Tombstone Courthouse Locator Map

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Tombstone Courthouse
223 Toughnut St.
Tombstone, AZ 85638


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Feature StoryTombstone Gardening Traditions, 1880-1930

by Art Austin

What is historically authentic and what is not, concerning potted plants, gardens, and orchards within the Scheffelin Historic district? The question was posed to me by Mrs. Anita Skinner, Proprietor of the Nellie Cashman Restaurant. It was her intent at the time to install planters (large non-Indian ceramic planters) near the entrance of her restaurant, but objections by the Historic District Review Commission stopped her beautification project.

Tombstone Courthouse
Establishing historical authenticty can be a challenge.

Insufficient records, both documentary and photographically, prohibit a full understanding of Tombstone's foliar ornamental fixtures. However, more citations related to plant variety than container type were found. The approach then was to reveal what plants were being grown and what type containers may have been used, based largely on what one might have encountered on the boardwalk of 1880s Tombstone. With this information in hand, a proposal could then be drafted using suitable plants with suitable plant containers which could then be brought before the Commission for their perusal.

A comprehensive search was made of documents, photographs, and historical accounts about Tombstone, with emphasis on the Nellie Cashman Restaurant (N.C.R.) formerly known as the Russ House. Closeup photographs of the N.C.R. were not found however. City scenes shot from the Contention Mine and Mill site shed a little information as to the adornment of the N.C.R. or the lack thereof. Before 1882 (the year of the courthouse) photographs show the N.C.R. devoid of foliage of any kind. Later, a photo about 1886 (after the courthouse and prior to the railroad) also shows no porch or foliage. While much of the town had established trees throughout. A circa 1904 photograph shows the addition of a porch on the north side of Toughnut street with a tree possibly planted near the N.W. Corner of 5th and Toughnut streets. Later still, in about 1910, a photograph reveals a planter running the entire length of the N.C.R. on Toughnut Street. No determination can made as to the exact date that this planter was built.

Photographs of this period are scarce and do not reflect specific foliage adornment of specific buildings, and the distance at which many of the photos were taken, makes identification of potted plants or other small fixtures near impossible. Information gathered from journalistic sources has shed a bit more light onto the general use of ornamental flowers, shrubs, and trees in Tombstone. It is important to note that nothing other than some low scrub grew on the site that would become Tombstone, and ultimately it is with the discovery of water in the mines that made the greenery possible.

The most extensive reference material was found in the Golden Era Magazine 1889 and City Directory of 1883-1884. The earliest mention about the use of flowers in Tombstone was on March 11,1881.1 The German club, Turn-Verein inauguration used flowers from Mrs. Fullers conservatory for their affair. Where as the authors of the City Directory suggested that with the stabilizing of the City Land Deed Issue, the town residents were planting trees and building gardens throughout the town.2 Tombstone city officials obviously saw the benefits of planting because the main street, Allen, had at least three trees on each side of it. Additionally, private residences were copiously adorned with ivies, flowers, fruit bearing and ornamental trees from about 1883 through the early 1900's. We must remember that these pioneers were firmly entrenched in the belief of "Manifest Destiny" and brought with them a highly developed background of English Garden traditions. They would not have maintained a "desert" landscape, but would have changed their environs to suit their personal needs and comforts. Numerous photographs of private residences support this assertion. Benefits to the homeowner would be shade, beautification, and fragrant aromas as well as a source of fresh fruit, nuts, and/or vegetables. City Attorney George Swain had fruit bearing apricot trees in his yard for he gave some of his bountiful crop to the Epitaph.3 We find a much better view of the bounties that were being grown from a excerpt of the Golden Era Magazine describing the flower garden and nursery of one William Brauch.

… “In his gardens are found almost every conceivable variety of fruit trees, shrubbery, vines, flowers; some vegetables; over 150 varieties of roses, including the ever-blooming and very many other choice roses; fifteen varieties of grapes; the pear, peach, cherry, apricot, nectarine, persimmon, English walnut, almond, mulberry, Chinese umbrella, boxwood, Siberian crab, etc..”

So many plants but not one mention as what the vessels were that held them. Local residents have noted the existence of pottery use in S.E. Arizona for over a 1000 years, but was it used as a planter? Papago Indians use to camp near the town during the summer and make ollas for storing and keeping water cool.4 These large pottery vessels were hung along porches, moisture "bleeding" through the clay walls would evaporate, cooling the liquid contents. Although chic today, clay pottery did not hold up well to the rigors of Tombstone, guns, stage coaches. Local kids and the like would considerably shorten the life of ceramic pottery on the boardwalks. It is more likely that Tombstoners were using items which were mostly expendable. "Spent" shipping containers, empty tin cans and the like, were the most readily available vessels. Examining the photographic records seems to have revealed that Tombstoners were in fact using "Spent" shipping containers, specifically tin cans in an old wooden crates. However, various other items could have been used for, and may be considered for the use as plant containers. In a letter to Editor of the Epitaph, a citizen complained about the numerous barrels (whole barrels) on the boardwalk.5 Similarly photos of the period indicate not only barrels but crates as well cluttered the boardwalks.6 One photograph of Sarah Goodfellow Fish, taken in 1888, reveals a flower box made from a former shipping crate on the second floor porch of the Miner's Exchange building complete with watering can.7 Milk cans were also regular fixtures on the boardwalk as several were being delivered daily to the local restaurants.8

The historic record though sparse has yielded sufficient information by which an individual or a business owner could with Historic District Review Commission review beautify their shops in the Scheffelin Historic District. All of the plants and likely plant vessels discussed could have been used in the area historically. Specifically, service businesses like restaurants, hotels, boarding houses, and the like, would have been and are the most likely candidates for such ornamentation. Tombstone was a lively and thriving town, an exuberant place full of wealth and consumer goods. Streets were well kept and shops tidy, not a wasteland with tumble weeds and other desert plants.

See List of other Feature Stories (Index)


  • Golden Era Magazine, May 1889, Vol.XXXVIII, Number 5, copy of pg. 196-197 and pg. 205
  • Plan for the Creation of a Historic Environment in Tombstone, Arizona Prepared by Billy G. Garret and James W. Garrison. Dec. 1972.
  • Tombstone By William Hattich, Forward by James Gilchriese. Published 1903 Tombstone Daily prospector, New edition 1981, University, Of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
  • Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park Research files and Photo archives TC 88-1-1 Flower box, Miner's Exch. 1886
  • Tombstone Directory, 1883-1884, Cobler and Co. Publishers pg.110
  • Tombstone Epitaph, Douglas D. Martin, University of New Mexico Press, 1963 Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • Tombstone Myth and Reality, Odie B. Faulk, New York, Oxford University Press 1972, pg. 95 footnote #26


1. Tombstone Epitaph, pg. 39-40
2. Tombstone Directory, pg. 110
3. Tombstone Epitaph, pg. 27
4. Tombstone, Hattich, pg. 23
5. Tombstone Epitaph, pg. 21
6. Ibid, pg. 24
7. Tombstone Courthouse Photo archives TC 88-1-1
8. Tombstone Epitaph, pg. 22

This Paper was originally titled Plant Varieties and Containers In Tombstone 1881-1930 by Art Austin, 1993, and revised by Art Austin, 1998.

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