Historic Driving Tour

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Self-Guided Driving Tour of Historic St. David and the San Pedro Valley

Saint David, Arizona is located in Southeast Arizona on the San Pedro River in Cochise County. Founded in 1877, it predates its more famous neighbor, Tombstone. At that time, most people saw a country to be bypassed – or driven through in haste.  But a small group of Latter-day Saint (Mormon) families, the last settler group organized by Brigham Young before he died, saw home; a beautiful, remote setting along the flowing San Pedro River.

We hope you enjoy some new discoveries as you explore St. David.  You will find additional information below about each of the highlighted areas, as well as historic photos and some links for further study.  This driving tour is intended to be interactive, and we would appreciate your feedback by leaving your comments (use the Feedback button below).  Tell us about your experience – what works well and what doesn’t?  What questions and suggestions do you have?  We will continue to update the tour online, so check back!

More information and some interesting stories can be found in our publications, which can be purchased online at https://saintdavidheritage.org/store/ or at The Gallery of Dreams in St. David.

Location:  Hwy 80 just west of Mile Marker 299, 7 Miles south of Benson

Description:  Welcome to St. David!  As you cross the bridge driving east into St. David, you will see a connection to southern Utah and places throughout the western United States settled by groups of Latter-day Saints in the last half of the 19th Century.  All of these communities share green spaces, irrigation ditches, large trees, and farms.  St. David looks different from the surrounding communities because, rather than being settled by miners, prospectors, ranchers, and wanderers, it was settled by self-reliant families who were focused on agriculture, faith, and building a community for their children.  

When St. David was first settled, there was no river crossing at the location of this bridge.  Locals, military, thru travelers all crossed the San Pedro south at Escalante Crossing in the early days.  The original US Hwy 80 crossed farther south as well. The current bridge replaced the original bridge that was washed out in a flood. The AZDOT will be starting a new bridge, which will be wider and feature 12-foot travel lanes and 10-foot shoulders, in the fall of 2022. 

The Railroad Tracks originally connected Benson and beyond to the mill town of Fairbank, the mining town of Bisbee, and the border town of Douglas.  The current active spur, seen as you come up to the bridge, only goes to Apache Nitrogen Products.  

Trivia: US Hwy 80 was part of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway running from Florida to Los Angeles, a major transcontinental highway that existed in Arizona from 1926 to 1989.  At its peak, US 80 traveled from the California border in Yuma to the New Mexico state line near Lordsburg.  The original route came through Douglas, across to Bisbee, up to Curtis Flats, then across the San Pedro near Escalante Crossing to Apache Powder Road.  

For More Information:

US Route 80 in Arizona – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_80_in_Arizona

US Route 80 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_80

Historic Highway 80 – https://www.historichighway80.org/historic-highway-80/

Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation – https://preservetucson.org/stories/historic-arizona-u-s-route-80-designation/

“And Then, the Railroads Came” in Chile Peppers & Mastodons – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/chile-peppers-mastodons/

San Pedro Valley Railroad – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Pedro_Valley_Railroad

Location:  1436 S. Apache Powder Road (Private Property)

Description: Apache Nitrogen Products (formerly Apache Powder Company) began in 1920 as a manufacturer of dynamite for the mining industry and other regional uses of dynamite.  In the peak days of dynamite production, Apache Powder Company was the largest producer of dynamite in the world, with an output of more than 2,000 cases per day.  Today it is a modern facility producing nitrogen-based products important to the mining and agricultural industries.  The plant occupies a historic location in St. David and is one of Cochise County’s largest employers. 

Trivia:  The plant’s location, and the Southern Pacific Railroad stop there, were referred to as Curtiss, Arizona in the 1920s.  But Curtiss Station is not to be confused with Curtis Flats!

For More Information:

Apache Nitrogen Products Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/apachenitro

Apache Nitrogen Products – https://www.apachenitrogen.com/about-us.php

Apache Nitrogen Products – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_Nitrogen_Products

The Mining Congress Journal of June 1921 – https://books.google.com/books?id=hsc6AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA235#v=onepage&q&f=false

“Birth of a Powder Plant” in Chile Peppers & Mastodons – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/chile-peppers-mastodons/

Location:  Drive past Apache Nitrogen Products, follow the road as it turns east, then turn right onto S Cary Road, which ends at the Land Corral, Cienega, and San Pedro River Trailhead. 

