Miami is one of the luckier ones. It managed a couple of main streets built in solid brick and concrete that still retain some charm, a memory of days of compact development before cars, of mixed business and living spaces before planners decided to segregate them:
Down the side streets and up into the hills people built their own homes as they wanted to: anarchy of a special southwestern kind. Some are the cheapest boxes imaginable made of anything people could find, and some of them are awesome (but mostly only close up).
Mining towns hoped for great things (and Miami did produce Jack Elam):
But their false facades and decay reflect the ways that most of the wealth extracted from the ground with sweat and blood went elsewhere, as well as the ways that the companies profiting from them have abandoned them to their fate. Of course, Phelps Dodge still operates on a limited basis here — perhaps that is what holds the 2,000 or so people.
Along the main street were familiar banners, attempts at branding, but rather than art exhibits or museums, they reference a wash named for a massacre of Apaches.
I don’t understand these banners.
One story is that the Indians were invited to a parley by King Woolsey and killed once they had sat down. All the stories agree that the Bloody Tanks wash ran red with Apache blood. The greed for mineral wealth drove wars and the reservation system, so whites could mine metal, build towns like this, and then mostly abandon them.
So many were abandoned. In Blue Bird there’s only one or two old wood buildings left, Copper Creek has a broken sign signaling its previous existence, a lot of concrete foundations, an old stone ruin of a stagecoach post. Hundreds of similar fragments remain scattered across the state, towns that boomed and then died. These are the ghosts of towns, sitting on land full of so many other ghosts.
Others struggle on half alive. Clifton is one that I find quite beautiful:
It’s close to Morenci’s still operating pit — a pit that has already swallowed one town and the local Mexican cemetery (segregated cemeteries…this area has a terrible history of racism, but also an awesome, if tragic, one of unionisation and miner’s strikes). Morenci itself is entirely company housing that can only be occupied by those working for Freeport-McMoRan, and when the company goes, they will probably take the town with them. Another common pattern, with buildings constantly picked up and moved as the ore ran out.
Beyond the handful of hopeful, solid buildings in the small town centres, mining towns mark an architecture of extraction and impermanence. Everything is expendable. Resources are there to take and move on, and land, place home…they are not to be loved.
For example, this is all that is left of Pearse (more facades, we are a state of facades):
Gleeson has a few ramshackle buildings and a sign encapsulating history:
What is left of Courtland:
The old Vulture Mine, the richest goldmine in Arizona, and possibly the reason Phoenix now exists, to supply it in more hospitable conditions. There’s a tree still stands in the centre where at least 18 men were hanged for trying to steal some of the gold they were mining. It is a terrible, lonely place. The desolation that fills you here tells you better than anything what much of the legacy of mining has been in this state:
Terrible in a different way is Tombstone, which offers another legacy through its reconstruction of self around myth (much like the Lost Dutchman franchise), and various crazy inventions of the Earps, Doc Holiday and the OK Corral, sordid history packaged and romanticised:
Still, for the towns still standing and struggling, I find them in form ultimately both more sustainable and liveable than the sprawl of Phoenix or Tucson — though both of those towns contain something of a historic core. Tucson mostly destroyed the beautiful old barrio viejo, of course, though it now frantically tries to restore/rebuild/reclaim that history and the historical post-conquest buildings given the profit now found in such historical things.
Arizona’s never had much in the way of jobs though, apart from limited agriculture and mining. Florence tried another route — the site of the old courthouse and prison, a POW camp in WWII (they kept the Germans and Italians busy picking cotton, yes, cotton) and now nine prisons. Nine. Fucking. Prisons. Despite a population of around 17,000, and all of the jobs generated by the horror of nine prisons, it can’t be said its main historic street looks much better than any other small Arizona town.
Its population undoubtedly mostly live in the tract homes and use the strip malls surrounding this place, but to me those represent a kind of hell that rightly should be included here, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Previous Architecture in the Desert posts:
Before ‘Architects’ | Arcosanti | Taliesin West
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