The essence of Tucson can be found near the heart of town in the Sam Hughes Neighborhood, with a diversity of architecture, businesses and residents who adore their lovely square mile.

It’s the kind of neighborhood many of us long for.

“You can walk to games at the university, to Rincon Market, to the park, the library,” said resident Diane Kerrihard. “It just has a great feel.”

Kerrihard’s home is one of nine featured on this year’s Sam Hughes Historic Home and Neighborhood Tour, noon-5 p.m. next Sunday. Also on the self-guided tour are three businesses, a gallery/studio, a historic church, a market/restaurant and activities in Himmel Park.

Visitors from throughout Tucson, Green Valley, Oro Valley and even New Mexico and California come to check out the architecture, history and vibe, said resident Denice Blake, who helps organize the tour.

She said people are drawn to the mix of homes and businesses in what she called the city’s largest neighborhood, with 2,000 residences and businesses.

Bounded by Speedway to the north, Broadway to the south, Campbell Avenue to the west and Country Club Road to the east, the neighborhood is named for an early Tucson merchant who had a school named after him in 1927, according to the neighborhood association. It was around that school, the Spanish Eclectic building that is Sam Hughes Elementary, that the neighborhood emerged.

Kerrihard, a nurse, had lived in a 100-year-old home in Armory Park, and loved the history but found the upkeep daunting. When a distinctive, energy-efficient home came up for sale in Sam Hughes, she jumped on it.

“It’s a crazy house and I love it,” Kerrihard said.

The 2,200-square-foot home on a narrow lot won the 1999 Southern Arizona Energy Award for residential design. When local architect Dave Taggett built it on one of the rare empty lots in Sam Hughes in 1998, he incorporated universal design, gray water harvesting, extensive reuse of materials and solar-assisted radiant-heat floors that were just starting to trend.

Taggett constructed the exterior walls — which look like adobe — of 10-inch cement and foam blocks that provide excellent insulation. The flooring is made from brick pavers sitting atop sand and Styrofoam insulation.

He wanted to build something lovely that was highly accessible.

“He felt like no one built nice things for the handicapped,” Kerrihard said.

The long, narrow home features wide doorways and wheel-in bathrooms, bedrooms, closets and kitchen, with brilliant features, like doors that roll up when activated by a laser pointer.

This is a house with a sense of humor. An occasional Bud Light bottle pokes out from the reclaimed red brick interior walls.

“I’m all about fun stuff,” Kerrihard said.

Some of Taggett’s fun and funky interiors remain, combined with Kerrihard’s eclectic collection.

Virtually all interiors are second-hand, or are treasures from generations of Kerrihard family members. All artwork was created by someone Kerrihard knows, including her sister, artist Joanne Kerrihard. Every piece has a story, a personal connection.

There’s a lamp made from a dress form and a coffee table Diane Kerrihard created from a truck’s metal toolbox, and eye-catching chandeliers throughout.

Taggett used limited exterior space wisely, with a solar-heated outdoor shower and a lovely horse trough fountain that cools and filters water for the home on the west side of the house. To the south of the home is a lovely patio with a large dining table, grape vines and peach bougainvillea.

“It has the feel of an old home without all of the problems, and it is energy-efficient,” Kerrihard said.

Also on the tour is a 1923 Mission Revival home owned by a physician/potter couple with teenagers still at home. “As empty nestdom approaches, they have already begun the process of putting their stamp on this historical house while maintaining its architectural stylistic integrity,” according to the tour guide book.

Exploring the other homes, gardens, businesses and Catalina Methodist church on the tour is sure to make for a fun Sunday afternoon, Blake said.

Contact local freelance writer Gabrielle Fimbres at gfimbres@comcast.net.