Arizona is home to the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon, crazy desert wildlife, and very hot summers.
#1 Casa Grande has been around since about 1350 C.E.
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, and many people still falsely attribute this structure to the Hohokam Indians, which isn’t actually the name of any tribe of Indians. This confusion stems from the term “Hohokam,” which archaeologists use to describe an area with earthen buildings, pottery, and canals.
#2 There was no written record of Casa Grande until 1694.
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 It wasn’t long before it became clear that precautions needed to be taken to protect Casa Grande.
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 was led by anthropologist Frank H. Cushing and lasted a year. This study brought to light the deterioration of this unique and important site, and 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 have no clue what Casa Grande’s actual purpose was.
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. With walls three feet thick and a seven foot high barrier that protects the structure itself, Casa Grande is 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 this historic ruin are left to use their imagination.
#5 The roof protecting Casa Grande has become nearly as famous as the ruins themselves.
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 passed control of the structure over to the National Park Service. In the 1930’s, a ton of work was done to improve the site. New adobe buildings were built to house park operations, along with a visitor center building and a 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 boasts it’s own water draining system, a grounded lightening 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. While 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.