Activities:  Hiking, birding, photography.  Parking is available at the San Pedro River Trail, near the Land Corrals.  The San Pedro River Trail follows the riparian corridor all the way to the United States/Mexico border.  Be alert for boggy areas and standing water, venomous snakes, and extreme heat.  Always carry water and let someone know where you are hiking.

Description: In December 1846, the U.S. Army’s “Mormon Battalion” came through the San Pedro Valley and camped in the area of the St. David Cienega, on the west bank of the San Pedro River.  

When the settler families arrived in November 1877, led by former Mormon Battalion member Philemon Merrill, they too camped at the St. David Cienega, where they found dependable water from which they could grow their new community.  That year and the year before had been excellent years for water.  Records indicate that the native sacaton grass was in abundance. Within a few months they moved to the other side of the river, where they built the original fort and planted crops on more hospitable soil.  

Trivia:  A cienega is a term for a spring.  A cienega is usually a wet, marshy area at the foot of a mountain, in a canyon, or on the edge of a grassland where groundwater bubbles to the surface.  

The Land Corrals were enhanced and built-up for the movie McLintock! The original corrals were part of the San Juan de las Boquillas y Nogales (Saint John of the Little Springs and Walnut Trees) land grant, which was given to the family of Rafael Elias Gonzales by the Mexican government in 1833.  In 1880, the land grant was purchased by George Hearst and his partner George Hill Howard.  

For More Information:

San Pedro Riparian NCA Map – https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/documents/AZ_SanPedroRiparian_NCA_map.pdf

BLM – https://www.blm.gov/national-conservation-lands/arizona/san-pedro

McLintock! – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057298/

Mescal Movie Set – https://www.mescalmovieset.com/

Down by the River Bed & Breakfast – http://downbytheriverbandb.com/2015/01/05/st-david-cienega/

Little Boquillas Ranch – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Boquillas_Ranch

Arizona’s Spanish and Mexican Land Grants – https://azhumanities.org/arizonas-spanish-and-mexican-land-grants/?cn-reloaded=1

Traveler’s Guide to Arizona 1878 – https://azhumanities.org/arizonas-spanish-and-mexican-land-grants/?cn-reloaded=1

Location:  Along Hwy 80 (See Green Line on Map)

Description:  There was a time when enormous trees lined both sides of the highway; however, flooding and other challenges led to the relocation of the ditch in some areas and the loss of trees in other areas.  While some of the original trees remain, many of the current trees are ones that have been replanted over the years.  Today’s trees are mostly mulberry and ash, whereas the larger cottonwood trees are by the area’s ponds and rivers.

When residents tell others they are from St. David, a common reaction is, “Oh, I’ve been through there; it’s the place with all the trees!”

Trivia:  According to Larry Scott, in his online article “All About Water”, one of St. David’s first priorities had been the construction of a canal to divert a portion of the San Pedro River’s water for field irrigation.  If you notice the terrain, you can imagine how complicated the construction process was with just horse-drawn equipment and hand tools.  Washes had to be crossed and elevation considered.  Unfortunately, it was discovered afterward that the water contained Alkali.  The river began poisoning the soil.  

For More Information:

All About Water – https://saintdavidazhistory.weebly.com/news–stories/all-about-water

Location:  Sybil Road, ¾ Mile north of  Hwy 80

Details:  As you drive into town, you will see numerous roadside and farm stands featuring pecans, as well as pistachios, green chile peppers and other fresh vegetables, and local farm products.  Arizona as a whole and St. David in particular, has all the best conditions for growing pecans – low humidity and cloud cover, plenty of bright sunlight, and an abundance of water.  St. David offers the right place for pecan trees to do very well.  

Activities:  Stop at any (OR ALL!) of our local stands and take home the goodness of farm grown nuts, vegetables, eggs, and more!! 

Special Activity July 23, 2022!  As part of Pioneer Days, a number of our local farms are open to guests.  Please visit for https://saintdavidheritage.org/2022-pioneer-days/2022-farm-and-business-tour/ for more details.

