History of Vail

Vail, Arizona is named after the Vail Brothers, Edward and Walter.  After arriving in the late 1870’s, Vail Brothers purchased Empire Ranch, and became cattle ranchers. They also developed a large silver mine operation with the Total Wreck Mine in the Empire Mountains. Using profits from ranching and mining, they expanded Empire Ranch until it stretched from the Santa Rita Mountains to the Mexican Border, between the Santa Cruz and San Pedro Rivers.

Vail Homestead

In 1880, train tracks were laid down east of Tucson. Walter Vail donated the land for the tracks and in recognition of that donation had the stop in Vail named after him. Although Vail was christened as a town in 1893 and has had its own post office for over 100 years, it was never incorporated. As such, the town of Vail has no official boundaries or legal status. It is only an area within Pima County.

Located on the main tracks and road east of Tucson, the town of Vail had its heyday in the early 1900’s. In addition to being a cattle-shipping center, Vail served as the storage and loading facility for ore from the Helvetia Copper Mine. Located just southeast of what is now Corona de Tucson, the Helvetia Mine produced over 42,000 tons of ore. This ore was transported to Vail by heavy ore wagons pulled by teams of six mules. One hundred years later, the haul road is still a visible path in the desert between Vail and Corona.

Teacher with students
The Vail School District was started in 1903 for the purpose of serving children living in Vail and the surrounding ranches. The first school was located on a knoll by the Pantano Wash on a ranch called Rancho del Lago. A few years later, the school moved to the present site of Old Vail Middle School on now Colossal Cave Road.

With a decrease in mining activity and improvements in transportation and communication, Vail dwindled from over 300 people to less than 10 people. Even though the one-room school districts of Rincon and Pantano were merged into the Vail School District, student enrollment in the Vail School District sputtered along at about 40 students.

In 1930, two sisters named Esta and Lottie Trotter arrived to live at and teach in the Vail School. For the next 25 years, the Trotter sisters were essentially the entire teaching staff at the school. It was not until 1955 that the Vail School was connected to an electrical grid. And, as late as 1976, there was consideration of closing the school for a lack of students.

In 1980, IBM announced it was opening a huge plant in Southeast Tucson, right in the heart of the Vail School District. The coming of IBM kicked off a spurt of growth in Southeast Tucson and Vail.

By 1990, student enrollment in VSD had reached 1,000 students and growth really took off from there. The IBM facility was transformed into the top-ranked University of Arizona Tech Park Arizona.

Anchored by Raytheon and IBM, Tech Park Arizona has become a vibrant employment center of over 7,000 people. With the addition of the Target Distribution Center, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and other employment centers, combined with the attraction of Arizona sunshine, growth continues in the Vail area.

Vail School District is now home to eighteen schools with another under construction and currently serves almost 12,000 students with over 1,700 employees.