Bisbee, Arizona

Recently one of our family members visited Bisbee, Arizona. It is a fun place to hang out for a day or two with a lot of history and many shops for the tourists.

Photo is looking South on Brewer Gulch which is the main street with all the shops.

Bisbee lies in the Mule Mountains of southeast Arizona about 12 miles from the Mexican border. Bisbee’s rich history is in its mining origins. It was founded in 1880 because of the mining of copper, gold and silver and named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee. DeWitt was one of the financial backers of the Copper Queen Mine located on the south edge of Bisbee.

High-quality turquoise was a by-product of the copper mining along with cuprite, aragonite, wulfenite, malachite, azurite and galena. While you may never have heard of the last six minerals, they are also high quality and can be found in museum collections worldwide.

Bisbee became the Cochise County Seat when the seat was moved from Tombstone to Bisbee in 1929. Bisbee remains Cochise County’s Seat.

In 1917, the miners tried to organize for safer working conditions and better wages but the Phelps Dodge Corporation hired private police to deal with the situation. They moved 1,000 striking miners at gunpoint out of town to Hermanas, New Mexico alleging that they were members of the Industrial Workers of the World. Phelps Dodge wanted to stop unionization.

Some of Bisbee’s history is in its historic buildings. There are homes that once belonged to miners running up the Tombstone Canyon from what is now called Old Bisbee, the town’s historic center. There are 19th-century homes and Victorian homes and many have been restored. The Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum and the Bisbee Restoration Museum both contain evidence of the copper-mining past that happened here.

Photo is of a city park halfway up 100 steps to the street and homes above.

The decline of mining caused a big loss of population and in 1975 the Phelps Dodge Corporation stopped its copper-mining operations at Bisbee. Phelps Dodge cooperated with the town to develop a mine tour and historic interpretation of a portion of the world-renowned Copper Queen Mine. This was an effort to compensate for the economic loss due to the ending of mining here and give the town heritage tourism as a different economic base.

Photo is of the museum.

Bisbee volunteers hauled tons of fallen rock and reinforced the old workings with timbers. The federal Economic Development Administration approved a big grant for the city to help this project and other improvement efforts in the downtown area. It was all to promote the needs of visiting tourists. The Queen Mine Tour opened in 1976 and more than a million visitors have been on the underground mine tour train since then. For a small, Arizona community of a bit over 5,000 in population, that’s a lot of visitors!

Photo:  The Stock Exchange Brewery is where Brewery Gulch got its name.

Continued loss of population and lack of jobs caused housing prices to dramatically drop in the 1960s. Between this and the mild climate and beautiful scenery, artists and hippies from the counterculture filtered in. Bisbee still houses ‘flower children’ and artists who display their art in some of the shops and galleries along the main street.

The Copper Queen Hotel is the jewel of Bisbee. After offering this property to anyone interested for $1.00, Phelps-Dodge finally sold it to artists Stephen and Marcia Hutchinson. The couple renovated the hotel to its former glory, along with other buildings in the downtown area they purchased. One of the historic buildings had been the Brewery and Stock Exchange. The Hutchinsons marketed Bisbee as a destination of the authentic, old Southwest. This brought Bisbee to the attention of a developer, Ed Smart.

Photo is the face of the Historic Copper Queen Hotel

Californians are frequent visitors to Bisbee and many have been and are celebrities. One such celeb was John Wayne who stayed at the Copper Queen when he was in town. He became friends with Hutchinson and at some point joined Smart in his real estate enterprises. This was the time artists and hippies flocked to Bisbee from California and the bigger cities in Arizona. Later on, when places like Aspen, Colorado became too expensive, many of those people came to Bisbee also.

Some photos of the interior of the Copper Queen Hotel

              Front Desk

Dining Room

As things developed into the 1990s, more people came to Bisbee and coffee shops and live theater were provided for them. Property values soared and now exceed property values in other areas of southeastern Arizona. “Old Bisbee” which is the historic part of town, thrives now. It was laid out on a pedestrian scale before the automobile and is compact and walkable. It is easy walking even on the hilly slant to peruse all the shops located here.

The Historic Royal Theater

The Queen Copper Mine was subject of the world’s biggest-ever mining takeover in 2007.  Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold bought Phelps Dodge Mining and began preliminary mining. Full mining operations started in 2013 with gold mining in addition to copper. Free-McMoRan has remediated contaminated soil from previous mining operating and donated to the local schools and other civic endeavors, investing in the community and area they do business in.

The Historic American Legion Club Building

Don’t leave Bisbee without visiting one of our favorite and most fascinating stores in Old Bisbee. That is the Killer Bee Store. You may find Reed Booth, the Killer Bee Guy, in residence there. He’s the one who works with the dangerous killer bees, extracting their honey for products in the store.  If he’s there, he’ll tell you all about it and how easy it is to work with these unique bees.  Yeah, right, for him! Don’t miss this!

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