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Southern Az's Camp Naco named one of America's most endangered historic places of 2022

Buffalo Soldiers touchstone & CCC camp has suffered from erosion & vandalism

Southern Arizona's Camp Naco has been added to a list of America’s “11 most endangered historic places” for 2022, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Wednesday. Built in 1919, the military camp was meant to protect against attacks during the Mexican Revolution. In recent years it has suffered from vandalism, natural erosion and fire.

The camp, located in Cochise County, has been owned by the city of Bisbee since 2018. It was built as part of the U.S. War Department’s Mexican Border Defense Construction Project, which set up a string of 35 military camps that stretched 1,200 miles along the southwestern border from Brownsville, Texas, to Arivaca.

Camp Naco is the last of those camps still standing.

Bisbee is “working closely with Naco Heritage Alliance and other partners to identify critical funding and partnerships to restore the historic camp buildings and revive them for community, tourism, and educational uses,” according to the National Trust. In 2006, the site suffered from an arson fire, and later hazardous asbestos was discovered there, according to the Arizona Memory Project. 

The preservation group's list is meant to ​”raise awareness about the threats facing some of the nation's greatest treasures,” their spokesperson said. Since 1988, they’ve listed more than 300 sites, a handful of which have been lost. The 2022 list “covers geographic expanse, tells the stories of disenfranchised populations and offers cultural equity."

From 1919 to 1922, Camp Naco housed the 9th and 10th regiments of the Buffalo Soldiers, an all-black cavalry formed during the Civil War. The mission of those regiments “was to protect the railroad, prevent the smuggling of arms, cattle and other supplies across the border to rebel forces in Mexico, and restrain any lawlessness and banditry that might spill over the border into Arizona,” according to Bisbee officials.

The Buffalo Soldiers regiments took part in notable U.S. military efforts during the Mexican Revolution including the punitive expedition against Pancho Villa in 1916, which some joined from their garrison in Fort Huachuca. In February, Buffalo Soldier Col. Charles Young was posthumously promoted to brigadier general, partly for his role in that expedition.

The adobe camp in Naco, also known as Fort Newell, is part of “the proud tradition of Black military regiments after the Civil War,” the National Trust wrote, and ​​”a touchstone for the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.”

From 1935 to 1937, the camp also housed the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era federal public works project that employed more than 41,000 young men from Arizona and over 3 million from across the U.S.

CCC workers lived in camps run by the U.S. Army and “built roads, fought forest fires, developed recreational areas, strung telephone lines, battled soil erosion, and planted trees,” in areas such as Tucson Mountain Park, Colossal Cave, Chiricahua National Monument, Coronado National Forest and the Grand Canyon, according to Pima County.

Besides Bisbee and the Naco Heritage Alliance, conservation efforts for the camp are also being undertaken by the Camp Naco Arizona Preservation Committee and government of nearby Huachuca City.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit. The other 10 locations included in their list of endangered sites of 2022 are:

  • The Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama
  • The Chicano/a/x Community Murals of Colorado
  • The Deborah Chapel in Hartford, Connecticut
  • Francisco Q. Sanchez Elementary School in Humåtak, Guam
  • Minidoka National Historic Site in Jerome, Idaho
  • Brooks-Park Home and Studios in East Hampton, New York
  • Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina
  • Olivewood Cemetery in Houston, Texas
  • The original settlement of Jamestown, Virginia

More information on these sites is available online.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Eric Vondy/Arizona State Historic Preservation Office