For More Information:

Trish & Brian Pick Pecans – https://groundedbythefarm.com/trish-brian-mckeighen/

Boosting the Pecanomy – https://arizonadailyindependent.com/2018/11/23/boosting-the-pecanomy-arizona-pecan-production-peaks/

Arizona Pecan Growers Association – https://arizonapecan.com/

Arizona Department of Agriculture – https://agriculture.az.gov/plantsproduce/what-we-grow/tree-fruits-and-nuts#:~:text=Arizona%20safeguards%20the%20tree%20fruit%20and%20nut%20industry,could%20be%20detrimental%20to%20these%20important%20Arizona%20industries.

Location:  Hwy 80 and Church Street (Parking available on the South Side of Hwy 80)

Description:  The Mormon Battalion was the only religious unit in United States military history, recruited solely from one religious body and having a religious title as the unit designation.  The almost 600 volunteers served from July 1846 to July 1847 during the Mexican-American War.  The Battalion’s service and 2,100 mile march from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California, supported the United States’ eventual claiming of much of the American Southwest, especially that acquired with the Gadsden Purchase.  Veterans of the Battalion played significant roles in the settlement of California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, as well as the discovery of gold in California.  

St. David’s Monument to the Mormon Battalion is white, three-sided, with an inset plaque.  The monument commemorates the Morman Battalion’s camp in December 1846.  Additional monuments can be found throughout the San Pedro River Valley.

Trivia:  Just east of the Mormon Battalion Monument, on the other side of Church Street, is a vacant lot.  This was the location of the first chapel built in the St. David area.  When completed, it was built of both lumber and adobe.  In 1940, this building was replaced; during the construction, services were held in the school auditorium.  Services were held in the second chapel building until 2010, when it was demolished.

The families and members of the town of St. David welcome all beliefs.  We recognize that our community is strengthened by each of our churches and faiths.  For more information on local services, please visit [website link coming soon] for a list of local churches and service times.  

For More Information:

List of Local Places of Worship and Times – Coming Soon

Mormon Pioneers of the San Pedro Valley – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/mormon-pioneers-of-the-san-pedro-valley/

Waymarking – https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM7ZHE_Mormon_Battalion_Monument_St_David_AZ

Mormon Battalion Tucson – https://www.mormonbattaliontucson.com/

The Mormon Battalion Association – https://www.mormonbattalion.com/

Location:  Across Hwy 80 from the Mormon Battalion Monument

Description:  From the Mormon Battalion Monument, if you look north across Hwy 80, you will see our next location.  The Palm Tree was originally planted by “Grandma Goodman” next to the family’s artesian well.  The water and warmth of the area helped keep the palm tree alive and helped it thrive.  Normally a palm tree would not survive the cold mornings of the high desert.

Trivia:  The first mercantile store opened by Margaret Ann Taylor “Grandma” Goodman was started in 1885 in Old St. David, near the present location of the  Rammed Earth Roundhouse.  The store and post office were moved to this location in 1897.  This new St. David townsite had been called Marcus, but was consolidated into one community under the name of St. David.

For More Information:

Mormon Pioneers of the San Pedro Valley – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/mormon-pioneers-of-the-san-pedro-valley/

The Goodman Family of St. David – https://kindredpast.com/2018/03/29/the-goodman-family-of-st-david-arizona/

Gleeson, AZ Loop Tour – http://gleesonarizona.com/LoopTour/TourStop_StDavid/index.html

Location:  70 E Patton Street

Description:  The Saint David Heritage and Cultural Arts Society was originally founded to fund the rehabilitation of the 1938 red brick elementary school building before you and its acoustically wonderful auditorium, which is the only full-stage auditorium in the valley.  The 1938 Elementary School Building is the oldest public building in St. David, and the only historic building remaining on school grounds.

The 1938 Elementary School Building and Historic Mary Lansing Auditorium continue to serve the children and families of St. David today.  In addition to still being an active school, it is used for community events and meetings.  Funds are still needed to complete the restoration of the auditorium and classrooms.  To support that work, please consider making a donation at https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/donation/.  

