Monday, February 2, 2015

Honor Prison Camp

Sunday we took a trip up to Mt. Lemmon and stopped at the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site on Catalina Highway.

What can I say, Gerry loves rocks.

Ruins at the site

More ruins

Soldier Canyon Creek runs through the Honor Camp site.

Catalina Federal Honor Camp, Arizona
The Catalina Federal Honor Camp is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains, northeast of Tucson, Arizona. The camp was established in 1939 within the Coronado National Forest to provide prison labor to build a highway that would allow Tucson residents easier access to the cooler elevations of the mountain. In the 1940s the Honor Camp included four barracks, a mess hall, a laundry, a powerhouse, a storeroom, a garage, a vocational shop, and a classroom. In addition, there was an administration building, ten masonry and five frame cottages for the prison personnel, and water supply and sewage disposal systems. Other facilities included a chicken and turkey farm and a baseball field. The inmates played the University of Arizona baseball team each year at the site.  On a 10-acre farm below the mountain the inmates raised vegetables.

Baseball field at the Catalina Federal Honor Camp
Baseball Field
Catalina Federal Honor Camp, ca. 1945
Catalina Federal Honor Camp, ca. 1945.
(photograph courtesy of the Coronado National Forest)
Catalina Federal Honor Camp, ca. 1945
Catalina Federal Honor Camp, ca. 1945.
(photograph courtesy of the Coronado National Forest)
During World War II many of the prisoners at the Honor Camp were draft resisters and conscientious objectors. After the Supreme Court upheld his convictions for disobeying curfew and relocation orders, Gordon Hirabayashi completed his sentence there. Some 45 Japanese American draft resisters were also sent to the Honor Camp to serve their sentences. The majority of the resisters were from the Granada Relocation Center in Colorado; others came from Poston and Topaz. In contrast to Gordon Hirabayashi, who had to hitchhike from Seattle to Tucson to serve his sentence, the resisters were transferred to the Honor Camp in leg irons and under armed guard. Ironically, security at the Honor Camp was far less stringent than it was in the Relocation Centers: instead of fences and guard towers, the perimeter of the Honor Camp was marked by white painted boulders. The inmates broke rocks with sledge hammers, cleared trees, and drilled holes for dynamite for the road work, as well as worked to maintain the camp and grow food and cook for the prison population.

Sign at the site of the Catalina Federal Honor Camp
Sign at the site of the Catalina Federal Honor Camp.
After the highway was completed in 1951, the camp was used for juvenile offenders; inmates ran a logging and sawmill operation and a sign shop. In 1967 the camp was turned over to the state of Arizona, which used the camp as a youth rehabilitation center until 1973. All of the buildings were razed in the mid-1970s, but over 100 features, including concrete foundation slabs and rock walls, remain. The Coronado National Forest  developed the old prison site into the "Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site" named in honor of its most famous prisoner. The site serves as a campground and trail head, and includes interpretive signs which focus on prisoners' experiences and the Constitutional issues raised by the internment during World War II.
The above was taken from the National Park Service website.

There aren't any buildings left at the site anymore. The remaining  foundations give you a good idea how large the camp was.  They have picnic tables there along the Soldier Canyon Creek and a number of shade trees.  It looks like a nice place to have a picnic on a hot summer day in Tucson and should be cooler there since it is located at 4900ft of altitude.

Honor Camp today taken from Google Earth Photo
We weren't able to spend a lot of time there but have it on our list to return and explore the area around it even more before we leave this Spring.

There are little gems out there in the most unexpected places.  All you have to do is keep your eyes open and look for them.

That was our day, how was yours?

NOTE:  Marsha asked why there were so many cars from Sonora, Mexico on the mountain.  I think it was because so many Mexican children never see or get a chance to play in the snow and Mt. Lemmon is within driving distance of their homes.  Sonora license plates are common in the Tucson area and many come here to shop and visit relatives throughout the year.

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