Editor’s Column – Creatives Ignite a Copper Town Rebirth
by Douglas Towne
“Go West, young man,” was the prudent advice journalist Horace Greeley gave Americans looking for economic opportunities in the mid-1800s. Some Phoenix artists, however, are rebelling against this guidance and heading east. Their surprising destination is a place where “high-rises” consist of headframes and smokestacks.
Miami, Arizona in the 1920s.
“I have always found mining towns to have so much character, you can still feel their history,” says Steph Carrico, a Phoenix artist and teacher who recently purchased a fixer-upper in Miami, Arizona. "The weather is a little cooler in the summer, the 75-minute drive from Downtown Phoenix is beautiful, and as a photographer, there is so much to capture. I love Prescott and Flagstaff, but I would not be able to afford a second home in those towns."
Located at the base of the Pinal Mountains, Miami is nestled amidst extensive mine workings and the Tonto National Forest. The town is following the trend of other Arizona copper camps such as Bisbee and Jerome that have found second acts. But Miami is doing this while active mining continues, albeit at a reduced level from past boom times.
In the late 1870s, silver deposits enticed the first residents to the Miami area. Within a decade, prospecting shifted to the area’s copper porphyry deposits, in which the mineral is disseminated through the ore body rather than concentrated in veins. A major reduction plant to process the copper opened in 1915, which led to the community being nicknamed "Concentrator City."
By World War I, copper production was in full swing, and Miami was booming. Underground mining continued through World War II and then ore extraction evolved into open-pit operations. Production has since shifted to solvent extraction and electrowinning, processes used for low-grade ore and that require a smaller workforce.
As mining waned in Miami, some businesses closed and it was not uncommon for residents to abandon their homes. The town's more notable commercial demises include three personal favorites. First, Pat's Sleeping Beauty Bar was located along U.S. Highway 60 and named after a peak north of Miami that yielded impressive turquoise specimens. Second, Chalo's La Paloma Café, or "the Dove," located on Sullivan Street was once the go-to place for chili rellenos. Finally, down the street, the boarded-up Travelers Hotel that opened in 1918 featured an impressive buffet, once regional verbiage for a smorgasbord dedicated to drinking and dancing.
Miami’s current population of almost 2,000 residents is a far cry from its peak of nearly 7,700 during the 1930s. But the infrastructure that’s leftover offers exciting prospects for those interested in rehabbing faded architectural gems. In addition, these unique residential and commercial properties are convenient to the Phoenix metro area and much more affordable.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Nov/Dec 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 6.