The story of Tohono Chul Park begins when its benefactors, Richard and Jean Wilson, started piecing together patches of the desert that would form its core -- ultimately owning 37 acres. In 1968, the Wilsons purchased the section containing the hacienda-style "West House" known today as the Tohono Chul Park Tea Room. The Wilsons lived in this house for eight years. In 1979, they opened the Haunted Bookshop on the Park's east side.
It was during the 1970s that the couple was approached several times by developers seeking to purchase the land for commercial development. They always refused. Jean Wilson told them, "I don't want to sell the land. I don't want it cemented over. I want to preserve it." In fact, when Pima County condemned a strip along the southern boundary of the property in order to widen Ina Road, Dick Wilson demanded that they move every saguaro and replant it on their adjacent property.
After opening the Haunted Bookshop, the Wilsons began planning their next project--a park. "At first, we just went out and put down some lime to make a path and marked the names of some of the plants and bushes, but then it started to snowball." The path gradually grew into a loop trail meandering a half-mile into the surrounding desert. In 1980, they received a citation from the Tucson Audubon Society for saving the desert greenspace and opening it to the public.