Suffolk Hills is a neighbourhood in Oro Valley, approximately 6 miles north of Tucson, Arizona. It is located at 32° 25’ 16” N 110° 58’ 34” W.
Population: The Suffolk Hills neighbourhood had 670 inhabitants in 2020. The population of Oro Valley in 2020 was 47,070.
How to get there:-
By Road: From central Tucson take North Oracle Road/State Highway 77 northwards, then turn right on West Suffolk Drive.
From Phoenix use Interstate Highway 10 southbound & turn left onto West Ina Road, then left again onto North Oracle Road.
From the east take Interstate Highway 10, or from the south Interstate Highway 19 to Tucson, then follow directions above.
By Rail: The nearest rail station is at Tucson. Amtrak services run from Chicago, New Orleans & Los Angeles.
Tucson International Airport is approximately 20 miles away.
Time Zone: Mountain Standard Time (GMT -7 hrs). Daylight saving time in summer + 1 hr.
Order of contents on this page: (Click on the links below)
Suffolk House, Biosphere 2, Oracle, Arizona
The area of Oro Valley called Suffolk Hills is named after the mansion house built in 1937 for the Countess of Suffolk, Margaret Howard.
Born on 1st September 1879, Margaret ‘Daisy’ Leiter was the youngest child of Chicago businessman Levi Ziegler Leiter, who co-founded what became the Marshall Field & Company retail empire. Levi sent all three of his daughters to private boarding schools in England.
Margaret’s eldest sister Mary married the British Conservative statesman George Curzon, later 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, who was Viceroy of India in the late years of the nineteenth century. It was whilst visiting her sister in India that Margaret was introduced to the Viceroy’s aide-de-camp Henry Molyneux Paget Howard, 19th Earl of Suffolk, 12th Earl of Berkshire. They were married in December 1906.
Henry Howard was born in 1877 & succeeded his father as Earl of Suffolk in March 1898. The title Earl of Suffolk can be traced back to before the year 1069 (see Suffolk Misc. page Suffolk as a Title).
Henry & Margaret had three children, but the Earl was killed in World War I at the Battle of Istabulat in April 1917, whilst serving as a major in the Wiltshire Battery, 3rd Wessex Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.
' Miss Daisy Leiter'
by John Singer Sargent 1898
It is not certain why Margaret came to live in Arizona, although it is known that she accompanied an Englishman by the name of Colonel Gillette who had respiratory problems, so climate may have been a major factor.
In 1934, using the assumed name Marguerite Hyde, the Countess bought the land to the north of Westward Look & east of Oracle Road & the following year engaged a local architect by the name of Robert A Morse to design & build her a new mansion house (see left). She called the five bedroom house “Forest Lodge” as it was surrounded by citrus groves. She used the house as her winter residence; spending around four months each year there.
In 1957 Margaret sold the house & moved to Oracle, around 25 miles to the northeast of Oro Valley, where she built her new home (see Suffolk House, Biosphere 2 below). She died on 5th March 1968.
In 1962 the mansion house was bought by the Immaculate Heart Academy in order to move their school from downtown Tucson. The teaching order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was founded in 1848, and had run a Catholic school in Tucson since 1930. From 1962 to 1971 it was known as the Immaculate Heart High School; from 1971 to 1990 it was named Suffolk Hills Catholic High School, when it reverted to the Immaculate Heart High School, as it is still called today. The final move of all parts of the school from Tucson was not completed until 1987. The caretaker’s building became the school office. Stables were converted into classrooms. The former garage now houses sixth-grade classes, and the mansion house itself is still home to eight sisters.
The rest of the estate land was sold to the Lusk Corporation. This was a property development company founded by Robert F Lusk (1923-1995) in Tucson in 1950. This corporation built the Suffolk Hills subdivision, named after the former estate of the Countess, and the roads were given English place names: Andover, Arundel, Cambridge, Chelsea, Eton and Suffolk.
