Situated 7 miles from the base of Mount Lemmon is a road named for the old prison camp that existed there many years ago.
Time was, escaping the unbearable heat and heading to the higher elevations of Mount Lemmon meant choosing between traveling on foot or by burro train. John Knagge’s pack train ran twice a week, using burros, mules and horses to carry people’s groceries, sheet iron, lumber — and once, a 250-pound iron stove.
The train traveled from Sabino Canyon to Soldier Camp, and then to Summerhaven.
In 1920, a road was built from the town of Oracle up the north side of the mountain.
While this road, which came to be called the Control Road, was functional, convenient it was not — it was about 75 miles from the center of Tucson.
A better route was needed.
In 1926, Arizona legislator Frederick E. A. Kimball, who was the namesake for Mount Kimball, advocated for a new road up the south side of the mountain.
This was followed by the strong support of the publisher of the Tucson Citizen, “General” Frank Hitchcock. In 1933, Henry A. Wallace, the U.S. secretary of agriculture, approved a 25-mile, two-lane surfaced road from the base of the mountain up to Summerhaven.
It was decided, at the urging of Hitchcock, that a minimum-security prison camp — known as Federal Prison Camp No. 10 — would be set up, and prisoners that had been convicted of federal crimes, mostly tax evasion and immigration law violations, would be housed there and would build the “short road” to Summerhaven, beginning in 1933.
A temporary camp, consisting of framed tents, was set up at the base of the mountain. The following year, the tents were replaced by “rough frame barracks.”
In February 1939, the prisoners moved to the official prison camp at Vail Corral.
The men lived in long wooden barracks, near a creek situated in a small valley.
The camp had no fences or guard towers, and the inmates knew the limits of the camp by the painted white rocks that surrounded it.
The average workday was about seven to eight hours. The inmates also helped construct the administration buildings and guards quarters on-site.
Leisure activities included baseball and woodcraft — and even hiking, but only within the camp’s boundaries.
World War Two saw a change in the demographics of the camp, with many conscientious objectors, such as Hopi Indians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose religions forbid them from serving in the armed forces, doing time there.
About 40 of the new prisoners were among the more than 300 Japanese-Americans who refused to be drafted in protest of the internment of their families and violation of their Constitutional rights.
The road was completed in 1951, and aptly named General Hitchcock Highway.
In the mid-1950s, the camp was changed from an adult to a juvenile prison.
About 10 years later, jurisdiction of the prison camp was turned over to the state of Arizona, and eventually Native American juvenile inmates were housed here.
U.S. Forest Service crews were housed there in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. In the early 1970s, the structures were torn down.
In 1999, the old prison campsite, now commonly known as the Catalina Federal Honor Camp, was renamed the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site, in honor of one of the Japanese-Americans who served there from 1943-45.