Tombstone got its start in 1877 when Ed Schieffelin found one of the richest silver strikes in U.S. history in the hills above the San Pedro River. His discovery set in motion the history of a town that is seared in the memory of a nation and the world a true representative of the "American West". By 1879 settlement began, and by 1881 the population of the town reached 6000 people. While many rugged individuals inhabited the town's center, respectability and civilization began to occur on the edges of town. Church services were held in any vacant room or closed bar and the need for a decent church building was quite evident! In 1879, Rev. John Baptist Salpointe, Vicar Apostolic of Arizona, sent Father Antonio Jouvencaeu to Tombstone to ascertain the need for a church in the busy mining camp. Led by Nellie Cashman "Angel of the Camp", the citizens of Tombstone raised money to build a one and one-half story adobe building that housed a rectory on the top floor and a church on the bottom floor. This church-rectory was dedicated as Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church on January 1, 1881, becoming the first church building of any denomination in Tombstone.
In 1882, a second wooden Catholic Church building was constructed. This allowed the 1881 building to be used solely as a rectory. Again, Nellie Cashman spearheaded the construction efforts, raising money and borrowing a team of horses and a wagon to haul wood from the Chiricahua Mountains, 50 miles away. This church building served the Tombstone Community until 1947 when it was moved to its present location. A new 1947 church building was constructed at the corner of N. Sixth and Safford Streets under the guidance of Pastor, Father Thomas Doyle. Later, the property north of the church that included two 1880's entwining rose trees was donated to and became part of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church Complex. The classroom complex was constructed in 1965, and a new rectory built in 1972.
Today, all three church buildings have been lovingly restored to their former glory. The area between the church buildings and the Rose Garden is filled with curved pathways, park benches, historic outdoor lighting fixtures, flower gardens, and presents a restful atmosphere to residents and visitors alike! The restored 1881 church-rectory serves as church offices, the restored 1882 church building serves as the church hall, and an improved 1947 church building continues to be used for church services. In February, 2002, all three buildings plus the beautiful Rose Tree Garden behind the 1947 church were placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior. This honor was a fitting tribute to the wonderful history of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Tombstone, AZ.
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