The Russ House Tombstone property is on the Northwest corner of Toughnut & 5th Streets. It can take its historic place in Tombstone Arizona. Let’s see why.
The Russ House Tombstone – Its Past & Present
First, where is it? It’s right there, along 5th Street, South from Allen Street. It’s the last building when you walk on down the West side of the street! See the tallest tree there, down the right side of the street. It’s just outside of its frontage, shading the Eastern walls of the Russ House from June’s hot rising sun.
It’s one of the most historic “buildings” in town. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nellie Cashman was a woman whose history is attached to, entwined with this building. If only these walls could talk! We’ll try to imagine some of what they’d tell us.
One of the Earliest Lodgings in Town
The Russ House opened December 18, 1880. Jacob Smith & Sol T. Anderson built it across from the mines.1 They knew its proximity would attract miners over to their establishment. The rooms were comfortable and the food was good.
Added attractions were a bar-room, two street-side verandas and a reading room. The restaurant area was the biggest in town at the time.3
Nellie Cashman & the Russ House
Nellie Cashman was an Irish Immigrant to America. She made her way through Western mining communities, first in Pioche, Nevada. After some time in Northern British Columbia, she came to Tucson Arizona and opened a restaurant. When word of the silver claims were the talk of all her customers – she sold out her interest in the Delmonico there, and moved to Tombstone.2
First she opened a dry goods store. She had lots of energy and often had a few business enterprises going at the same time! In September of 1881 Nellie entered a business arrangement with the Russ House’s new owner, Joseph Pascholy.1
About the same time, Nellie’s sister Fanny came to the area. Fanny was a recent widow with five children. Nellie helped her out by putting her to work. But soon Fanny came down with her husband’s illness2 – what they called consumption in those days – what today you’ve heard of as tuberculosis.
From The Tombstone Weekly Epitaph – Monday, March 6, 1882 – Page 2
Russ House For Sale
Nellie now tended to her sister’s needs. Part of that responsibility was watching over her nieces and nephews. She couldn’t fit that responsibility in with the substantial work of running Tombstone’s Russ House.
She offered her Russ House share for sale in December of 1881. Nellie’s friend, John Clum2, gave her a front page announcement in his Epitaph newspaper. She sold her half interest in the Russ House.
She often continued cooperating with the current owners of the Russ House to benefit the town-folk of Tombstone. She was always ready to give help to anyone in need. Tombstone citizens still thought of Nellie Cashman when they thought of the Russ House.
That was true until she left town to move to Alaska in 1898.2 Actually, it’s true today! She only owned the Russ House for about 4 or 5 months. She was so influential, and popular in town, that when people think of the Russ House, they think: Nellie Cashman!
Reinventions Through the Years
This photograph above is likely from the 1920s, when tourists were beginning to come into Tombstone Arizona. The invention of the automobile began to attract people to travel and tour the country. They were interested in discovering unique areas.
The Model T was the latest rage! It was an assembly line car, well built, but affordable for many. And it helped people get to their local towns. Newer cross-country roads were recently built – such as The Broadway of America, which came right through Tombstone! And The Mother Road – Rt. 66 – (Also called Main Street of America.) which went through Northern Arizona.
There began to be interest in seeing what this Old West town had to offer. Especially when some of the local folks realized that, and started to develop the town for tourists. Initiated restoring the historic areas.
Russ House Fire
Mrs. Josephine Keagle owned the Russ House on an eventful day: January 20, 1959. Fire broke out and burned all interior areas. The outside adobe walls were the only areas that were unscathed.3 They still stand today, as the tribute to the historic Russ House, Tombstone Arizona.
Two months later Mrs. Keagle sold the property to a couple, Floyd & Minnie Laughrun. They rebuilt the interior as a Tombstone hotel.3 Over the next few decades it had a few more ownership changes and purpose reinventions.
Russ House More Recently
We had been visitors to Tombstone, Arizona long before we were able to move to town. Every time we would come into Tombstone, we’d go to Nellie Cashman’s Restaurant for dinner.
We loved the ambiance. We loved the history and its attachment to Nellie Cashman (I had always really admired much about her). We also liked the food, the menu options. Yes, it was our favorite place to eat in Tombstone AZ at that time!!
It was run by a German woman. For a while, there was a piano in the corner. An older gentleman was often there at dinnertime, playing classical and old timey music. That was a delightful way to add atmosphere! And it just gave great reminiscence of Nellie’s days at Tombstone’s Russ House.
At the point when this 2010 photo below was taken, the elderly gentleman playing piano was no longer there. The inside of the restaurant still reflected the history of the building, and Nellie Cashman herself.
It was still charming. It still added to the historic feeling and authenticity of the building, and especially the location.
Today’s Russ House
Remember – the outer walls are all that’s left of the historic Russ House in Tombstone. Note the archway is still seen on the right. Other than the plaque on those outer historic walls, not much reminds us of the history on this corner. The wonderful touches we had loved are no longer there.
The arched patio entry still survives. Those little “Jail” and “Marshal” signs you can see in the photo – cute, maybe? But totally non-historic.
A local man who already owns other business properties (Big Nose Kate’s & Longhorn to name two), purchased this historic building. In doing that, its entire aura changed – is different. It is now called the Cafe Margarita. It’s billed as “Mexican, Italian & a little American.”
We have eaten there a few times. The food is fine – not great or bad. The service has been okay to pretty good.
Except one time while attempting to enter – service was exceptionally rude and we left. It was a very busy day – Helldorado Days. When the town is extraordinarily packed. We know this.
But we waited a long time, later than they had said. And after that time-frame, they seated at least three other groups before us. Then when I complained – that’s when I got a very rude reply.
So yes, we left. We went to the Crystal Palace, and we were treated much better, and seated relatively quickly. Even though they were busy, and packed, too. It’s like the Crystal was well organized for this big event, but Cafe Margarita was not. And when we were slighted, and tried to point that out – instead of solving the problem, they took it out on us! Not a good way to provide customer service, we think.
When we want Mexican food, we go to The Depot (at the corner of Allen & 9th). Theirs is the best Mexican food in town.
All I can say is – we were disappointed in this change for Tombstone’s historic Russ House. The word we heard “through the grapevine” is: the prior owner wouldn’t include the rights to the “Nellie Cashman” name with the sale. Not sure why. That may be the prime source of the problem in sticking with its historical flavor.
We suggest you try it for yourselves, to form your own opinion. We have returned on a few occasions – so we don’t rule it out entirely, forever. But it’s not on our favorites list anymore – sadly. We go there rarely.
There’s more details on their location, hours, days of the week, etc. – on our Tombstone Restaurants Page. One local I spoke to says he feels it’s a relaxing venue. Others we know say their evaluation is that it’s hit & miss. So see what you think!
And now there’s one new change going on, toward the end of 2021! What’s up now?? Is it going to be a place to rent a place to stay again? Hmmm!
1 Underhill, L.E. (2012). Tombstone, Arizona hotels and boarding houses, 1879 – 1882. Gilbert AZ: Roan Horse Press.
2 Dungan, M. (2011) How the Irish won the west. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.
3 Bailey, L.R. (2004). Too tough to die: The rise, fall, and resurrection of a silver camp; 1878 to 1990. Tucson AZ: Westernlore Press.