Mission/Craftsman and Arts and Crafts is my favorite style of architecture and furniture. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m repeating it so that everyone is warned that I plan to gush and oooh and aaahhh through this entire post. Because I’ve found the house of my dreams.
Johnson Knox Corbett was an emigre from South Carolina, born during the Civil War, who fled to the southwest to seek his fortune. Tucson newspaper articles say that he came from a wealthy family that lost their plantation in the war, but since it seems that every white person who came out of the Civil War south came from a “wealthy family” and “lost the plantation,” who knows if it was true. In any case, he became wealthy in Tucson, starting as a postal clerk and, after retiring as postmaster of Tucson, becoming the owner of the largest lumber company in southern Arizona.
At 23, he married Elizabeth Hughes, the daughter of one of Tucson’s first families, and in 1907, they built a Mission Revival house on Main Street, in mid-town Tucson. The property on which the house was built had been a gift from Elizabeth’s aunt, Petra Stevens, who was the widow of another wealthy Tucsonan. Petra has her own fascinating story, which I’ll get into later.
J. Knox died in 1934 and Elizabeth in 1936, but Corbett family members continued to live in the house until the 1960s. The city of Tucson acquired it in the 1970s, and leased it to the Tucson Museum of Art for a nominal fee. The house, now called the J. Knox Corbett House (which seems a little unfair to me, since it was Elizabeth’s connections that helped them acquire it), holds the museum’s American Arts and Crafts collection.
The house tour is self-guided. The only staff member in the house was a security guard. Only the first floor of the two story house is open to the public. Too bad, because you know I have a thing for stairs and the one at the Corbett House is enclosed, so I couldn’t see it. During Prohibition, the Corbetts manufactured gin upstairs.
Before we went into the museum, we had lunch at the museum’s cafe, which is housed in the 1865 Stevens House, next door to the Corbett House. The Stevens House was home to Hiram and Petra Stevens. Petra, the one who gave the land on which the Corbett House stands to the Corbetts, was Elizabeth Corbett’s mother’s sister. Hiram was a politician, shady businessman, philanderer and all-around not very nice person who eventually lost his political career and his wealth. In 1893, he committed suicide in the house, but not before trying to kill Petra first. It’s said that he shot at her head but that a tortoise shell comb that she wore in her hair deflected the bullet. She lived until 1916.
The cafe was casual and the food tasty. Mr. HT had a salmon salad and I had a portabello mushroom sandwich, both of which we’d recommend.
The Corbett House, together with six other historic houses, is part of the Tucson Museum of Art complex, all of which reside on what’s called “the Historic Block.” Tours of the block start several times each day from the art museum’s information desk, though it doesn’t necessarily include the interior of the houses.
The Corbett house is open only on Wednesdays during the summer (the museum website says that the house is open for tours everyday except Monday but don’t you believe it). Mr. History Tourist and I were there on a Saturday, and saw it only because the Museum of Art is being renovated and half of its collection is inaccessible until October. To make up for that, since they were still charging us the full price, they opened the Corbett house. If you want to see the Corbett House, I’d call the museum first, to confirm that it was open.