To the right of the flagpole, you will find the St David Schools Historic School Bell Monument which was erected in 2005.  This was the original bell from the first Adobe School House, circa 1882.  The bell was recovered by workers from the CCC Camp, had a home at Golden Bell Park, and was finally given a permanent location back at the school in 2002.  A second bell, which served the students of the 1888 Rock School House, is in storage and is brought out for special occasions, including service as the Touchdown Bell.

Activities:  The St. David Heritage Society hosts numerous community events throughout the year to benefit the school, including Broadway and Beyond, a musical evening featuring local talent, every April.  All performers are welcome and we invite you to attend.  To sign up for announcements regarding this and other events, email SaintDavidHeritage@gmail.com.

Trivia:  Both the 1938 Elementary School building and the 1927 High School building were designed by Annie Graham Rockfellow.  Rockfellow was the first woman to graduate from MIT’s school of architecture, and the first female resident architect (unlicensed) in Arizona.  Her design for the elementary school included the first raked floor auditorium in the county, named in honor of Mary P. Lansing, the first certified female band director in Arizona and longtime music teacher at St. David Schools.

For more information:  

Mormon Pioneers of the San Pedro Valley – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/mormon-pioneers-of-the-san-pedro-valley/

Location:  801 S. Lee Street (View Only – Private Property for Guests Only)

Description:  The Civilian Conservation Corps was very active in Southern Arizona in the 1930s.  In St. David, the CCC Camp was established at the location of the Twin Artesian Wells, at what is now the St. David Resort. One of the most meaningful community projects completed was the recovery of the bell from the ruins of the original school.  The “boys” moved the bell to the CCC camp.  After, the CCC camp became Golden Bell Park, with the bell, now being spray painted gold, holding a prominent position.  The water park, which included the twin artesian wells you see today, was also known as Twin Lakes before it became today’s resort.  

Trivia:   Artesian wells result from drilling into an artesian aquifer, a confined aquifer containing groundwater under positive pressure.  An artesian aquifer has trapped water, surrounded by layers of impermeable rock or clay.  

Possibly the first artesian well in Arizona was drilled in 1894 by the two McRae brothers, in the Marcus district of St. David.  By 1916, over 200 operating artesian wells could be found in St. David, flowing 5 to 150 gallons per minute.  

For More Information:

The Civilian Conservation Corp in Southern Arizona – https://cccsouthernarizona.blogspot.com/2011/09/ccc-in-st-david-and-patagonia-az.html

Video of CCC Camp at St. David – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmVEoBoKSMA

CCC Roster for St. David – http://wordhunting.com/files/Roster_CCC_St._David_Camp_19A.pdf

CCC Company 3840 – http://wordhunting.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/CCC-Company-3840-St-David-Patagonia-AZ-History-S-Hunt.142213149.pdf

Mormon Pioneers of the San Pedro Valley – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/mormon-pioneers-of-the-san-pedro-valley/

All About Water – https://saintdavidazhistory.weebly.com/news–stories/all-about-water

Location:  1605 S. St. Marys Way

Description:  Founded in 1974 as a Benedictine Monastery in the Olivetan tradition, the mission of the Holy Trinity Monastery is to be a place of prayer, work, hospitality, and service.  The 132 acre site provides an oasis of peace and tranquility, and features a bird sanctuary trail along the San Pedro River, as well as a gift shop.  A small community of former Benedictine oblates resides on the property and maintains the monastic rhythm of work and prayer.

Activities:  The Trinity Wild Bird Sanctuary is a 1.3 mile trail that runs along the San Pedro River.  Spirit Lake, also part of the bird sanctuary, is one of the larger ponds on the property.  It is overlooked by the Cloister and circled by a trail with benches for sitting.  

For More Information:

Holy Trinity Monastery Center – https://holytrinitymonasterycenter.com/

Location:  Hwy 80 and 2nd Avenue, Across from Mile Marker 303.  (Parking on the east side of Hwy 80 at the Historic Marker Sign)

Details:  On the west side of Hwy 80 is the site of the original town of St. David and the first School House (circa 1882).  The school was built by the settlers and was used for all public purposes.  If you look just behind the Rammed Earth Round House you will see a giant tree – this tree was the Playground Tree in 1887 when the west end of the school collapsed during an earthquake.  Thankfully, the children were at recess when the earthquake struck and none were injured when the schoolhouse wall collapsed.

