I just returned from a really great trip home to Tucson. The point of the trip was, of course, to visit my family. However I ended up actually doing a lot of fun things during my stay. I went hiking in the desert with my mom, sis and the dogs. I went to a terrifically unique book reading by Sausalito author Richard Polsky with my dad and sister. I saw not-so-great-but-still-unique Aztec dancers. And I got a chance to get a new look at a place I’d been before that’s a Tucson attraction of sorts: Old Town Artisans.
Old Town Artisans is a set of stores that are all grouped together in Downtown Tucson. In the center of them is a courtyard where there are live music performances and other things to see and do. I had been here before because there are musicians featured there every year during the Tucson Folk Festival which I used to attend frequently with my dad. I had checked out some of the shops in the place before but never explored the area in depth.
It turns out that the shops are all housed in what used to be a large home. I learned this because my sister got to talking to a vendor in the courtyard who makes Native-American-style pottery using the clay that she digs up herself from the local riverbeds. It turned out that this woman used to work for the place and was very interested in Tucson history so she knew all about the building. She ended up giving us a little tour of the shops to show us about the way that it was built.
The tour ended up providing us with a lot of little tidbits of Tucson history that I didn’t really have much awareness of before now. The building was constructed in the nineteenth century. At the time it was the home of a single extended family – housing great-grandparents, great-grand-children and everyone in between. Our guide walked us through the building and pointed out things that I never would have noticed on my own – like the areas of the roof that were built from old wine barrels, the packing crates that the family arrived there with and ribs from old saguaro cacti. We learned that the pine used to construct part of the building was taken from Mt. Lemmon but it took about six weeks to go up to the mountain in a horse and buggy and bring that wood back down. These days we consider Mt. Lemmon a short drive up to see a nice scenic view of the city. How different it was back then!
The woman that was giving us the tour even had some old pictures of what the building looked like over one hundred years ago. At one point it had been turned into a general store complete with a root cellar in the bottom and a canvas painting on the outside. We saw these pictures and got to stand in the store that exists there today which is, of course, quite different from the old general store. We learned that this place had been everything from a distillery to a brothel. It was almost torn down not so long ago but was then saved by someone interested in preserving Tucson history and is now the home to artists working in the Southwestern style.
It’s not that this place is particularly fascinating exactly. It’s not that the art here to see is stunning. It’s just that this is one of those little Tucson gems that I’ve been to but never actually paid attention to before. It goes to show that there are new things to be discovered everywhere that you might spend your time even if you think that you already know all that there is to know about a place. Keep your eyes open, talk to other people about the places that you visit and be willing to learn something new every day!