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  • Rillito River Park History

    Rillito Race Track Historic District - 1
    Rillito Downs

    Acres: 91.73

    Listed on National Register: 2/6/2012

    Period of Significance: 1940-1964

    Description: The Rillito Race Track, first opened in 1943, is the birthplace of modern Quarter Horse racing and continues as a venue for both Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing. Originating on the Jelks Ranch in a natural desert clearing between the Rillito River and the Catalina, today's racetrack is part of a multi-use, public park that carves a refuge of relatively open land from a zone of high-density development. During two historic eras, the racetrack complex with its Grandstand/Clubhouse building and barns evolved to incorporate built features of earthen track (oval and chute), steel, concrete and block that remain in active use today, relatively unaltered. 

    St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church - 2

    Photo to come

    Year built/established: 1936-1957 

    Architect/Style/Site Function: Josias Joesler / Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival

    Description: Associated with prominent Tucson developers John and Helen Murphey, many people believe that St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church with its subsequent additions and cloister gardens is the most recognized example of Josias Joesler's storied 40-year career. It is considered a Tucson landmark.

    Binghampton Rural Historic Landscape - 3

    Binghampton landscape

    Acres: 409.58

    Listed on National Register: 5/1/03

    Period of Significance: 1898-1953

    Description: The Binghampton Rural Historic District is significant in Tucson history as the first Mormon agrarian settlement, founded in 1898 on the floodplain north and south of the Rillito River. Over two decades, Mormon settlers transformed the land into a patchwork of irrigated crop, orchard, dairies, and pasture fields and built a one-room schoolhouse that stands today. From the 1920s to the 1950s, the area served as owner-occupied ranches and farms. Residents pastured prized horses and cattle and built residential complexes in Southwestern Revival architectural styles with exotic and native landscaping. Today, horse culture remains important in the rural landscape.

    San Pedro Chapel - 4

    San Pedro Chapel

    Year built/established: 1931

    Architect/Style/Function: Community built/Mission Revival (New Spain)

    Description: The San Pedro Chapel is a one-story adobe building built by the Mexican residents of the village of El Fuerte. Residents made adobe bricks on site and a depression east of the chapel still exists marking this activity. The chapel was rehabilitated using Pima County Historic Preservation Bond funds.

    Prehistoric Residential - Hardy Site - 5

    Hardy site

    Year Built/Established:

    Architect/Style/Function: Village

    Description: Over 1,000 years ago villagers here depended on the fertile soils and abundant water this confluence offered. They harvested wild grasses and other seed-bearing plants, deer, and cottontail rabbits. They dug irrigation canals to bring water from the rivers to their corn (maize) and bean fields, long before Euroamericans would tap the waters for industrial use.

    Ditches/Flume - Historic Use of Pantano Wash and the Rillito River - 6

    Ditches Flume sign

    Year Built/Established:
    Late 1800s 


    Description: Underground rock formations once forced groundwater to the surface where Tanque Verde Creek and Pantano Wash join the Rillito River. Historically, ditches and flumes were dug to move this water far distances. Ancestral Native American farmers first utilized the area and much later, in the 1800s, water drew Mexican-American settlers, European-American settlers, a U.S. Army regiment at Fort Lowell, and the Mormon enclave of Binghampton to the west.

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