The BEST Arizona Mining Towns to Visit | Arizona History

Published May 2011
Written By:
Johnny Fenton
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Q. Where can we experience Arizona’s mining history?

A. Mining for copper and other minerals in Arizona’s late 1800s and the turn of the century was a raucous, dangerous, and lucrative industry that created boomtowns and helped shape the state’s colorful history and give life to that period in our history known as the Wild West. As we are in the midst of a year-long celebration of Arizona’s state centennial, many of our guests are enjoying the historical aspects of the state as related to them by our concierges. Avail yourselves of the information about mines, museums, ghost towns and tourist destinations of living history that reveal our state’s place in the Southwest where copper was and is king.

The BEST Arizona Mining Towns to Visit | Arizona HistoryIn fact, while we mine some gold, silver and uranium, Arizona produces sixty percent of U.S. copper (and the United States is the third largest producer of copper worldwide.) The iconic image of the old prospector with a pick ax and a mule has its origins in the earliest days of silver and gold veins because these metals could be packed out easily and sold sending the prospector on down the road. But when the railroads arrived in the Arizona territory and the development of alternating current, mining turned to copper here for use in electrical wire. Copper towns sprang up as camps filled with men who dug, drilled, blasted and mucked; shoveling ore into railcars, then “brassed out” and off the clock gambled, drank and pursued prostitutes with more hindrance from Apaches than from the law in our frontier towns. East coast investors like James Douglas advised import-export firms like New York-based Phelps, Dodge & Company to invest in Morenci, Bisbee and Jerome mines. The money flowed as fast as mines caught fire and flooded and were rebuilt along with saloons, restaurants and cheap company housing on hillsides. Millions of dollars of ore poured through these towns into the State. By 1916, Arizona fed World War I’s hunger for copper to the tune of 722 million pounds of copper valued at $178 million that year in some 525 mines across the state. Ugly moments surged during labor disputes and segregation enforcement. Towns’ fortunes soared or sank on the basis of copper prices. Absorb this rich history touring our active mines, ghost towns and mining museums. A few suggestions include:

Jerome in Northern Arizona features mining machinery at the Audrey Head Frame Park and a glimpse into the lifestyle of copper baron James Douglas as you tour his mansion complete with steam heat, a wine cellar and central vacuum cleaner. In addition to the mine museum and gift shop, if you feel like giving your copper coin a toss, there is an outhouse sporting a two-holer on one of the town’s main streets where sign encourage you to flip a coin into one of the holes. Wrought iron fencing provides a challenge and deters rescuing coins so locals retrieve about $1,000 a month from this “copper mine!” Copper even made a fashion statement in Arizona’s history when Sharlot Hall of Prescott was chosen to deliver Arizona’s three electoral votes to Calvin Coolidge in Washington D.C. The Arizona Industrial Congress commissioned a dress made of copper links (weighing nine pounds) be made and worn by Hall. The dress is on display in Prescott’s Sharlot Hall Museum.

Central Arizona is home to the Superstition Mountain Museum, The Lost Dutchman State Park and a more touristy Goldfield Ghost Town where you can learn about the state’s mining history with lots of equipment donated by Phelps Dodge. In addition, you can take in information on our Native American population as well as our military history while exercising your option to hike and horseback ride.

Bisbee in Southern Arizona offers daily tours of the Queen Mine, led by former Phelps Dodge employees. The Smithsonian Institute assisted with the production of dioramas and exhibits in the mine tour and the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. Meander up Whiskey Row where the risqué was on display as the 19th century rough-and-tumbled into the 20th ! Enjoy the quaint architecture of this bed-and-breakfast hamlet as well as the antique shops, galleries and the incomparable Café Roka.

[Johnny Fenton—a 32-year resident of Tucson—is past President of the Southern Arizona Concierge Network, and member of the National Concierge Association, and Les Clefs d’Or and a Certified Tourism Ambassador.]