By PAUL L. ALLEN
NACO – Historic Camp Newell, a former Army post here that has fallen into disrepair, may yet be saved.
About four dozen university and federal and local government officials and other interested people met here yesterday to formulate a plan to save the rapidly deteriorating Mexican Revolution-era cavalry post on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The meeting was hosted by the Desert Southwest Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, a consortium of federal agencies and universities that provides support for desert ecosystem studies, and which hopes to take over the property and create a research facility at the post.
Rebecca Orozco, a consultant with Southwest Learning Center at Cochise Community College, chaired the gathering, which included representatives from the University of Arizona, Cochise Community College, the National Park Service, the U.S. Border Patrol, Cochise County and Bisbee governments and local residents.
Mark Contento, vice president and property manager for Tucson-based VisionQuest, which owns the 14-acre property, also was at the gathering.
Before the meeting at Turquoise Valley Country Club, participants toured the 90-year-old former military post, which is deteriorating rapidly as monsoon rains melt away its adobe walls.
About half of one barrack’s roof has collapsed.
“This is the finest border post in the country” despite the deterioration, said William P. “Pat” O’Brien, of the National Park Service. His agency will assist with having the post listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would make it eligible for preservation grants.
The post began as a tent camp in 1913 during Mexican Revolution upheavals along the border. It blossomed into a full-fledged Army post with more than two dozen adobe buildings in 1916. It was named for John J. Newell, a Naco landowner who leased the property to the Army.
Members of the 9th and 10th cavalries, made up of African-Americans known as Buffalo Soldiers, were assigned to the post.
Within 10 years things had quieted in Mexico and the Army returned the post to the Newells. Some of them lived in the larger hospital building until 1990. Over the decades, the family rented the officers’ and noncommissioned officers’ quarters as residences, and the Civilian Conservation Corps camped there in 1936.
VisionQuest, a nonprofit agency that works with at-risk youths around the country, bought the property in 1990 for $87,500, intending to establish a facility there. But rezoning was rejected 1993.
This year, VisionQuest decided to sell the property or even give it away to any Buffalo Soldiers’ organization willing and financially able to rehabilitate and maintain the buildings and their historic integrity.
Several groups were interested but none had the financial ability to tackle the challenge of Camp Newell.
The cooperative extension unit intends to stabilize and restore the buildings and establish a field school there. Students would study archaeology and ecology there while clearing the property of overgrown underbrush. Eventually it could become a heritage tourism destination and museum.
Contento said yesterday that details will be worked out on how best to change the property’s ownership.
“We want this to happen,” he said, though VisionQuest would prefer to retain ownership. “Whether that means giving (the cooperative extension) a 30-year lease, or lease it for $1 a year for 99 years, we will make it happen.”
The buildings have become a haven for illegal immigrants who hide or sleep in them, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. The buildings are cluttered with discarded clothing and water containers, and walls are marked with graffiti.
Cochise County is behind the project, said county planning director Jim Vlahovich.
“But we’re concerned with security of the property. We’d like to get that taken care of,” he said.
PHOTO CAPTION: PAUL L. ALLEN/Tucson Citizen
Representatives of several organizations who want to save former Camp Newell met near a part of the old post that collapsed recently.