Mining Towns of Arizona Part 1 Active Towns

Posted by OakRocks on 29th Jun 2019

Mining Towns of Arizona Part 1 Active Towns

In my last blog I talked about the history of mining in Arizona. I mentioned how important mining was to Arizona’s history and development. 

There are a lot of active towns and ghost towns in Arizona as a result of nearby mines or mining activity.

There are so many ghost towns that no longer exist, some disappearing with no trace and some still have relics of what they once were, that it would take a full book to discuss them all. Instead I am going to share stories about the towns that do still exist, some still near operating mines, and some that have found other ways to survive.

I am not a historian and I share the history and lore that I have heard or read about only for entertainment purposes.

In Part 1 we will take a look at some of the larger still active towns, and in Part 2 next month we will look at some of the smaller towns that are considered ghost towns and/or tourist attractions.

Ironically the top 3 cities in Arizona (Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff) were not founded as a result of mining. A huge percentage of Arizonans live in these three cities, the rest of Arizona is made up of reservation land, open desert and parks and recreation lands, and small towns.

Here is a list of some of the Arizona mining towns still active:

Ajo- Located in Pima County and established in 1884

The Ajo area was mined in the nineteenth century and abandoned due to Indian raids. The abandoned mine was discovered by Tom Childs, Sr. in 1847, but he went on to prospect elsewhere and didn’t return until 1884. A permanent mining camp was established and the New Cornelia Mine became the first copper mine in Arizona. Though Ajo means garlic in Spanish, it is believed the name came from a Tohono O'odham word for the area or the pigment they obtained from the ore-rich rocks. Phelps Dodge, the nation’s largest copper company, purchased the mine in 1921 and made it a large open pit mine. In 1983 the miners went on strike, which led to the closing of the mine in 1985. In 2010 the population of Ajo was 3304 people.

Bagdad- Located in Yavapai County and established in 1882

The first claims for copper in Bagdad were staked in 1882. It is said the mine got its name when a father and son were picking up rocks and the son, calling for a bag, yelled “Bag, Dad!” The town of Bagdad is a company town, meaning the Bagdad Copper Mine owns the town. The mine is still active and currently owned by Freeport-McMoRan. The area has one of the largest copper reserves in the world. The current population of Bagdad is said to be 1876 people.

Bisbee- Located in Cochise County and established in 1880

In 1877 while searching for renegade Apaches, Jack Dunn discovered an area rich in mineralization. Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880, and named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the adjacent Copper Queen Mine. Many high-quality mineral specimens have come from Bisbee area mines and are to be found in museum collections worldwide. In 1975 the Phelps Dodge Corporation halted its Bisbee copper-mining operations. Bisbee Mayor Chuck Eads, with cooperation of Phelps Dodge, implemented development of a mine tour and historic interpretation of a portion of the Copper Queen Mine as part of an effort to save the town and turn it into a tourist attraction. The Copper Queen Mine opened for tours in 1976 and more than a million visitors have since taken the tour. Bisbee encompasses several other mining towns and today it is a thriving tourist town. The population in 2017 was 5192.

Queen Mine Tour

Globe- Located in Gila County and established in 1875

Globe started as a mining camp when prospectors found silver in the San Carlos Apache Reservation, including the globe-shaped silver nugget that the town was named for. In just four years, the silver played out, but by then copper was discovered. In the 1900s, the Old Dominion Copper Company in Globe ranked as one of the world's richest. The copper extracted from the Old Dominion Mine from 1880 to 1931 was the driving force for the development of the Globe-Miami area. The Old Dominion closed in 1931, and mining operations moved to nearby Miami. The site was reclaimed and it is now a mining historic park. In 2017 the population of Globe was 7356.

Miami- Located in Gila County and established in 1907

Miami is adjacent to Globe and the area (including Claypool, and Inspiration) is often referred to as the Globe-Miami district. In 1906, the Miami Copper Company began working several claims in the Miami area. Most of the miners lived in Globe and had to travel many miles on foot, so Miami was established. Mining began in 1911 at the Inspiration Mine. The mine closed in 2015. The Miami mine is currently owned by Freeport-McMoRan. The town of Miami is the location of one of the three copper smelters in the U.S. and leaching is still done there in the SX plant. In 2017 the population of Miami was 1771.

Jerome- Located in Yavapai County and Established in 1883

In 1876 a claim was filed on Mingus Mountain, leased to the Governor, and backed by New York investors. One of these investors was Eugene Jerome, hence the name of the town. In 1882 the United Verde Company was formed and the coper mine of the same name was developed. Despite being a mining town, Jerome maintained fairly good law and order. When copper prices dropped the United Verde Mine closed in 1932. It was reopened by Phelps-Dodge in 1935 but only lasted until 1950. The town might have gone the way of other ghost towns in Arizona, except the citizens where smart enough to have Jerome declared a ghost town and it soon became a popular tourist destination. Its biggest claim to fame is since a mining blast in 1925, the town is slowly sliding down the hill. Jerome is considered a ghost town. According to the Jerome Chamber of Commerce, Jerome has about 450 residents.

