There's a building in central Phoenix that looks like a primitive mud hut barely held together by tree branches. Small squares of ancient glass are wedged in the walls for windows, and the "backyard" is a five-foot wide patch of dry weeds and broken glass. Hardly charming, but the place apparently appeals to squatters, because it's protected by a towering chain-link fence topped with a triple layer of barbed wire.
If this were just any old building, it might not matter. But the adobe structure at 115 W. Sherman is reputed to be the oldest home in Phoenix, constructed around 140 years ago.
Oh, if walls could talk, right?
The house is known as the Duppa House, and it was reportedly constructed around 1870 by Phillip "Lord" Darrell Duppa, an Englishman who moved to Prescott in 1863. In 1867, he came with Jack Swilling's party to the area that would become Phoenix and homesteaded 160 acres.
Duppa's credited with naming both Phoenix and Tempe, as well as founding the town of New River.Duppa was educated in the classics at Cambridge University and spoke five languages; he was reportedly quite a colorful character who quoted Shakespeare by the hour from memory. He died in 1892 at the age of 60, and is buried in Pioneer Veterans Memorial Cemetery, several blocks west of the Duppa House.
The two bedroom Duppa House was the only building in the area when it was constructed, and it was probably impressive for its time. Now, it looks like a run-down ghetto shack with the Phoenix skyline rising behind it. The structure has been partially restored, with efforts focused on the dilapidated roof, where newer cottonwood branches and fresher mud probably manage to keep most of the rodents out.
Unfortunately, we can only imagine what the Duppa House looks like inside because the building is locked behind a fence and no longer in use. People used to be able to take free tours November through May, which included exhibits of period furniture and artifacts, but the phone number for Duppa House has long been disconnected.
The property is listed on Phoenix's historic property register, so it's not likely to be torn down. But given the state's current budget woes, it's likely not on the priority list for renovations and reopening, either.
So for now, the oldest house in Phoenix just sits in the middle of the city, so small and inconspicuous that most people don't even notice it. Stop by and see it sometime.
The Duppa House is located at 115 W. Sherman, on 1st Avenue just south of Grant Street, next to an American Legion post.
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