You are Part of Vail’s Present-Be a Part of its Future.

Buy a Brick- Leave a Legacy at Colossal Cave Road Crosswalks by J.J. Lamb

The Old Wagon Road wound through the desert towards the dusty streets of Tucson. Traveled by settlers who called their wagons home, the nights were filled with the cries of coyotes, and winds whistling through mesquite branches, as the moon rose over Rincon Peak. In 1856, the sounds of pounding hoof beats from teams pulling San Antonio to San Diego Stage Line coaches filled with mail and passengers interrupted the sounds of cicadas and bird calls. 1858 brought the Butterfield Stage Line. Lumbering freight wagons pulled by teams of 12 mules also made their way westward. Filled with goods from the east, their arrival was eagerly awaited. It could take six months for an order to arrive.

Close your eyes, imagine that one of the settlers had left a note in a tobacco tin or glass jar.  Or, that a letter had flown out of a mail bag as the stage raced along the Old Wagon Road. A fat, tan, pack rat found this treasure, dragging the note to its nest inside a dry shelter cave. What could we learn about people’s hopes, dreams, and plans for the future. What was their vision for how the west would develop?

The Old Wagon Road wound westward through Cienega Creek, up over the bank and onto the flat landscape towards Tucson. In 1880 sledge hammers striking railroad spikes split the desert’s silence.  Chinese, English, Spanish and an Irish lilt could be heard as orders and responses passed between workmen. Building the Main Line eastward, they had come to the last flat piece of land before the tracks would follow the Old Wagon Road into Cienega Creek. Their job was to build a siding track for trains to pass on this flat, dry, spot. An easement had been agreed upon between Walter Vail, who owned the land, and the SPRR. This railroad service point would be called Vail’s Siding.  I wonder what the rail workers, or the Vail brothers would tell us if they could?

Dedication of the Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert, March 1935. Vail

Dedication of the Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert, March 1935. Vail Store & Post Office to the right. Diocese of Tucson Research Library.

Only 10-25 people lived at Vail’s Siding until 1898 when the Helvetia to Vail Road was built. Helvetia Mine in the Santa Rita’s was filling a national need for copper as electric lighting was installed by cities across the nation. The new road saw a steady stream of ore wagons, pulled by 12 mule teams, handled by a teamster. Many of them lived in Vail. Ore was offloaded where the Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert would be built in 1935. Ore was loaded onto the next train headed to Globe for processing. Moving where the work was teamsters, railroad workers, laborers and wranglers came to Vail. The population soared to 150.  In 1901, the SPRR built a handsome depot. Vail’s Siding became Vail’s Station. In 1903, residents requested a school from the Pima County Board of Supervisors and District 20 was born. The Harris and Lively families were teamsters, happy to have steady work transporting ore. Sickness took three of their little girls who are buried on a knoll in what is now Rancho del Lago. Through hardship they kept working and making a life for their families. I wonder what their message to Vail’s future would be?

Vail Villagers were proud to have their own depot on the Main Line in 1901. No more waving down train #9. Vail was a regular stop. The Depot’s dark brown trim accented its standard, bright Armor yellow. It and the new Section Foreman House really brightened up the growing little town. Vail homes were adobe, adobe with a light gray lime plaster, or wood frame with corrugated tin roofs. The yellow was a welcome splash of color and sign of prosperity. Mail service began for Vail from a Class 4 Post Office in the Depot. In 1903, it moved to Otto Schley’s wood frame store just south of the tracks.

Catastrophe struck in March of 1908. Schley’s Store burned to the ground. Only the beautiful 1907 cash register and ledger book survived. By August of 1908, Otto Schley and his wife Evie had rebuilt. The new adobe store had a bay window and handsome tin roof.  The Leon’s, Duffy’s, Lopez’s, Estrada’s and Tattersfield’s all picked up their mail inside the adobe store, which offered a selection of canned goods, candy, dried beans, and cheese.  Locals could connect over a beer or a shot of whiskey. The store had the only liquor license for miles around. Schley’s Store, known to us as the Old Vail Post Office, was the hub for Vail and a community bounded by the Rincon, Empire and Santa Rita Mountains. Schley’s adobe store was where stories were swapped, plans were  made, and precious letters sent and received. Otto had big plans for himself and Vail. He was Vail’s first mayor. He died in 1915. What insights would he offer if he had left a message for the future?

In 1927, Vail’s Junction, as it was called by then, became part of Highway 80. The first national, southern coast to coast route went right through downtown Vail! Today we call it Old Vail Road. In 1931, the Highway moved south one mile. Vail residents were not happy that Vail was bypassed! The mid 1930s was a time of change, Putnam Cleveland purchased Rancho del Lago, removed the farm, orchards and truck garden, built a horse track,  and beautiful dude ranch with castle themed casitas. The Shrine of Santa Rita was built in 1935. Its Mission Revival design and desert rose tinted lime plaster brought a graceful beauty to the town and a place to worship for a congregation that had been part of the San Xavier Parish. I wish builder Caroline Beach and the 650 guests who attended the Dedication had left us their thoughts about this significant occasion.

Vail was very quiet for the rest of the century. Out of town developers erased all but the 1935 Shrine, the Midwife’s House and the 1908 Vail Store & Post Office. Vail is bustling; so many new faces have joined long-time families. These are exciting times. Vail is our children’s home town. What we choose to save speaks volumes about our community values. What will your message to Vail’s future be?

We have a unique opportunity to leave a message, a visible time capsule along Vail’s Main Street-Colossal Cave Road. You can have your family’s names, a poem, a message to the future, your business name, tag line or sponsor a portion of the Vail Timeline – part of the new public art soon to be installed. The order form is in this issue of The Vail Voice or call 520-419-4428.  Funds raised will support a public art maintenance fund and help restore the 1908 Vail Store & Post Office. After November 1st the price will increase.  Legacy Brick Sales will end on December 1st so we have time to have them engraved for installation along the re-invented Colossal Cave Road. You are part of Vail’s present – Be a part of Vail’s future.

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