The Gold King Mine

Mammoth- Located in Pinal County and established in 1887

In 1881 gold was discovered in what was to become the Mammoth Mine. Nearby a town developed named Schulz. Since water, needed for refinement of ore, was not present near the mine, a mill was established 4 miles away on the west bank of the San Pedro River, in a town that came to be known as Mammoth, after the mine. It is said the name came about because of the mammoth proportions of gold ore found. At first the ore was transferred by mule and wagons, but in 1903 an aerial tramway was constructed. Later the Mammoth Mine and the town of Schulz were renamed the Tiger Mine and town of Tiger. The town of Tiger’s post office closed in 1954. The San Manuel Copper Company purchased the mine and cleared away all remnants of Tiger. The San Manuel Mine closed in 2003. In 2018 the population of Mammoth was 1571 people. San Manuel and Oracle are nearby towns that owe their existence to mining too.

Morenci & Clifton- Located in Greenlee County and established around 1870

These two towns, as well as the ghost town of Metcalf, are often lumped together and are company towns for the Morenci Mine, currently owned by Freeport McRoRan. The area was discovered by a scout named Robert Metcalf in 1870. Two years later he and his brother located the Longfellow Mine. A mining camp was established in 1875 at what was to become the town of Metcalf, but most of Metcalf has been buried under by the large tailings piles of the Morenci Copper Mine. Morenci was originally known as Joy Camp, (after Captain Miles Joy). In 1882, but it was renamed Morenci by William Church, head of the Detroit Copper Company. A smelter was built in Clifton, Arizona in 1874. Phelps Dodge took over the mining operations in 1922. The Metcalf Pit was started in 1969 and the two pits merged in 1981 forming the largest copper mining operation in North America, and one of the largest copper mines in the world. Eventually the pit expanded so much that in 1984 the town of Morenci had to be moved two miles. In 2007, Phelps Dodge became part of Freeport-McMoRan. The mine is still operating today. In 2017 Morenci had a population of 1689 and Clifton had a population of 3638.

Kearny- Located in Pinal County and established in 1958

The Ray Copper Mine, which was started by the Ray Copper Company in 1882, and named after the sister of one of the miner's. The Ray mine is still operating, is currently owned by a Mexican company named Grupo and it has one of the largest copper reserves in the United States. By 1958, the current mine owners Kennecott had made the decision to continue digging the open pit on the land that had occupied three small towns in that area; Ray, Sonora and Barcelona. They constructed a new town a few miles out of Ray and named it Kearny. It was named for General Stephen Watts Kearny who helped conquer California. In 2017 Kearny had a population of 2095.

Superior- Located in Pinal County and established in 1902

Superior was founded as a mining town for the Silver Queen and the later Magma mines. Originally the area was called Queen, then Hastings, and finally became the town of Superior in 1902. The first claims were staked in 1875, and the Silver Queen Mining Company was organized in 1880. In 1912 it became the Magma Copper Mine. The Magma Copper Mine was underground, included 8 shafts, and is the deepest mine in the state. The mine closed in 1996. In 2017 the population of Superior was 3068.

Tombstone- Located in Cochise County and established in 1878

Tombstone is without a doubt, the most famous town that grew from a mining camp in Arizona. When prospector Ed Schieffelin braved dangerous Apache territory to explore the San Pedro Valley alone in 1877, a companion warned all he would find is his tombstone. So in February 1878 when he did find silver float he staked the Tombstone and Graveyard claims. The Graveyard proved disappointing, but he claimed 3 more claims in the area and pulled out millions of dollars in silver between 1880 and 1886. In April, 1879, the first house in Tombstone was erected, and by 1880 it was the most famous mining camp in the west. In 1881 and again in 1882 the town was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt. Of course its most famous story is the gun fight between the Earps and the Clantons at the OK Corral. Tombstone has a colorful past and today it is a very popular tourist attraction with many historical landmarks still intact. Tombstone is considered a ghost town. According to the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce, Tombstone has approximately 1600 residents.

Goodenough Silver Mine

Wickenburg- Located in Maricopa County and established in 1863

Wickenburg is not technically a mining town, but it was founded in part because of the nearby gold mine. In 1862 a gold strike along the Colorado River brought prospectors to central Arizona seeking riches. A German named Henry Wickenburg was one of the first prospectors. He discovered the Vulture Mine in 1863 and together with other miners, and local ranchers and farmers founded Wickenburg. The actual mining camp, the town of Vulture City, was established in 1880. More than $30 million worth of gold was dug from the Vulture Mine, but Henry Wickenburg was cheated by an investor and died a poor man and by his own hand in 1905. Wickenburg is a great western town and home to many dude ranches. The Vulture mine is 12 miles south of the town of Wickenburg. The mine was the largest gold mine in Arizona, but was closed in 1942. Today the mine and some buildings from the ghost town of Vulture City are open for tours year round. In 2017 Wickenburg had a population of 7409.

Vulture Gold Mine

See our blog from last month on The History of Mining in Arizona

Coming next month Part 2 next month we will look at some of the smaller towns that are considered ghost towns and/or tourist attractions.

You can now view Part 2 Arizona Ghost Towns here.