Saturday, March 22, 2014

Getting on the Ghost Town Trail: Pearce, AZ



Pearce, Arizona marks the beginning of the Ghost Town Trail. Start heading southwest out of town down the gravel road that goes past Courtland and Gleeson and eventually drops you off in Tombstone and you will find yourself in some very desolate territory. No doubt you’ll encounter someone from Homeland Security, who will laugh at you for wanting to travel over something like thirty miles of rutted dirt with perhaps a few drug runners scattered about in the hills. But all that will come later, as Pearce itself is still occupied by a few folks and is a rather well-kempt little cluster of buildings. It must feel much as it would’ve in the late 1800’s.

Pearce is named for Cornishman James (Jimmie) Pearce, a rancher and hard rock miner from Tombstone who accidentally found gold AND silver while horseback riding in 1894. Jimmie immediately staked a claim, opening the Commonwealth Mine in Fittsburg, a mile east, said to be one of the richest mines ever worked in the state, producing over 15 million dollars in gold. Thus was born Pearce, the last of the Arizona gold rush towns.



The Pearce family quickly lost their enthusiasm for mining though and before long had sold to John Brockman for $250,000 and a boarding house for Mrs. Pearce to run. The agreement was that Brockman had nine months to mine enough precious metal to cover the cost of purchase or everything, including what Brockman mined, would revert to the Pearce’s. In the end, Brockman covered his payment in six months with gold to spare. Apparently everyone was happy with the deal. Mining then peaked quickly, in 1896, around the time the post office (shown above) arrived and the population really boomed, many people moving their entire homes from Tombstone.

Brockman’s operation suffered a few annoying fires and he sold in 1902. But a couple years before Brockman’s sale, Burt Alvord had turned from Pearce lawman to train robber and the infamous Alvord-Stiles gang set-up in town. However, the gang was mostly dead or in jail by the time the railroad finally arrived in 1903. Before that, to deter theft from folks like Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles, gold coming out of the mine was made into bars too heavy to be transported by horseback alone and taken down the road to Cochise by wagon.



By 1919, 1,500 people lived in Pearce. There was a movie theater, hotels, saloons…the works. But, by the 1930’s, the Commonwealth Mine was played out, the Great Depression was in full swing and almost everyone packed up and left, including the railroad, which took its track with it.

There are a number of very cool old structures remaining in Pearce. Perhaps most striking is the old general store, shown at the top of this post, built by Soto Bros. & Renaud in 1896 out of adobe, wood, stucco and decorative tin. I’ve read that there are many interesting artifacts inside, but when I tried to have a look there was no one around. In fact, the building appears to be for sale, so who knows what the future holds? The post office, just across the street, is a private residence. To the north are two jails: The “old” jail, which has reached such a state that even the least devious among us could easily break out, and the “new” jail, shown here, which was built in 1915 and used until around the time the mine closed in the 1930’s. The “new” jail is constructed of 10” thick poured concrete walls reinforced with rebar and contains two cells. The doors are iron and the only ventilation is through tiny windows at the top. During a summer’s day in southern Arizona this would be a most unpleasant place to find one’s self.

The best and most concise resource on Pearce is probably Arizona Ghost Town Trails. There is some more history and photos of both jails at ghosttowns.com. You can learn a little more about Burt Alvord and his gang HERE. As usual, initial inspiration and direction came from Mr. Philip Varney.

So, of course, we’re going to head down the lonely Ghost Town Trail. Next we’ll have a look at Courtland, AZ.

17 comments:

Julie said...

Sweet, another AZ town for me to explore.

jmhouse said...

I've got Courtland, Gleeson, and Twin Arrows on deck. A lot of Arizona coming soon! JM

Doug Sterling said...

There's a helipad right outside of Pearce, AZ, right next to Ghost Town Trail. Any idea what/who it's for? My best guess was simply first responders, as Google doesn't show any hospitals closer than 30 miles away... Then again, it is the desert and a chopper could land just about anywhere safely right outside of town.

I'm hoping it's belongs to a reclusive billionaire who lives in town but no one really knows too well...

jmhouse said...