Trivia:  On May 3rd, 1887, a strong earthquake shook Southern Arizona, southeastern New Mexico, and northern Mexico.  While the Richter Scale has not yet been developed, subsequent assessments placed between 7.25 and 8.1.  The epicenter was less than 100 miles south of St. David.  

Most of the impact was geological and hydrological in nature, especially on the water table and water flow.  New springs emerged and others went dry.  Wells went dry as far north as Tucson; however, in St. David, stagnant pools and marshy swampland were replaced by freshwater artesian ponds that still exist today.  

For More Information:

The Earthquake of 1887 – http://gvrhc.org/Library/TheEarthquakeof1887.pdf

The 1887 Earthquake in San Bernardino Valley, Sonora – http://wildsonora.com/sites/default/files/reports/the-1887-earthquake-in-san-bernardino-valley-sonora-historic-accounts.pdf

Fieldnotes of the Arizona Bureau of Geology and Mineral Technology – http://azgs.az.gov/Hazards_ocr/earthquakes/1887%20Sonoran%20Earthquake-%20Not%20Our%20Fault.pdf

Mormon Pioneers of the San Pedro Valley – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/mormon-pioneers-of-the-san-pedro-valley/

Chile Peppers & Mastodons – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/chile-peppers-mastodons/

Location:  Entrance is .35 miles south of #11, on the east side of Hwy 80.  

Description:  As you turn west off of Hwy 80, you will cross the Irrigation Ditch entering the cemetery.  Original burials took place in the southwest area, an area which includes a number of prominent families, including Meliton Trejo (a Spanish Soldier who translated the Book of Mormon into Spanish) and Dave Patten Kimball, who was one of the young men who traveled with the saints across the plains and at one point carried everyone in the company across the Sweetwater River during a snowstorm.  

As you explore the cemetery, please be respectful and note it continues to be used by local families today.

In the south area, you will see the Old Fort Footprint.   The Fort was one of the first construction undertakings of the settlers.  The rock fort provided not only protection but also served as a place for school, church, and social functions.  The rock walls of the fort were destroyed in the 1887 earthquake.  

Trivia:  Looking toward the southwest, you can see a line of large cottonwood trees which roughly marks the site of the original fort.  Beyond the end of Judd Street is the old Escalante Crossing of the San Pedro River…  

For More Information:

David Patten Kimball – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Patten_Kimball

Mormon Pioneers of the San Pedro Valley – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/mormon-pioneers-of-the-san-pedro-valley/

  1. Original Artesian Well, Smithsonian Dig Site, and Start of the Irrigation Ditch.  

Location:  End of S. Curtis Flats Road (Private Property)

Activities:  The local collection of artifacts from Curtis Flat and the Smithsonian Dig may be viewed at the Benson Museum.

Trivia:  By 1881, about 14 families had settled in the St. David area, comprised of small settlements along about a ten mile stretch of the San Pedro River.  These settlements included Curtis Flats (the Ward and the School District were named San Pedro).  When the Curtis family arrived in 1881, rather than settling into farming, they became extensively involved in the freighting business.  With the establishment of mining boom-towns Tombstone and Bisbee, there was an endless river of freight to move from the railheads to the mining operations and back again.  

Curtis Flat gained international fame when government surveyors recognized a fossil bed on the property and sent word back to Washington, DC.  From 1921 – 1923, scientists, researchers, and locals worked together to find, carefully dig up, catalog, number and box the extensive fossil collection.  The site contained three complete mastodons, three glyptodons, camels, three and four-toed horses, deer, antelope, and even mice.  The largest mastodon was displayed in the Natural History Museum of New York City for more than 50 years and the combined glyptodon is still on display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

For More Information:

Dinosaurs in St. David – https://www.myheraldreview.com/news/benson/dinosaurs-in-st-david/article_21467185-869a-5cf9-8da2-15252cb153e5.html

Benson Museum – https://chamberorganizer.com/bensonchamber/mem_museumbenson

“The Teamsters” and “Home of the Mastadons” in Chile Peppers and Mastodons – https://saintdavidheritage.org/product/chile-peppers-mastodons/