KGUN 9NewsAbsolutely Arizona


The remarkable women behind the historic Jefferson Park neighborhood

Posted: 1:33 PM, Oct 31, 2023
Updated: 2023-11-01 16:51:44-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tucson, and this week, Jefferson Park is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Located just north of Banner - University Medical Center, Jefferson Park has an "Absolutely Arizona" history like no other neighborhood in town.

“I get more attention now than I ever got in my life," said Tony Stone. "People say you’ve lived in the same house for 75 years, yeah.”

Tony is the longest tenured resident of Jefferson Park. Her parents brought her to Tucson in 1948, seeking a dry climate to help with her severe asthma.

Tony Stone talks about the Jefferson Park neighborhood, her home for the last 75 years, with Pat Parris.

“I got on the train out of a wheelchair in Illinois, in Chicago, got off the train here," recalled Stone. "The next day felt absolutely wonderful, and now I’m 90 years old.”

Tony has lived in the same house on Seneca Street for the past 75 years. It’s where she grew up and also raised four children.

Her story is just part of the historic Jefferson Park neighborhood, that has roots that can be traced back to one person — Annie Stattleman Lester.

Annie Lester homesteaded Jefferson Park Neighborhood

“I think she was a really neat, tough lady,” said Joan Daniels, a resident of Jefferson Park since 1980, who knows the history of the neighborhood well.

Annie emigrated with her family from Germany in 1889. In 1898, she realized her dream.

“She was only 26, she was a German immigrant and she filed for a homestead that went from Park to Campbell to what was then North, but Grant,” Daniels said.

“Now she was kind of a go-getter, she wanted to make her mark,” said Tucson historian David Leighton.

One of Annie Stattleman Lester's homes in the Jefferson Park neighborhood that she created.

Leighton points out that 125 years ago, there was nothing north of the U of A.

“The heat was brutal, the land was brutal," Leighton said. "You had to be a tough individual to come out and homestead the area and make it what it is today — or at least the beginnings of what it is now — the Jefferson Park neighborhood.”

Annie built a small house and raised chickens. In 1899, she married Frank Lester, and began planning the neighborhood.

“She named the first street Lester Street after herself and her family, as was very common," noted Leighton. "She also named three streets trees from Germany. You have Seneca, you have Waverly and you have Linden.”

Annie even started a school to attract families to move into her new neighborhood. She built and lived in several houses, including in a beautiful bungalow on Lester Street, which has become synonymous with Jefferson Park.

Right after World War II, the neighborhood saw tremendous growth, including the addition of Stone, the 15 year old from Illinois.

“Grant Road was North Street and it was also the city limits," said Stone. "Can you believe that.? (The population) was 40,000 when we moved here.”

Jefferson Park today

A lot has changed in Tucson since 1948, but Tony says the character of Jefferson Park has remained unchanged. She still enjoys going for daily walks around the neighborhood.

“This is something I love around this neighborhood, every house is different," Stone said. "I would hate to live (somewhere), where if you were drunk you might go in the wrong house.”

While Tony loves to kid around, she makes a good point. Jefferson Park has some beautiful homes, which have stood the test of time — just like the neighborhood.

“I think it’s survived, and it’s surviving now, because of the people who get involved and understand what the history is," said Daniels. "Once you understand what the history is, then you appreciate the value of where you are.”

Jefferson Park celebrates its 125th anniversary on Sunday from 11 to 3 at the International School playground, 1701 E. Seneca St., on Seneca Street.