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One Tank Trips: Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Visitors can explore where 'the law' once resided; historic Victorian building, once home to major government services, was saved from disrepair
Posted at 7:22 AM, Jun 14, 2024

TOMBSTONE, Ariz. (KGUN) -- — Time to pack the car for another episode of One Tank Trips. We're taking you to fun places around Southern Arizona where you can get there on one tank of gas.

Let's go down Interstate 10, south on AZ-80 to Cochise county, and this time, it's not to pay off a traffic ticket. We're going to the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park.

We started our trip from our station on the Eastside. To get to the Courthouse, it's a little over 68 miles and about a 75 min. drive. When you get to the I-10 exit around Kolb, it's about an hour flat.

With an average fuel economy of 25 mpg, you should only need 5 gallons round trip, so less than $20.

Years of care and restoration have kept the old courthouse alive in the town too tough to die. "For us to actually have one of these original buildings in this kind of shape is amazing for us," park manager Curtis Leslie said.

Built in 1882 in the shape of a Roman cross, the two-story Victorian structure once housed the offices of the sheriff, recorder, treasurer, board of supervisors, jail, and courtrooms of Cochise County.

Before we roamed the old hallways inside, we stopped to check in with Leslie, our guide. He said this courthouse was badly needed back in 1881 when Tombstone grew to thousands of citizens, and had to split from Pima County.

"So of course, you're going to need a courthouse," Leslie said. "They had a temporary courthouse until this could get built... (they) began building this Tombstone Courthouse in August of 1882. They had finished it by January of 1883."

Nowadays, the old treasury and sheriff's offices are lined with cases of papers and treasures of a bygone era.
The grand staircase takes us to the second floor. You'll find more family heirlooms — maybe a friendly bony face — and then you step into the actual courtroom.

You can imagine some colorful characters standing before a judge here. Leslie said, however, it wasn't so for at least one famous figure from the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

"People often ask us like, 'Hey, was the hearing for Doc (Holliday) and Wyatt Earp held here?' It was not, because they were gone by March of 1882."

The courthouse had most necessary government offices, even a jail. Out on the old yard, the gallows are a reminder of what justice looked like back in those times. Leslie pointed to the story of the Bisbee Massacre in 1883. Five outlaws were hanged here but their alleged ringleader, John Heath, was instead sentenced to life in prison. That didn't sit well with an angry mob in 1884.

"They came here to this courthouse and they broke John Heath out of jail, literally just came and got him; not to free him," Leslie said, "They went one block to 2nd and Toughnut and they hanged him from a telegraph pole."

Leslie said this entire complex almost became a hotel once Bisbee became the seat of government for Cochise County in the 1930s. But as the mines played out and people left, the iconic Victorian-style building fell into disrepair.

"They put a penthouse on top, but they didn't finish and so it became abandoned by the 40s.," Leslie said, "so this was starting to just waste away."
Thankfully, Leslie said, the Tombstone restoration commission, led by then president Edna Landin, helped save this building in the early 1950s.

So if you're in town, wanting to enjoy the legends of the old lawmen and cowboys, consider spending a good hour and a half inside, exploring a courthouse and community too tough to die.

"It's the history of the courthouse, it's the history of Cochise County and also, the history of Tombstone," Leslie said. "We want them to know, 'Hey, this is a nice museum.' Come down, take advantage of it."

Entry into the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park is $7 for adults and kids 14+. Kids ages 7-13 are $2, babies up to two years old are free.
The museum's summer hours are every day 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; fall and spring hours ((Oct. 1 - May 31) are every day, from 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.