Steamboats on the Santa Cruz

In 1878 Col. Charles Sykes of San Francisco, owner of the Calabasas Land Grant, mapped out a town site in Rio Rico's Calabasas area. He than began to aggressively promote the land as the port of entry to México. He used a brochure with drawings of a prosperous Calabasas community complete with steamboats docked at a busy Santa Cruz waterfront. A prominent Tucsonan filed a libel suit when Sykes used his name to endorse the plan. Sykes rebuffed charges of trickery and later built the two-story Santa Rita Hotel at the site.

The Santa Rita Hotel's grand opening on October 5, 1882 was an extravagant event with an estimated 75 attendees arriving by train and filling the hotel to capacity. The Santa Rita was billed as the "finest hotel between San Francisco and Denver" and for a couple of the years the hotel did very well, even attracting guests from New York and Chicago. Business dwindled when the major railways bypassed the town and the hotel no longer accommodated guests well before the time of Sykes' death in 1901.

He later lost the land when a court found the complicated 1877 land sale invalid. The building that had been the Santa Rita Hotel burned down in 1927.


Brooks, Laura. "Rio Rico's land-scandal history finds parallel in 1800s, opens a new window." Arizona Daily Star. September 18, 1994. Page B4.

Ghost Towns of Arizona. Sherman, James E. and Barbara H. Sherman. University of Oklahoma Press, 1969. Pages 17c-19c.

National Parks Service | Early Anglo Specualtion and the Tumacácori Land Grant

Walker, Kathleen. "An Elegant Hotel: A Dream Unfulfilled." Arizona Highways, August 2003, Pages 16-17.

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