In February 1910, James Douglas, head of the Phelps Dodge Corporation and the namesake of the city of Douglas, announced his plan to make Tucson the western terminal of the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad. Until then, Benson had that honor.
But it seems he spoke too quickly — the board of directors of Phelps Dodge, which owned the railroad, had not yet made a decision. “Knowing this,” the Arizona Daily Star declared, “it behooves the people of this city to get busy and offer them all the inducements possible.”
On Sept. 24, 1910, a committee, appointed by the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, met in Bisbee with Walter Douglas, James Douglas’ son, to pitch the advantages of an extension to the Old Pueblo. Members included Nathaniel E. Plumer of the Southern Arizona Bank & Trust; Hugo J. Donau of Albert Steinfeld & Co.; C.H. Bayless, chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors; Fred Ronstadt of Ronstadt Co.; John Mets of the Merchant Bank & Trust; and chamber president George F. Kitt.
On Aug. 1, 1911, news hit town that Tucson would get extension from Fairbank (now a ghost town about 10 miles west of Tombstone) beating out Florence and Phoenix. Whistles blew in celebration. In the streets, people shook hands and congratulated one another.
“Tucson will, in the future, be a railroad center as well as a commercial center and as such is bound to prosper,” prominent businessman Hugo J. Donau, told the Star that day. “This city has always been a good one but will now be a better one and a real metropolis.”
By October 6, 1911 there were 40 camps of railroad workers between Fairbank and the Vail Station, with another one planned within six miles of Tucson.
On Jan. 20, 1912, the Star announced that two different sets of plans for new passenger and freight stations in Tucson were to be submitted to the railroad’s New York office for a final decision. The first design was of classical architecture, with Tuscan columns, and the other was of mission-revival style commonly found in the Southwest. The estimated cost was $40,000 for the passenger station, $30,000 for the freight station and $5,000 for the landscape gardening around both, for a total of $75,000. Construction was to be finished by August 1 of that year.
In March, the railroad chose the classical design, which included a baggage room, ticket office, waiting rooms, operator’s office and a rotunda that was 30 feet in diameter. The roof was to be made of red tile and four Tuscan columns would be by the main entrance.
In April, work on the track began, but progress was slowed due to the inability of a company in Mexico to provide railroad ties because of the Mexican Revolution. On June 22, the Star announced that W.L. Pearson & Co. of Houston and El Paso was awarded the contract to build the passenger and freight stations on Congress Street, as well as the roundhouse and freight warehouse on 25th Street, at a total cost of $125,000.
On Oct. 31, F.L Hunter, manager of the E.P. & S.W. purchasing department, drove in the last spike to complete the rail line, a ceremony witnessed by many Tucsonans. Four days later, a special train with three private cars arrived in town at about 6 p.m., carrying several railroad officials. A car of roofing material arrived that same day for businessman W.A. Julian. These likely were the first “passengers” and freight to arrive on the E.P. & S.W. railroad in Tucson.
The big day came on Nov. 20, 1912, when crowd of about 3,000 gathered around the temporary depot to welcome the first scheduled train just past 11 a.m. Whistles blew, people cheered and the band played “Stars and Stripes Forever,” as the train rolled in. The first speech was by attorney and Tucson Unified School District school board member John B. Wright (namesake of John B. Wright Elementary School), whose short speech was followed by that of former presidential candidate and Arizona Daily Star contributor Eugene W. Chafin.
Afterwards, railroad officials, city officers and delegates of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce had a luncheon at the Old Pueblo Club on Stone Avenue. At the event, Mayor I.E. Huffman read a telegram he said he had just received: “It gives the Pope much pleasure to know that Tucson is connected with the outside world by a third railroad. Thirty-two years ago I called my cabinet together and and we searched in vain for Tucson on the map. Today we all know that Tucson is the best town on earth.” The fictional telegram created much laughter but few of the old timers likely remembered the original 1880 telegram, when the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived.
The passenger depot was completed the following year and served passengers until 1924, when the railroad merged with Southern Pacific. Two years later, the building was to become the headquarters for the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. More recently it was home to two Mexican restaurants, Carlos Murphy’s and Garcia’s.
It’s believed that El Paso Street, now El Paso Avenue, was recorded with Pima County, along with the Ballpark of Southwestern Addition, in 1926.