I would bet that helipad is for Homeland Security, although you're right about a chopper being able to land pretty much anywhere out there.

I'd be thrilled if it turned out to be a billionaire that prefers to live in a ghost town!

JM

Doug Sterling said...

I did a quick search and came up with this article from August 2014. Looks like the helipad was built for medical emergencies - not surprising, since I also just found out the area still has plenty of active mines. And, if I'm reading it correctly, the helipad was actually paid for by one of the mining companies... Probably a liability issue for them.

The same article complains about excessive speeding on the roads out there, as well, so I'm sure they've had a few accidents. And I wouldn't be surprised if they get the occasional tourist in the ghost town who somehow forgot to drink water in the desert...

http://www.willcoxrangenews.com/news/article_a8ce68a8-1ced-11e4-9011-0019bb2963f4.html

jmhouse said...

Interesting, Doug. I just did a little search, as well, and it seems like Commonwealth Silver and Gold Mining, Inc. was leaving the area as of mid-December last year. Maybe there's now a helipad in a ghost town up for sale.

There's a tiny bit of info HERE.

JM

Doug Sterling said...

Interesting, indeed. If only I had a helicopter...

ghostwriter said...

Interesting comments.
The helipad was put in for emergencies of area residents, accidents, etc.
Commonwealth Silver sold to Marlin Gold.
Commonwealth Silver made one of the donations for the helipad, but certainly not the largest donation.
The helipad is maintained by the Sunsites Pearce Fire Department.
Nice photos!
It is a quiet, beautiful area, full of interesting wild life. The terrain includes areas that speak of ancient Indian culture, even more ancient ocean geography and, of course, the Gold Rush Era. It's a wonderful place to visit. Bring your camera, water, food and the spirit for adventure. You are sure to experience it here.

jmhouse said...

It is a wonderful place to visit, ghostwriter! I hope to return soon. Many thanks for your comment! JM

ghostwriter said...

I hope to check your site again from time to time. It has a great unique approach to the American Old West.
By the way, the comment on the billionaire: A fire broke out on the experimental farm north east of Pearce - owned by the Howard Buffet Foundation. The Sunsites Pearce fire department responded even though the fire was out of district. The "Foundation" granted the SP Fire Department an unsolicited $100,000.00 as a thank you. So, they may not live inside the neighborhood, but they certainly are great neighbors!
You never know what to expect out in the desert.

jmhouse said...

Wow, the "Foundation" does sound like they're great neighbors, as does the Sunsites Pearce FD! It really is quite useful to have great neighbors when you live in the desert and never know what to expect. Definitely worth giving the FD a little "tip" for helping out, too.

Thanks for the kind words for City of Dust, ghostwriter. Coming up next will be a piece on the ghost town of Lake Valley, New Mexico, site of the famous Bridal Chamber Mine, possibly the richest silver mine in the American Southwest, where the walls were lined with silver. Stay tuned! JM

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jmhouse said...

Sounds great, Hummingbird Ranch Vacation House! Can I get a bit of a promotional discount? Please? JM

Anonymous said...

Any ideas on what the secondary building was next to the old Pearce jail that has just been restored? I've heard it called a "generator" room, but what would they have that for?

jmhouse said...

Anonymous, I'm afraid I can't offer any real help, although I do seem to recall there being another concrete structure near the jail. I probably assumed it was an additional cell. But it's been a few years since I've been to Pearce and my memory is a little fuzzy. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have a photo of that secondary building and I can't really think of why there would've been a generator there. With luck maybe somebody will read your comment and be able to provide us with answers. Your questions are good ones!

Thanks for stopping by City of Dust! JM

Margo Gentile said...

Does anyone know anything about the ghost town of Love, Arizona? I know it exists, but there's limited info on it.

jmhouse said...

Ooh, that's a tough one, Margo Gentile! I can't seem to dig up anything on Love, Arizona. My primary Arizona ghost town source is "Arizona's Best Ghost Towns: A Practical Guide," by Philip Varney, and there's no mention of Love in there at all. Maybe we'll get lucky and someone with knowledge of Love will read your comment and give us some info. I like a good ghost town mystery!

Thanks for stopping by City of Dust! JM