running water = no indoor plumbing = no showers or flush toilets. You either drilled a well, carried water from the river, or had fresh clean water from a local spring delivered house to house in barrels. Refrigerators were well into the future. They didn't have screens for their doors and windows. Nor did they have modern air conditioning. They didn't have Sirius Radio; flat screen, high definition televisions; or smartphones. They didn't even have a Walmart.
So, Señor 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 (think cool in the summer). It had a restaurant and saloon, a shooting gallery, a bowling alley. He planted hundreds of fruit trees (think shade and fresh fruit) and over 2,000 grape vines (think wine).
Señor Carrillo installed a zoo, brought in circus performers, hosted dances, and perhaps most importantly, offered 12 bathhouses. I don't know about you, but I'd pay $0.25 for a bath once a month.
Señor 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 have been a U.S. Senator from Arizona.
Check out the over 100-year-old fig tree in the back yard. It still produces bushels of excellent fruit and a cutting grows at the Presidio del Tucson.