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5 Interesting Facts About These Casa Grande Ruins in Arizona

Cheyenne Reed

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The Casa Grande Ruins are located southeast of Phoenix, Arizona. They are Native American ruins with a mysterious past. There is still much unknown. Here are 5 facts about the Casa Grande Ruins.

1) Casa Grande Has Been Around Since About 1350 C.E.

upload.wikimedia.org
upload.wikimedia.org

Archaeologists believe that ancient Sonoran Desert people are the ones who should receive credit for building Casa Grande. Aside from building Casa Grande, these innovative people also developed wide-scale irrigation farming and maintained expensive trade connections. These ancient people thrived for about 1000 years, before abandoning Casa Grande in 1450 C.E.

In the past, this structure was thought to have been created by the Aztecs. Many people still falsely attribute this structure to the Hohokam Indians, which isn’t actually the name of any tribe. This confusion stems from the term “Hohokam,” which archaeologists use to describe an area with earthen buildings, pottery, and canals.

2) There Were No Written Records of Casa Grande Until 1694 

nps.gov
nps.gov

It appears that the ancient Sonoran people who built Casa Grande had no written language, so they left no records when they abandoned their structure. Padre Eusebio Fransisco Kino wrote about Casa Grande in his journal when he visited in 1694. He referred to the impressive structure as “Casa Grande,” or “great house,” and the name stuck.

Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza visited the ruins in 1775 followed by Brig. Gen. Stephan Watts Kearny in 1846.

The installation of a rail line that deposited travelers just twenty miles from Casa Grande made it east to catch a stagecoach to the site and do some exploring. Unfortunately, Casa Grande quickly became the target of graffiti and vandalism.

3) Precautions Were Needed to Protect Casa Grande

The sign outside of the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Arizona.
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During his extended visit between 1883-1884, anthropologist and historian Adolph Bandelier noted the value of the structure. Philanthropist Mary Hemenway funded the Hemenway Southwestern Archeological Expedition which then was led by anthropologist Frank H. Cushing and lasted a year. This study brought to light the deterioration of this unique and important site, as well as prompted a petition to the U.S. Senate in 1889, urging them to protect the ruins.

Four years later, President Benjamin Harrison set aside the square mile surrounding the Casa Grande ruins. It became the first-ever prehistoric and cultural reserve in the United States.

4) Archaeologists Don’t Know Casa Grande’s Actual Purpose

americansouthwest.net
americansouthwest.net

Although these ruins have immense historical value and can teach us plenty about their creators, they come with a good bit of mystery as well. With no written records, experts have been unable to definitively determine the true purpose of Casa Grande. People hypothesize that the structure might have been a fort, a temple, a home for holy men, a watchtower, a museum, or simply a place to store grain.

At four stories tall, this is the largest structure that is known to have been built by this group of people. The walls are three feet thick and a seven-foot-high barrier that protects the structure itself. The Casa Grande Ruins are made up of a total of thirty-five tons of caliche. One would have needed a ladder to even access the doorways. Since no one can be sure what Casa Grande was meant to be, visitors to these historic ruins are left to use their imagination.

5) The Roof Above it is as Famous as the Ruins Themselves

Exterior of the Casa Grande Ruins with the famous wooden and steel roof above it.
cdn.c.photoshelter.com

In 1903, Casa Grande was protected by a simple roof of corrugated iron held up by redwood timbers. This was before August of 1918 when President Woodrow Wilson declared Casa Grande a National Monument. And then passed control of the structure over to the National Park Service. In the 1930s, new adobe buildings were built to house park operations as well as a visitor center building and parking lot.

Most notably was the construction of the new steel roof to protect the structure. Towering sixty-nine feet high and covering over 8,000 square feet, this structure became the world’s largest awning. The roof also boasts it’s own water draining system, a grounded lightning rod, and the ability to withstand hurricane-force winds. Hilariously enough, it has been nominated for a place on the National Register of Historic Places as well.

Erosion will continue to take its toll on the fragile ancient ruins. This impressive protective structure is likely to stand even longer than the ruins it was created to protect. Perhaps someday people will wonder about the purpose of a giant steel roof in the middle of the dessert, which will at that time be the “new” Casa Grande Ruins.

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