The Wetmore family arrived in Tucson well before statehood and left its mark on local education, entertainment and shopping.

How involved were the Wetmores in early Tucson? The road that bears their name is one they graded themselves with a team of horses.

Edward L. Wetmore Sr. was Tucson's first meteorologist. He arrived in Tucson in 1878 from San Francisco and tracked weather for the government until his death in 1912.

He also established the first school in what is now the Amphitheater Public Schools district.

His son, Edward Wetmore Jr., was born in 1883 in an adobe house in Plaza de Armas Park, where Tucson City Hall now sits. He was one of the first students to enter the school. He farmed and was in the cattle and dairy business.

His farm was part of his father's land, homesteaded in 1880 near the site of the former Wetmore Pool, a bit west of the current Walmart at 455 E. Wetmore Road.

In 1887, the homestead was attacked by an Apache raiding party and defended by two military companies from Fort Lowell.

After World War I, Edward Jr., along with his brother Ralph's wife, Helen, opened an amusement park with a pool, roller skating rink and outdoor dance floor. In 1919, he began to show the first outdoor motion pictures in Tucson and possibly the Southwest.

In 1922, he added a dance pavilion that was said to be the biggest in the Southwest and drew big names like the "King of Jazz" Paul Whiteman and others.

Later that decade, Edward Jr. and Ralph graded Wetmore Road with a team of horses and lined it with shade trees and rosebushes, then turned it over to Pima County.

Helen Wetmore came up with the idea for Tucson Mall. On a trip to Chicago in the 1930s, she saw a shopping center on the Skokie Highway and thought, "That's what I am going to have on my land," the Tucson Citizen reported decades later. She kept the parcel together until 1978, when plans for the Tucson Mall began with Forest City Enterprises.

Occasionally she visited her former homestead using a wheelchair to navigate the huge mall.

There have been two Wetmore roads in Tucson's history. The original Wetmore Road is now Limberlost Drive, and the current one, built by Edward and Ralph Wetmore, is the one that borders the Tucson Mall.

After Dorothy Wetmore, the daughter of Ralph and Helen, married Harry Neffson, the road just south of the mall became Neffson Drive.

Editor's note

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

Special thanks to Joe Dreyfuss of KVOI 1030 AM. Sources: Interview with Dorothy Wetmore Neffson and Diane Neffson (daughter and granddaughter of Ralph and Helen Wetmore). Vicki Thompson and Sue Barnhizer-Anderson, "Across the Dry Rillito," Territorial Publishers, 1986. "Ralph A. Wetmore, 78, Dies At Tucson Home," Arizona Daily Star, May 5, 1963. Judy Carlock, "Helen Wetmore called a doer," Tucson Citizen, Dec. 1, 1995. Bonnie Henry, "Helen Wetmore dies; foresaw Tucson Mall," Arizona Daily star, Nov. 30, 1995. Unknown Author, "E.L. Wetmore Dies, Pioneer of Old Pueblo," Arizona Daily Star, May 30, 1954.