The History of Nogales, Arizona
A crossroads community for a thousand years wants you to experience its unique shopping, historical, and cultural adventures. The name Nogales comes from the Spanish word "walnut" and Walnut trees once grew abundantly in the mountain pass between the city of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico.
Thousands of years ago, before European explorers ever dreamed of sailing across the Atlantic, Nogales was part of a migratory path and trade route much later called El Camino Real (The King's Highway). Much later, regiments of armor-clad Conquistadors forayed north along this very valley in quest of precious metals and gems. Today missions built by the Spanish colonials still dot the valley's landscape.
Beginning in Nogales you will also encounter and even explore a national trail known as the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail first started in 1774 by Juan Bautista de Anza in Culiacan Mexico. Taking approximately 200 settlers and their escorts including cowboys, translators, mulepackers, Indian guides and over 1,000 head of livestock. Their mission was to make a land trail that would take them to the San Francisco Port leaving behind trails and missions as a historical beauty. Now a days you can either walk the trail, experience through a horseback ride, or go on the trail by vehicle and encounter historical buildings left behind. You can also find an illustration on this trail by visiting our 1904 Courthouse.
As you travel south along Interstate 19, you'll notice the valley narrows. At the narrowest point is Nogales. In the 1800s, ranchers in the area were besieged by Apaches raiding herds of well-fed cattle. One of our local ranchers, Pete Kitchen used to say, "Tucson, Tubac, Tumacacori, to hell," when returning to Nogales from a cattle drive from Tucson.
Today, you'll find Nogales a far more hospitable place. Where Pete's ranch once was, is now Pete Kitchens Outpost, a restaurant. It's actually one of the original 1853 structures of the old Kitchen homestead. Life on the border would not be complete without the influence of Pancho Villa, whose army occupied Nogales, Mexico in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution. The U.S. military's garrison in Nogales swelled to over 10,000 mostly black soldiers of the highly decorated 25th Regiment mostly detached from Washington, D.C. The military buildup and related business growth attracted many businesses to Nogales, some of which remain today.
Eventually a new sense of law and order was established by the sheriff, Tom Turner, along with a brand new courthouse. It still stands in all its Neo-Classic splendor on a hill off Main Street. We call it the 1904 Courthouse. It cost $35,000 to build and was made of stone quarried in Nogales.
You must also see the Old City Hall, it was built in 1914. It was used as the Office of the Mayor, the Sheriff's office with two holding cells, and the Fire Department. Now, it houses the Pimeria Alta Historical Society and has fascinating displays of how things used to be and houses many of our historical treasures.
The U.S. Custom House at Nogales located on N. Terrace Ave. was funded by the Public Works Administration in 1934 and constructed in 1935 by Louis A. Simon in the Spanish Eclectic style, the imposing U.S. Custom House is a reminder of the importance of Nogales as a primary port of entry from Mexico along the Arizona border.
Architectural buffs will have a heyday in Nogales. Of course, there's the predominant Sonoran Style. But we also have fine examples of Queen Anne Cottage, Second Empire, Spanish Colonial, Pueblo Revival, Mediterranean Style, and Bungalow Style all within the downtown area. You'll want to bring your walking shoes.
Take a stroll along historic Morley Avenue. Many of the stores, like Kory Mercantile & Co., Brackers Department Store, established in the early 1900s, are run by descendents of pioneer merchants, and are still thriving.