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
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.