In southern Arizona, remnants of a thriving copper industry are evident when visiting a small town and nearby closed mine. Narrow streets climb up the hills. Brewery gulch recalls the saloons that once thrived there. Copper roofs and Victorian homes are reminders of the days when copper was queen and millionaires flourished in this small community.
In the far southeast corner of Arizona, the desert landscape ascends the mile high Mule Mountains. Native Americans once roamed these hills. Army scouts searched the area for wayward remnants of the Apaches in the years of the Old West. During this time, some travelers discovered traces of minerals, which led to mining claims and the establishment of the town of Bisbee.
One company, Phelps-Dodge, accumulated several claims and became the area’s largest mine operator. The management desired to create a cultural and refined community where families would want to settle and live an upstanding life. Thus, Bisbee founders built charming Victorian homes, churches, and public buildings that still bring appeal to the place. In the early 1900s, Bisbee was an elegant place to live and the wealthy enjoyed a high level of sophisticated living. The main street is home to turn-of-the-century buildings containing restaurants, shops, and hotels. A walk along the winding streets provides many delights for window shoppers or photographers.
The town has several museums that focus on its history, including the prestigious Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, affiliated with the Smithsonian. Art galleries and unique architecture abound.
Not all of Bisbee was upscale, however, for the working miners were looking for the pleasures of drink and female companionship. Thus a stroll along Brewery Gulch recalls the saloons and about as many brothels that crowded into this section of town. The area still contains bars, restaurants and art galleries. Smaller homes crowd the hillside and meandering alley-ways give evidence to the realities of a multi-tiered population.
Queen Mine Tour
A visit to Bisbee is not complete without going underground on the Queen Mine Tour. Former miners lead the tours and provide their own narrative, drawing from their experiences in the mine.
Guests don yellow slickers, a hard hat, a mine light with battery and straddle a seat to ride 1,500’ into the mine, just as the original miners did. There are a few stops on the tour, including a look at a mineshaft, surveying original equipment and mining procedures that would make today’s safety regulators shudder. Of special note was the “porta-potty,” a toilet car that was wheeled in and out each day for the miner’s use.
The mine operated from the 1877 until 1974 and included a large open pit mine, called the Lavender Pit, mined from 1950 to 1974. This pit can be seen from a nearby overlook. A museum of mine paraphernalia and samples of copper, gold, silver, turquoise, and other minerals is on the premises.
Bisbee is an entertaining destination for those visiting Tucson and the southern portion of Arizona. All services are available in this town of about 6,000 residents. Parking is found near the downtown area and at the mine.
Various events are held in Bisbee throughout the year, including the famous Bisbee 1,000 stair climb held on the third weekend in October. Due to Bisbee’s location on a series of hills, many pathways include stairs to get from one level to another. The stair climb draws competitors who dash up and down the gulches and hills.
The town is located at the junction of highways 80 and 92 in southeastern Arizona.