Agua Caliente Park
A Pima County Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Facility
Friends of Agua Caliente (FOAC)
(View of Agua Caliente Park Pond 1)
Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Park
SUMMARY of key historical events
A natural hot spring flows through faults between gneissic rock conglomerate sediment and has probably been inhabited for thousands of years. There were originally two springs, one a "Hot Spring" and the other a "Cold Spring". The two springs produced a water flow of more than 500 gallons per minute. The two springs were blasted in the mid-1930's in an effort to increase the water flow. This had the opposite effect and reduced the water flow to between 150 and 300 gallons per minute and combine them into one spring with a temperature of 72 degrees year around. The spring was blasted again in the early 1960's in another attempt to increase water flow, which unfortunately cut the water flow again down to a maximum of around 100 to 125 gallons per minute. Throughout the years, the Ranch has had many different purposes, from ranching to a health spa.
Pima County purchased the property in 1984 and Agua Caliente was opened to the public January 1985. The Friends of Agua Caliente were formed in 1993 in an effort to save the historic site in the Tanque Verde Valley. FOAC was successful in saving three of the park's original buildings and remains an integral organization to preserve and protect Agua Caliente Park. The Ranch House and Rose Cottage were dedicated April 2004 and the Park was placed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 9, 2009.
During the drought of 2003-4, the water flow from the spring fell as low as 14 gallons per minute, resulting in the drying up of ponds 2 and 3. This forced Pima County to dig a well and install a pump on the property to keep the main pond full. Agua Caliente Park was part of a Bond package in 2015 to renovate the Main Pond and Pond 2, but this bond failed. Pima County, with a flood control grant, renovated Pond 2 in 2016 and installed a liner to help main pond water. Pond 2 now has some water in it and will be used to transfer the aquatic waterfowl when funding becomes available to renovate the Main Pond. When the Main Pond is renovated, the portion with water will be reduced (from 3.5 acres to 2 acres) in order to better manage water usage. It will be contoured to accommodate the various waterfowl. Cattails and other invasive species will be removed or reduced and a liner will be installed to reduce water seepage. The remaining portion of the Main Pond will be an overflow or cienega and water content will not be actively managed. Vegetation in the park has evolved over the years.
With the availability of water the agricultural uses were not typical of the Tucson basin. The orchard contained at least 3000 trees of a wide variety of fruits. Other types of ornamental trees were also planted or encouraged. The huge mesquite tree east of the ranch house is estimated to be about 300 years old.
5500 Years ago (3500 BC). Archaic projectile points found within the park boundaries suggest that the site was used by hunters and gatherers.
1150 AD. A Hohokam village, referred to as the Whiptail Site, was established that extended into a portion of Agua Caliente in the early Classic Period, about AD 1150-1250.
1853-1870s. The spring was used as an army encampment following the Gadsden Purchase. After 1854 there were reports of Army troops using the spring as an encampment while patrolling the area on the way to and from Soldier Camp in the Catalina Mountains.
1873. Peter B. Bain established a formal claim to 160 acres surrounding Agua Caliente Spring. First Adobe house built at Agua Caliente (probably what is now the Ranch House dining room).
1875. James P. Fuller purchased "Agua Caliente Rancho" for $300 and established an orchard and cattle ranch on the property.
1877-1882. Fuller's Springs Health Spa was advertised as a medicinal and recreational destination. Fuller also raised fruit trees and other commercial crops during this time period.
1880s-1920s. Various owners operated the ranch as a cattle ranch and resort.
Early 1920s. Agua Caliente property was purchased by Willard W. White. Plans to build a resort on the site surfaced in 1922 but were never implemented. The Bunkhouse was built, reportedly with redwood lumber from dismantled railroad cars. Around 1925, a bedroom wing, living room, and library were added to the main house. The kitchen was also remodeled.
1935-1947. Gibson DeKalb Hazard purchased the property in 1935 and operated it as a working ranch while also growing fruit and alfalfa. The Hazard's converted the patio south of the living room into an Arizona room and constructed a zaguan (Spanish for entrance) that was later enclosed and made into the entrance hall. Famous guests included William Holden, Monty Montana, rodeo performers and barnstorming pilots. Hazard's sold the ranch (440 acres) to Agua Caliente Ranch Company for about $100,000.
1947. Chesrow brothers Eugene, Albert, and David operated the Agua Caliente Ranch Company. They added a concrete block room to the east side of a one room adobe structure (now know as the Rose Cottage) used at the time as a guest cottage. Well known guests during this time include: Tom Mix, Rex Allen, Leo Carroll, Duncan Renaldo (Cisco Kid), Mo Udall (politician).
1951 - 1959. Art Filiatrault and his wife, from Wisconsin (with four children ranging from 12-19 years old) took over the ownership of the Agua Caliente ranch consisting of three large lakes (a picture of the property at this time will soon be on display in the Ranch House). The Filiatrault's added four smaller lakes going toward Soldiers Trail, raising the total to seven. They also grew alfalfa for their cattle and horses and maintained a fruit orchard J.P. Fuller established in 1875. The ranch at this time was about 1200 acres in two parcels. One was 540 acres with the north boundary being Agua Caliente Wash (the park is in the northeast corner of this piece). The other parcel of 600 acres was near Molina Canyon. Spring water flow varied from 80 - 350 gal/min. They remodeled the Ranch House including the kitchen, living room, and added additional bedrooms and bathrooms. A screened-in breezeway connected the additional bedrooms to the original structure. A sliding glass door replaced a bay window in the living room. A pool with walled patio, bathhouse (by pool), bar, laundry room and carport were also added. In 1951, the housekeepers residence burnt down and the Ranch House was singed but not seriously damaged. In 1952, a two bedroom, two bath block structure on the east end of the Ranch House (now the Caretakers Cottage) was built to replace the burned down structure.
Post 1959. In 1962, the Ranch was sold to Myriad Research and Development with plans to build a $15 million, 300-home development beside the ponds, which luckily never happened. Myriad then sold the property to Geodecke Development in 1979, but the property was eventually returned to Myriad.
1984. Tucson City Council looked into the site as a park. Because the ranch was outside the city limits, the council deferred to the county. Pima County purchased the 101 acres for $1,6M (including a $200,000 gift from Roy P. Drachman Sr.). The donation provided the incentive for Pima County to proceed with the acquisition. Agua Caliente Park, a Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Facility, opened on January 19th, 1985.
October 1993. Pete Filiatrault (youngest son of Art Filiatrault) along with three others formed the Friends of Agua Caliente in an effort to save the historic site in the Tanque Verde Valley. FOAC was successful in saving three of the park's original buildings and remains an integral organization to preserve and protect Agua Caliente Park.
Late 1990's. Agua Caliente's expansion areas were opened for public use. The park improvements included a paved entry drive and parking lot, accessible trails, interpretive signs explaining the waterfowl and history of this unique park, and a new maintenance building. In 1997, the Bunkhouse was renovated as staff and volunteer offices.
July 2000. Spring stopped flowing for the first time. Flow resumed with monsoonal rains.
July 2002. Spring output measured at 47 gal/min.
2003. Last time ponds 1, 2, and 3 all had water.
April 17, 2004. The grand opening of the newly restored Ranch House and Rose Cottage.
July 9, 2009. Agua Caliente Ranch Historic Landscape was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
Fall 2016 - Spring 2017. Pima County (with a flood control grant) remodeled Pond 2. They converted the single pond into three with a liner in two of them. Removed palm trees and planted new native vegetation. Modified trails to allow access to the island and paved the trail around the ponds. A dedication ceremony was held April 7, 2017.