The Empire Ranch Foundation (ERF) is a non-profit volunteer organization established in 1997. Acting in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Foundation serves to protect, restore and sustain the Empire Ranch historical buildings and landscape as an outstanding western heritage and education center.
The Empire Ranch is magnificently situated in the high Sonoran Desert and rolling grasslands of Arizona, approximately 50 miles southeast of Tucson, and 10 miles north of Sonoita. The Empire Ranch House is a 22-room adobe and wood frame building which dates to 1870 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The ranch sits at the heart of the 42,000-acre Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, on public lands acquired and administered since 1988 by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The Foundation partners with the BLM for many preservation and education activities at Empire Ranch Headquarters. The Foundation's long history of preservation and educational activities are described in detail on the Foundation's website, www.empireranchfoundation.org
Preservation of the Empire Ranch House and other buildings is a primary mission of the Foundation. Major stabilization repairs of the Ranch House and Stone Corral were completed in 2001/2002. Subsequent major projects have focused on stabilization and repair of the ranch headquarters' historic Adobe Hay Barn and Ranch Hand's House, the ranch house Victorian Addition's west gable wall, the South Barn, Mechanic's Shed, and other buildings. Once stabilization is complete, plans call for development of an interpretive historical house museum, completion of a self-guided Heritage Discovery Trail, and educational programs to augment classroom learning about the natural and cultural history of the region.
The Empire Ranch Foundation addresses the western heritage and education focus of our mission through sponsorship of an annual Roundup & Open House for the general public; a "Legacy Day" field day of on-site ranching education for local middle school children; and "Wild About the Grasslands!", outdoor camp education programs for youth. The Empire Ranch is a member site of the Hands on the Land (HOL) program.
The Empire Ranch Foundation funds its projects through the support of members, individuals and businesses, through public, corporate and foundation contributions and grants, and through proceeds from special fundraising events. The Foundation also sponsors Volunteer Days to ensure continuation of preservation projects and general maintenance of the Ranch House and grounds.
A Brief History: The Empire Ranch was originally established in the 1860's as a ranch of 160 acres with a four-room adobe ranch house and adjoining corral. Owned by Edward Nye Fish, a Tucson businessman, the ranch was acquired in 1876 by Walter L. Vail, a native of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and Herbert Hislop, an Englishman.
Over the next 20 years, as a part of the historic expansion of ranching, railroads, mining and other growth in the West, Vail and various partners expanded the original land holdings to include over one million acres. The ranch house became an extended complex with more than 22-rooms and many related structures, and remained a Vail family enterprise until 1928.
In 1928, the Empire Ranch was purchased by the Boice, Gates and Johnson partnership, successor to the Chiricahua Cattle Co., when their cattle had to be moved from the San Carlos Indian Reservation. The Boices were respected cattlemen known for their promotion of the Hereford breed of cattle in the Southwest. Partner Frank Boice and his family lived on and managed the Empire Ranch, and became sole owners in 1951. During their tenure they also hosted Hollywood production companies for the filming of a number of classic western movies.
In 1969 the lands were sold to Gulf American Corporation for a proposed real estate development, and later resold to Anamax Mining Company for mining and water potential. None of these developments materialized, however, and to this day the lands and ranch headquarters have supported only cattle operations.
In the 1980s a groundswell of public support developed to preserve the ranch and its natural resources in their pristine condition. In 1988 a series of land exchanges put the property into public ownership under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the U.S. Department of Interior. In 2000, the U.S. Congress officially designated these 42,000 acres to be Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.