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November 2006

The 4.2-acre Joint Courts Complex (JCC) project area is located in the block bounded by Stone and Toole Avenues, and Alameda Street, in Tucson. From the 1860s to 1884, a military cemetery was located near the northeast corner of Stone Avenue and Alameda (formerly Cemetery) Street. Much, but not all, of the military cemetery site is located outside the project area, under the current Chicanos por la Causa property. Surrounding the military cemetery to the north and east was a civilian cemetery that may have been used as early or even earlier than the military cemetery, but was officially closed by the City in 1875. It is expected that most of the civilian cemetery is included with the boundaries of the JCC project area.

In recognition of the site’s former use as an early Tucson cemetery, on Sunday, November 5, a Cemetery Visitation and blessings ceremony was conducted on the site by Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. It was attended by representatives of Los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucson, the Pima County Cultural Resources Office, the Diocese, and the local cultural resources consulting firm conducting the excavations, Statistical Research, Inc. (SRI).

Archaeological excavations at the JCC project area began on November 6, 2006. The field excavations have been designed to meet the goals of respectful treatment of the burials from the cemetery, the collection of data important to the understanding of Tucson’s early history, and maintaining the county’s construction schedule for the combined courts complex. Mechanical equipment, including backhoes and skiploaders, is being used to remove the disturbed layers of soil from the surface of the project area. These soils are screened through a power screen and the materials remaining after screening are examined for artifacts by archaeologists. Once intact archaeological features, such as house foundations, wells and privies, grave shafts, etc., are encountered, the mechanical excavation is halted, the locations of the features are mapped, and archaeologists excavate the features by hand. Soils from the hand excavations are also screened by hand.

Mechanical stripping of the project area began in the southern portion of the project area, along Alameda Street. During November, mechanical stripping also occurred at the southeast corner of Council and Grossetta Streets, in the vicinity of a former gas station. According to Marlesa Gray, SRI Project Manager, “Our strategy for mechanical stripping of the site is to sample various areas early in the project to give the County our best estimate of the complexity of the site and the number of graves that remain from the cemetery.”

Although no evidence of the wall or its foundation has yet been discovered, the location of the eastern boundary of the military cemetery is now known with some certainty, based on the layout of grave shafts in the southern portion of the project area. By the end of November, archaeologists had excavated nine burials from both the military and civilian cemeteries.

Among the non-cemetery archaeological features discovered in the southern excavation area were the concrete foundations of an auto dealership that was built between 1930 and 1946 at the northwest corner of Alameda and Grossetta Streets, and the intact foundations of two houses that were built along Alameda Street sometime prior to 1901, according to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. These were probably two of the original houses built in the project area after the cemetery was abandoned and the area was subdivided into lots in 1890. The western house foundation was addressed as 34 E. Alameda and was occupied in 1900 by employees of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Later records show that the house continued to be used by railroad employees through 1920, but, by 1930, the house was the residence of Thomas N. Wills, a cattleman, and his wife, Elizabeth. Archaeological investigations have revealed that the house foundation was constructed of basalt rubble laid in a trench. The other house, at 48 E. Alameda, was built on an adobe foundation. This foundation was discovered by the archaeologists to be largely intact, and showed evidence of multiple repair episodes, using both basalt rubble and concrete to reinforce areas where the adobe was obviously failing. According to census records and city directories, this house was occupied in 1900 by Benjamin Fairbanks, a saloon keeper, and his wife, Grace. By 1910, two railroad conductors resided in the house, and in 1920, it was occupied by Millie E. Jones, a cashier in a café. The house was vacant in 1930, and by 1946, it had been razed and the auto dealership was located on the property. Both house foundations have been mapped and photographed, and will be removed to search for additional features, including grave shafts, that date prior to when the houses were constructed.