by Don W. Ryden AIA
BISBEE – THE QUEEN OF THE MINING CAMPS
Mining is a gamble, as is everything akin to it.
Success teeters on the figurative roll of the dice, whether excavating a copper mine or building a mining town. Everyone involved at every level tries to improve the odds in making their fortunes. Such a story is told by the historic architecture and street plans of two neighboring Arizona frontier towns – not so much rivals as partners with different paths toward riches.
1880 Bisbee, "The Queen of the Mining Camps," tried to civilize her chaos by applying superficial Victorian respectability. But that was not enough. A permanent cure for public disorder was needed and fast. Thus, Bisbee's 1907 offspring suburb, "Warren – the City Beautiful," was purposefully planned and managed as the progressive workers’ paradise. Evidence of the paradoxical strategies survives today in the magical Spirit of Place you can sense in each town. Come along.
- 1904 Pythian Castle (29 Ok Street)
This fraternal hall with the iconic onion-top clock tower seems to me a magical place apart from dank tunnels and stopes. Here miners could momentarily swap grimy overalls and brashness for glittery regalia and civility.
- 1890s Miner Shacks
I find little left of the squalid wooden shacks of early Bisbee other than concrete steps and foundations. Ever spreading up the canyons, those miserable hovels were problematic symptoms that forced the mining company to build a new City Beautiful for miners’ families.
- Bisbee Townscape Panorama
It took me about a week of walking Bisbee’s steep streets to inventory historic houses for a National Register nomination. Yet, I had endured only a fraction of the fatigue that miners must have felt trudging home uphill daily after a grueling 12-hour shift underground.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Nov/Dec 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 6.