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TOMBSTONE'S COURTHOUSE
by Janice
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Tombstone Courthouse   Historic buildings have a special wisdom to them. Many will have tales within their walls, tales that beckon to be told. One such building whose story lives to be heard is the two-story 1882 Cochise County Courthouse in Tombstone Arizona.

   Cochise County has a long and exciting history. These 6,000 plus square miles once were a division of Pima County. This meant that to conduct any legal or county business, one would have the long journey to Tucson some 70 or so miles away. This would take up 2 long days riding from the Tombstone area. Tombstone was growing with every passing day. Miners, prospectors and claim stakers found their way to this silver rich area. Families would soon follow. Each day found another charge of Tombstone pioneers seeking their new homes. And in 1881, Cochise County was established and Tombstone named as the county seat.

   This brought the need for a building to be erected to serve as the official site for the business offices in the newly formed Cochise County. The large letters above the entry door announce the year. 1882. Cochise County Courthouse. Today Tombstone is no longer the county seat. In fact in 1929 one might have seen large signs with pleas for beseeching the populous to keep the seat from being relocated to Bisbee; that was then the largest town in the county. But by 1931 the last door closed as the final semblance of county business was concluded in Tombstone. The Tombstone Courthouse was abandoned. All useable objects were removed and sent to Bisbee to be utilized at the new county courthouse or sold at public auction. Those items not deemed salvageable would perhaps find their way into an abandoned mineshaft. This included such items as court documents and writings from lost days. Lost were perhaps years of trails to the past that this building would have housed. Today however, we must listen to the walls. Look at the bricks and glean from the past the stories that once lived in this grand building.

   The large double doors would have made an impressive entrance. Business transactions would take place daily. Perhaps the need to pay county taxes or record a deed would have required a trip to the corner of Third and Toughnut where one would enter through these grand doors. But, remember also that on a daily basis this building employed numerous men and perhaps a few women. They would have found themselves efficiently walking through the halls and climbing the stairways of this establishment. Their chairs would have wheeled across the floor as they reached for a book or a file leaving yet one more scar on the hard wood floors. The walls may have been steeped with the aroma of the gentlemen's cigar often smoked at the desk of the treasurer. Up the winding staircase where the banister is polished and the wood shines from the uncountable hands that have guided their way upstairs, the judge could be found in his chambers preparing for the days cases. The attorneys would be checking their paperwork one last time. The 2nd floor courtroom is readied. The trial will begin soon.

   Downstairs and to the rear of the building and through a hallway the jailer walks toward the cells. The defendant awaiting the sound of the bars unlocking will soon be taken upstairs for trial. The barred compartments smell of the sweat of the many prisoners who would make this their abode, awaiting trial or transportation to the Territorial Prison in Yuma. The high windows afforded them little or no cool breeze in the hot Arizona summers. A trip upstairs may have been a welcome relief, as the detainee would be greeted with wide-open windows and a glimpse of the outside world. Perhaps a breath of fresh air filled with the aroma of the flowers growing in the nearby gardens would permeate this modest courtroom.

   Looking out to the west would bring to mind the account of the five men simultaneously hung for the crime they committed in Bisbee where three residents lost their life in the ensuing felony. The gallows would not be visible as they were erected only when needed. The prisoner was praying that this would not be one of those times.

   Time passes and this splendid brick building is aging. The halls and business offices have emptied as the court's commission is ended here in Tombstone. The doors are fastened and the building is vacant. She holds onto her many stories housed within these sturdy walls.

   The 1940's have arrived. A new face has been planned for this building so tightly closed up since 1931. An excellent location for a hotel it was thought. Men would have examined the structure. Preparations were made and the once busy courtroom was no longer even a shell. The dismantling and remodeling had begun.

   The contractor would be eyeing all possible structural changes to transform this once center of county business into a composition of rooms, halls, kitchens and even a third-story casino. The craftsmen would be measuring, adjusting and forming the new walls and additions. Their dreams built on the next paycheck that this project would bring. The project was doomed. The venture failed. Again the building is vacant. Again she holds on to her many and new stories.

   The year now is 1955. A new and loving family has begun to give this historic building a new life. The Tombstone Restoration Commission acquires the property and soon begins a marvelous restoration and rehabilitation process. Loving hands begin to painstakingly rebuild our endearing courthouse to its once opulent grandeur. One room may have seen the participants planning their fund raising adventures, as another room would be welcoming the carpenter's tools to bring back to life the true meaning of this building.

   Our Tombstone Courthouse today is home to many treasures of our past. Our past is linked into each brick that comprises the many tales of Tombstone's illustrious history. The walls inside still remind one of the daily routines of the everyday employee of the Cochise County Courthouse. The original hard wood floors still bear the scars of each successive turn of the chair's wheels bringing one to their ultimate purpose of being there. They had a job to do. A need to be there.

   Today one may visit Tombstone's Cochise County Courthouse and take a look back in time. Thanks in part to the Tombstone Restoration Commission and the Arizona State Parks Department, this historic building is now a comprehensive museum with a marvelous array of historic artifacts of Tombstone and Cochise County history. Known today as Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park the two-story red brick building houses many stories of the past. Dedicated to the history of 1881 thru 1929 in Cochise County this museum allows one the opportunity to feel the life of days gone by. To hear the stories of the many early Tombstone residents who found the need to be there.

The Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park is open every day except Christmas from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and is located on the corner of 3rd and Toughnut Streets in Tombstone Arizona. Considered one of the most comprehensive museums on Tombstone's history, a $4.00 entry fee will allow one to peruse the many displays of the once bustling and energetic building.

For further information visit the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park's website at: http://www.pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/tombstone.html.

For information on becoming a Friend of the Courthouse and to help support and grow programs for the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park contact: Bill Barlow at (520) 457-2227 or (520) 457-2386. Art Austin, Director, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park (520) 457-3311.

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Any Information on Tombstone's Past from the 1880's to 1990's including, but not limited to:

PHOTOS, DOCUMENTS, LETTERS, BROCHURES, STORIES, MEMORIES, POST CARDS, VACATION PHOTOS, BOOKLETS, ADS, PROGRAMS and other items.

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Tombstone, AZ 85638
(520) 457-3884

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