Shops and new strip malls border Oracle Road in the small town of Catalina. This quiet hamlet, nestled against the western edge of the Catalina Mountains, is twelve miles north of Tucson. Today Catalina has a population of approximately 5765.
The town began in the 1870’s as a cattle ranch, The Rail N Ranch. In 1959, Lloyd W. Golder III purchased the ranch area and it became known as Golder Ranch.
Earlier in history, the Hohokam Indians inhabited the vicinity, entering Arizona from Mexico around 300 B.C. They farmed the land and dug irrigation canals for their corn, beans, squash and cotton. By 1400 A.D., the Hohokam civilization had dwindled away.
Later, Spanish explorers and missionaries passed through Tucson leaving their imprint on buildings and settlements. Father Kino named the Catalina Mountains on St. Catherine’s Day in 1697. Catalina acquired that name and later received township status in 1950.
Some of the first families to populate the area in modern day include the Nelsons who originally owned The Rail N Ranch, Mrs. Roberta Nicholas, who later purchased the ranch, the Fannings and Riveras. Carlos Rivera was a ranch cowboy who moved to the ranch in 1954 and raised his family in Catalina. Other families moved to the area to be close to the San Manuel copper mine. The Catalina mountains boast of some lost mines and legends surround their names, especially the Iron Door Mine.
Pockets of residence formed around Mainsail Boulevard where today’s Hitching Post Restaurant exists. That section was labeled Vistas de las Catalinas #1. Another section, Vistas #2, covered the area around the Marina and Pinto Lane. Yet another section, Lariat Estates, covered the area around present day’s Lariat Restaurant.
The Baptist Church was Catalina’s first house of worship. In 1949, E.B. and Louise Garner purchased 80 acres then added 32 more acres for development. They built community wells and moved to Catalina in 1953. Businesses sprang up south of the Lariat, one of the oldest businesses in the area. On the corner of Oracle and Tortolita, Wanda Garner opened a laundry which later became a rock shop. In the 1960’s, James and Lenny Garner opened The Wishing Well Trailer Court and hardware store. A grocery store, service station and drugstore sprang up around where today is located a produce store and other establishments.
The Garners helped build The Catalina Community Center, started in 1971. Lloyd Golder donated the swimming pool.
By the early 1960’s, Golder Ranch was subdivided into Twin Lakes starting with model homes on Forecastle Avenue. Two lakes linked the subdivision and provided boating as well as fishing for recreation. A peach orchard was transplanted from Twin Lakes to Coronado Forest Drive and more subdivisions were added. The Golder Dam, built in 1963, was breached in 1980 due to its location on a fault.
Although the lake no longer exists, Catalina offers other recreational activities including wonderful hiking trails. New businesses continue to crop up and the library is busier than ever.