Courtesy of Nancy Arrowsmith
View Larger Map
Situated 100 miles southeast of Tucson in the Mule Mountains off
AZ Hwy 80, Bisbee is a small, isolated border community only 10
miles from the Mexican border. The cultural diversity within the
community is unusual for the US, for 30 different nationalities
once worked in the copper mines, and descendants of these original
inhabitants are still living in the town. This old mining community
included a large Hispanic element, and had been supplemented over
the past few decades with an influx of a mixture of retirees and
artists looking for a more relaxed life in the warmth of southern
Arizona and the relative geographical isolation of the Mule Mountains.
Bisbee lies one mile high above the surrounding desert, with panoramic
views down to Mexico, across the valley to Sierra Vista on one side
and Douglas and the Sulphur Springs Valley on the other.
The Continental Divide runs through the mountains on the road to
Sierra Vista, separating the eastern watershed of the US from the
west. The Sonoran and the Chihuahuan deserts also come together
here. Geographically, the location is as varied as its inhabitants,
and is blessed with such mineral wealth that the town became known
as the Queen of the Mining Camps at the end of the last century.
Not only was copper extracted from the hills around town, but gold,
silver, malachite, turquoise, azurite were also found in abundance.
Mines and wildcat diggings dotted the hillsides, and changed the
face of the town and its outlying districts permanently. Some of
the inhabitants even went at it, pick and shovel, beneath their
houses, which led to the collapse of one or two buildings as a result
of hidden tunneling. This mineral wealth made Bisbee, like neighboring
Tombstone, into a flamboyant boomtown, one of the early metropolises
of the West, and the biggest city between St. Louis and San Francisco.
At the turn of the century, Bisbee boasted 20,000 inhabitants. The
saloons, gambling establishments and whorehouses (cribs), which
were jammed in the Brewery Gulch, as it came to be known, were notorious
through the west, attracting an array of visitors to the town. Brewery
Gulch even boasted its own Stock Market Exchange. The original blackboard
for chalking up quotes can still be seen today in the Brewery bar.
Like Tombstone, the establishments vied to take the money out of
the miners' pockets day and night, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Unlike Tombstone, Bisbee has not "gussied up" its historic district
or used myth and legend to sell its image. As a result, Bisbee remains
a much more authentic witness of bygone times, a town complete with
charm and not a few surprises tucked away in the hills.
The majority of Bisbee houses date from the heyday period of the
mines from 1890 to 1920. Because of this, the visual appearance
of Bisbee can best be described as "antique" or "charming". The
crowded main street reminds one more of a European shopping street
than an American one.
The Bisbee buildings are crowded onto the hillsides, and are angled
up crazy steps, propped up on stilts, ranging in size from the magnificently
theatrical to little more than jerry-rigged hovels. Each building
reveals individual charm or a few details unique to Bisbee homes.
Some of the houses are historical jewels, complete with grand pillared
fireplaces, chandeliers and spacious ballrooms. One old building
in town even sports a "horse elevator", used to transport quadrupeds
to their berths in the "horse hotel" in the upper story. The town
is spread out into several unique communities, which popped up where
the mines were situated. As a result, Warren is a planned community
with the lazy insouciance of older American residential street,
while Old Bisbee's chaotic jumble of houses attracts artists and
foreigners seeking the unusual. San Jose is a more modern community,
complete with shopping center and suburban homes in bungalow style.
geographical isolation of the town has proved both a curse and a
blessing for Bisbee's residents. Locals jokingly call the Mule Pass
Tunnel the Time Tunnel, and say that all who go through it come
out into another time zone.
One of the advantages of living in Bisbee is that it is a retreat
that also offers other possibilities within a short distance if
life gets too quiet. Douglas has often been termed an American Mexican
town, complete with the aging splendor of the historic Gadsden Hotel.
Sierra Vista is a booming shopping community, Willcox a cowboy and
rancher's town, Tombstone caters to Old West tourists, and big city
life is not too far away in Tucson. Spectacular natural beauties
such as Kartchner Caverns, the Chiricahua Mountains and the birding
paradises of the San Pedro River and Sulphur Springs Valley attract
the naturalist, and a quick trip to Mexico by car is always possible.
Despite its small size, Bisbee boasts of several community projects
and interest groups. Community choirs, dance and art initiatives,
a Women's Club, a well stocked library and a public swimming pool
are some of the attractions.
Bisbee has evolved into an artist and retirement community emphasizing
monthly special events including concerts, fine arts shows, art
& craft shows, historic home tours, the Bisbee Gem and Mineral
Show, Brewery Gulch Daze, and the annual La Vuelta de Bisbee national
bicycle races. Bisbee boasts the "best year-round climate in the
state" for people to visit and enjoy the quiet and easy pace all
Many visitors experience a wave of nostalgia for times gone by and
they think they have found a relic of this past in Bisbee, the village
that time forgot.
Chamber of Commerce