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After leaving Oro Valley, Margaret, Countess of Suffolk, bought a 3,500 acre ranch in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains near to the small town of Oracle in Pinal County (around 25 miles north east of Suffolk Hills, Oro Valley). In 1958 she built a house in the Spanish style with landscaped gardens and a large swimming pool, in all a complex of nine buildings. She called this Casa del Oro (house of gold). After her death, the estate was eventually bought in 1971 by the Motorola company for a conference centre, and the house was renamed “Suffolk House” after the countess. In 1979 the property was acquired by the University of Arizona for a similar usage.
In 1984 the estate was bought by Space Biosphere Ventures in order to construct an experimental research facility where life systems can be studied in a sealed environment. The sealed nature of the structure allowed scientists to monitor the continually changing chemistry of the air, water and soil contained within, and the health of the human crew who were living inside. Observation of the interactions between humans, farming and technology within closed biospheres was to be a prelude to future space exploration and colonisation. In 1991 eight crew members began the first two-year mission, but a second mission came to an abrupt end in 1994 after mismanagement and financial irregularities arose. The facility was leased out for research after that, and in 2011 it was donated to the University of Arizona. Guided tours of the facility take place.
Suffolk House remains intact beside Biosphere 2 and is used by students and researchers. Several people have commented that they have felt a presence in the old house, said to be the ghost of the Countess of Suffolk.
The town of Oro Valley, of which Suffolk Hills is a subdivision, is located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The area of the Oro Valley had been inhabited intermittently by the Native Americans for two thousand years, and early in the 16th century, the Apaches appeared on the scene, but they were basically nomadic and did not make a permanent home here. The valley takes its name from the Cañada del Oro; a river which rises in the remote Canyon del Oro (Canyon of Gold) in the Santa Catalina Mountains, a name that first appears on maps in the 1880s, but was undoubtedly used long before that. The first settler was Francisco Romero who established a ranch in 1844. However, by 1873 he had abandoned his holding because of Apache raids. In 1874 the German immigrant George Pusch arrived. His cattle ranch became the first continuous, permanent settlement in Oro Valley. The ranch used a steam pump to provide water, one of only two steam pumps in the Arizona Territory at the time. As a consequence it became the Steam Pump Ranch and remains a popular gathering place for people today.
Tucson experienced a huge growth in its population after World War II, a trend that affected the Oro Valley where a few upper market housing developments began to be established in the 1950s. The Oro Valley Country Club was founded in 1959 as a private country club. The club is situated on the banks of the Cañada del Oro, and features an eighteen hole golf course, tennis courts, and a swimming pool. As the population continued to rise, the residents of Oro Valley began to think about incorporation, especially as they faced increased pressure from Tucson to become a part of that city. In 1968 a petition to incorporate was started, but this request was denied by Pima County. Eventually, the case made its way to the Arizona Supreme Court, where the community was finally granted permission to become its own town. It was originally referred to as Palo Verde, but the town petitioners proceeded with the official name of Oro Valley to garner support from influential residents of the Oro Valley Country Club. The Town of Oro Valley thus takes its name from the Oro Valley Country Club. It was incorporated in 1974 with only 2.4 square miles (6.2 km2). Between 1990 and 2000, the population of Oro Valley increased from 6,670 residents to 29,700 residents. Currently, the town covers approximately 34 square miles and is known throughout the country as one of the most prosperous communities in the Southwest.
The Suffolk Hills neighbourhood of Oro Valley is located in Pima County. One of the original four counties in the Territory of Arizona, Pima was created in October 1864 by the 1st Arizona Territorial Legislature, with land acquired through the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1853. The county originally covered 30,000 sq mls, but other counties have been carved out of this area over the years. Since 1899 it has been as today and is now only 9,240 sq mls. The name derives from the indigenous Pima tribe of Native Americans.
Pima County has borders with six other Arizona counties; to the west Yuma, to the north Maricopa & Pinal, to the north east Graham, to the east Cochise & to the southeast Santa Cruz. The southern boundary is the national border with Mexico. The population of Pima County was just over 980,000 in 2010. The county seat is Tucson, around 6 miles to the south of Suffolk Hills. Several national parks & protected areas can be found either wholly or partially in Pima County, such as Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Ironwood Forest National Monument, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (see photo, right) & Saguaro National Park.