Based on his education, Shaw Kinsley believed that he would be “working in the special collections area of the University of Arizona Library” at this time in his life, but instead, for the past five years he’s been director of the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.
For his many accomplishments in not only keeping the park from being closed by the state, but helping it expand impressively in programs and exhibits, on April 24 he received the top award from the Arizona Historical Society, the Al Merito Award.
The park, which in 1958 was the first park opened by the State of Arizona, was going to be shuttered behind a chain link fence in 2010 as a result of the state legislature taking much of its funding to balance the budget.
Individuals, businesses and non-profit organizations in Tubac banded together to raise sufficient money to keep the park open that year, and a public-private partnership between Arizona State Parks, Santa Cruz County and the Tubac Historical Society authorized its operation. Since then many ways of supporting the park have been developed.
He was nominated for the award by three groups, Friends of the Tubac Presidio and Museum, the Tubac Historical Society and the Santa Cruz Valley Citizens Council.
Officials from those groups wrote that without Kinsley and the volunteer corps he has developed, “the Presidio would be boarded up. Shaw and his team have been successful in increasing park attendance by 21 percent last year, and in January of this year, attendance is up 55 percent.”
The nomination also notes that extensive improvements have resulted since 2010 “under the guidance of Shaw, who seems to have a constant stream of ideas about how to make our park stand out and the ability and drive to make it happen.”
Among many enhancements in the past five years, Kinsley said, “The most obvious one is the master gardeners” work. An extensive ethnobotanical garden has been developed using plants and fruit trees that would have flourished in Tubac in 1752 when a presidio, or fort, was established there by the King of Spain.
He also has enjoyed seeing the return of a volunteer-led living history program offered each winter. It was started by the late Lillie Sheehan, but was not offered for several years before 2010. A plaque honoring her will be installed soon.
Kinsley likes the revival of the program at the Old Schoolhouse in the state park. In that, a class of elementary-age children spend a day at the 1880s school, wearing period clothing and carrying their lunches in buckets.
“That’s a recipe for the future in that we hope to plant the seeds of the love of history in youngsters,” he said.
After the state turned its back on the park, Kinsley said, “to get so many people involved has made it truly a community project. People feel invested and they feel it’s theirs. They are proud of it and that is the dream of any historic site, I think.”
When Kinsley accepted the award that was presented in Tucson, he said he accepted it “on behalf of our scores of volunteers… It’s an honor to work with you all.” The park has more than 50 volunteers who help with a variety of projects and greet visitors at the front desk.
By training, Kinsley is an archivist and rare books librarian with a master’s degree in the history of science. He was born, raised and educated in Boulder, Colo., where he lived until 1974, when he moved to New York.
Kinsley was engaged in the wholesale end of the menswear industry, working for such firms as Polo by Ralph Lauren and Cluett Peabody before launching a company which manufactured all items for a gentleman’s wardrobe from the legendary fiber, Sea Island cotton.
He sold his interest in that firm in 1988 and returned to school to take a degree in Library Science from Pratt Institute. With an interest in rare books, he has worked in the Rare Book Room of the New York Academy of Medicine and cataloged a collection of rare books in the history of psychiatry for Cornell University Medical College.
Kinsley moved to Tubac in 1997. He has worked as project archivist at the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography, as well as in numerous private collections around the country. In 2009, he wrote “Tubac,” a selection from the Images of America published by Arcadia Publishing, and has been co-author of two other books.
The Al Merito award was established in 1973 to recognize those who have made outstanding contributions and serve as role models for preserving Arizona’s rich history.
Photographs courtesy of the Friends of the Tubac Presidio and Museum, Inc.