What were once thriving towns with bustling streets, filled with people who all shared the dream of striking it rich are now reminders of the old; windows into the lives of those who first ventured into the Wild West.
Sure, you could scroll through vintage black-and-white photos for a dip into the past, or you could follow fellow fortune seekers and actually set foot where it all happened. From mining towns to military forts, here are eight ghost towns to check out for some Southern Arizona history.
Just 16 miles east of Tombstone, this former small town, which at its most prosperous time had a population of 500, still houses a few buildings that serve as reminders of what life was like in Southern Arizona in the early 1900s. Serving as a temporary containment area for prisoners being transported to Tombstone, the Gleeson Jail was built in 1910, and thanks to some repair work, it still retains most of its original structure. The town also features an old school that once stood two stories, a hospital that was used until the late 1930s, a general store, and a cemetery.
Like many boomtowns in Southern Arizona, Courtland owed its growth to copper mining. The town was founded in 1909 and grew to a population of 2,000. Four mining companies and two railroads helped keep the town bustling, but as it always goes, nothing lasts forever and when the copper ran out, so did the people. The town’s boom lasted until 1921. Today, a drive to downtown Courtland reveals what was left to the mercy of time. Old buildings that were once general stores or hotels, a sidewalk that once helped guide shoppers to their next buy and an old jail are all that remain.
When the miner and cattleman James Pearce found a piece of gold on his land about 13 miles from Wilcox in 1894, it didn’t take long for the town of Pearce to come to life. The Commonwealth Mine was established after Pearce’s discovery and the town was suddenly open for business. A post office was established in 1896 and soon after came a railroad station. By 1919, the town of Pearce reached a population of 1,500 with schools, stores, hotels, saloons and more. The 1930s brought the Great Depression and slowly the people of Pearce began to leave. What remains today are two properties that were added to the National Register of Historic Places: the Soto Bros. and Renaud General Store and the Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church.
One of the earlier established towns on the list, Charleston-as well as the neighboring town of Millville-was constructed in 1878, less than ten miles from the San Pedro River, to serve as a mill town to process silver for the town of Tombstone. As Tombstone grew, so did Charleston and, just like its counterpart, it shared a reputation of lawlessness which, in turn, attracted many infamous characters like outlaw Frank Stilwell. By 1879, Charleston had around 40 buildings including bakeries, a drugstore, blacksmith shops, a brewery and butcher shops. When the silver mines of Tombstone flooded in 1886, Charleston’s fate was sealed and by 1889, the town was gone. As of today, only a few adobe ruins remain.
It’d be hard to tell from what we see now, but the town of Fairbank once played a big part in the growth of southeastern Arizona. Established in 1881 with a railroad constructed soon after, Fairbank served as a stopping point between Tombstone and other towns, bringing in supplies and helping move silver to nearby mill towns. But like the other towns dependent on Tombstone, when the silver disappeared, so did the town’s prospects. Visitors to Fairbank today can step inside an old schoolhouse that functioned up until the 1930s, see what remains of the town’s hotel, a railroad bridge and other adobe structures that were once stores or homes.
David Harshaw was ordered to move his cattle away from Apache land and go south of San Rafael Valley. A few years later, he found silver in the Patagonia hills. The Hermosa mine soon followed, which naturally meant the need to establish a nearby town to keep the mine functioning. Harshaw saw quick success with over 200 buildings and a population of about 2,000 at its peak. The town had that Old West resilience and fought to stay alive, taking a hit when the Hermosa mine closed in 1881 and later saw a reemergence in 1887 when the mine reopened. Unfortunately, the mine closed again in 1903. The town’s roller coaster existence didn’t last and what remains today are the adobe walls of the James Finley House (the home of the Hermosa mine superintendent), a few crumbling homes and a cemetery on a hill.
Established in 1862 after the Battle of Apache Pass, Fort Bowie served to protect Apache Springs, an important water source. It was an area where the U.S. Army and the Chiricahua Apaches had conflict. When Geronimo surrendered in 1886, the Apaches in the area were banished to Florida and Alabama. The fort remained in operation up until 1894, serving as a stop for travelers. This National Historical Site requires a 1.5-mile hike to reach the old fort ruins, but once there, visitors can see ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station and the adobe walls of post stations.
Surrounded by the Coronado National Forest and only four miles north of the Mexico border, the town of Ruby stands out as the most preserved ghost town on the list. The town became a spot on the map when quartz was discovered in the 1870s. Soon after, the Montana Mine was developed making Ruby the largest mining camp in southwest Arizona at the time. Lillie B. Ruby Andrews, the wife of a well-known camp merchant, lent her name to the town and it was established in 1912. The town saw its boom from the late 20s into the 1930s after the Eagle-Picher Mining and Smelting Co. took over the Montana Mine property in 1926, producing zinc, lead and silver. The mine closed in 1940 and folks had no other choice but to abandon the town. Today, Ruby is on private property and a permit and an admission fee are required to visit, but once there you can dive into the history of this once bordertown and explore the many buildings it houses, including a jail, a school and mine machinery. If a visit is in the works, be sure to plan ahead and make it a weekend. The town also offers camping grounds with access to two private lakes where you can fish for bluegill, catfish and largemouth bass.