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map and location of Bisbee
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.
The 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.
1890 E. River Road
Tucson, AZ 85718