The story of how the San Pedro House went from being a derelict ranch house to the primary visitor center for the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is worth telling.
The Little Boquillas Ranch built the San Pedro House in 1938 to serve as the center of one of four camps that operated the 197,000-acre ranch. The house was home to a rancher and their family up until the 1970s.
The Bureau of Land Management acquired lands along the San Pedro River from Tenneco in 1986 to preserve the rare riparian habitat of the area and the many cultural resource sites it contains, including the San Pedro House. The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area was created by an act of Congress in 1988, with the BLM assigned to manage the area. The Friends of the San Pedro River was created in 1987 to provide public input to BLM and assist in recreational and educational activities.
The House drew attention as a possible visitor center due to its attractive location and proximity to Sierra Vista. BLM and FSPR representatives visited the site in January of 1988 to determine what would be required to repurpose the building. At that time, the house was a wreck. It badly needed painting inside and out, had broken windows, a front door with holes in it, cracked plaster inside and out, and was full of junk. Weeds and overgrown shrubs surrounded it. The house had not been lived in for about ten years. It was a place where local kids had parties and vagrants lit campfires on the kitchen floor. An agreement was reached — the BLM would fund the project and the FSPR would provide volunteer labor.
Twenty-nine volunteers led by David Dross and Lester Mauk policed the surrounding 1.5 acres, removing junk, clearing or trimming plants and bushes, and removing some pens and a shed. Work on the area around the house was completed by November 1988.
Much work was needed to prepare the house itself. The roof was treated with water sealant. The outside Douglas block walls were scraped, repaired, and painted. Window sashes were removed, sanded, painted, and re-installed with new glass. The interior walls were repaired and painted. The floor was refinished. Plumbing was replaced and a septic system installed. Doors were repaired or replaced. A picket fence was built around the house.
How the interior would be used began to take shape. Bob and Katie Cooks donated a wood stove. The old kitchen was repurposed as a meeting room. Plans for the San Pedro House included a bookstore, organized by Amy Campbell. It was to contain books, ceramics, outdoor clothing and other items. An indoor bathroom was installed.
More than a thousand hours of volunteer labor were donated. FSPR members and other volunteers included Woodrow and Lucille Baker, Robert Barnard, Michael Bednorz, Jim and Rita Carlson, Bob Crooks, Blaine Davis, Dave Dross, Don and Sue Fletcher, Joanne Foster, Bonnie Helton, Don Hendry, Roy Kaliher, Lester and Verlee Mauk, Don McCandless, Frank and Harry Miller, Lewis and Mary Parrett, Dot Rhodes, Len and Beth Roberts, Toby Valdez, Mark and Jan Wirth, and Harvey Young, Jane Chambers, Jerry Pratt, Jim Finley, Bob Blanchard, and Debbie Collazo. From the BLM, Erick Campbell, John Herron, and Mike Hoffman worked on the project. We have been told that on a given day electricians, plumbers, masons, carpenters and others would show up to support the project. It was a true community effort.
Attached are two photos. One shows the House as it was before restoration. The next was taken immediately after. The change is remarkable.
The San Pedro House was opened as part of the ceremony marking the establishment of the SPRNCA on May 6, 1989 but work on the San Pedro House did not cease then. Major improvements have been made by BLM and the FSPR. A large outdoor ramada was built behind the house. A solar power system was installed. A xeriscape demonstration garden was put in around the House. A reflection pond was added. Covered picnic tables were built. A commemorative walkway with pavers available for purchase was installed. A network of trails to the surrounding river and ponds was developed. A pit toilet was built. A large parking area was graded and graveled. Recently, the interior of the House was renovated by FSPR using funds from a donation.
The result of all this effort is a place that serves as the focal point for visitation to the SPRNCA. Visitors come to get information about what to see and do. The FSPR holds ongoing docent-led nature and birdwatching walks. Bird feeders attract avian visitors. Birders, school groups, tours, and local visitors continue to enjoy the House and the surrounding area in the SPRNCA.
Have you been to the San Pedro House lately? It is open every day from 9:30 to 4:30. It is free and open to all. Come visit the House and take a walk while you are there. Our wonderful FSPR volunteers will help you plan the perfect outing.
Much of the information and quotes here are from Gary Noonan’s “History of the Friends of the San Pedro River.”
About the author: Ron Stewart is the Vice President of the FSPR. He has lived in the area, working on Fort Huachuca, for 40 years. He is an amateur archaeologist and photographer.