In 1862, Maj. David Fergusson of the Union Army commissioned a survey of the little sun-baked adobe town of Tucson.
The town had about 600, mostly Spanish-speaking townspeople, and the street names on the map reflected this. Today's Congress Street was called Calle de la Alegria, and Pennington Street was Calle del Arroyo, just to name two. There was no name for what was then a poorly defined dirt path and what is now Broadway.
When the town map was updated by George Hand around 1880, the road was called Camp Street after the Union military's Camp Lowell, which the street led to. Camp likely got that name in 1872 as a result of the S.W. Foreman Survey, when downtown street names were changed from Spanish to English. Many were renamed for prominent Tucsonans killed by Apaches.
In the late 1890s, Fred Ronstadt, who owned a blacksmith and wagon shop on the corner of Scott Avenue and Camp Street that was described as "a neat adobe structure with high-peaked roof and wide, sliding doors," was visited by a traveling hardware salesman from New York City. After their business was done, they chatted about life in the small, hot and dusty town of Tucson.
The salesman is said to have told Ronstadt, "What you need here is some of the spirit and liveliness of the big city. Some of the bustle and hustle - like our Broadway back in New York."
Several months later, the traveling salesman called on Ronstadt again, the story goes. He opened his sample case and took out a street sign "borrowed" from the city of New York. The two stepped outside the shop on the Camp Street side, and the salesman fastened the Broadway sign to the adobe wall of the store.
"There you have it. Tucson's in the big time now - there's your Broadway," the New Yorker is said to have boasted. Soon people started calling Camp Street Ronstadt's Broadway, probably as a joke - but by 1909, Broadway began replacing Camp Street on Tucson maps.
Each week the Star tells the stories behind Tucson street names. If you have streets to suggest or stories to share, contact writer David Leighton at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: • Special thanks to Jerry Tobak of J.R. Insurance and Luis Montaño of El Con Custom Cobblers • Email from Frederick Ronstadt (descendant of Fred Ronstadt) • Don Schellie, "How A Drummer Gave Tucson Its Broadway," Tucson Daily Citizen, Sept. 2, 1965 • "Hardware Salesman and His Conscience Haunt Broadway," Arizona Daily Star, April 23, 1937 • Don Schellie, "How Broadway got its name," Tucson Daily Citizen, Oct. 30, 1975 • "Plaza of Pioneers," Tucson Museum of Art, 1982 • 1862 Maj. Fergusson map • 1870-1880 George Hand map (in private collection) • 1909 Sanborn Insurance map of Tucson (Arizona Historical Society)