Bisbee, Arizona

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Bisbee, Arizona
Main Street, Bisbee
Main Street, Bisbee
Motto: "An American Original"
Location in Cochise County and the state of Arizona
Location in Cochise County and the state of Arizona
Coordinates: 31°25′6″N 109°53′52″W / 31.41833°N 109.89778°W / 31.41833; -109.89778Coordinates: 31°25′6″N 109°53′52″W / 31.41833°N 109.89778°W / 31.41833; -109.89778
Country United States
State Arizona
County Cochise
Incorporated January 9, 1902
 • Mayor Adriana Zavala Badal
 • Total 5.2 sq mi (13.4 km2)
 • Land 5.2 sq mi (13.4 km2)
 • Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 5,538 ft (1,688 m)
Population (2010)[1]
 • Total 5,575
 • Density 1,080/sq mi (417.1/km2)
Time zone MST (no daylight saving time) (UTC-7)
ZIP code 85603
Area code 520
FIPS code 04-06260

Bisbee is a city in Cochise County, Arizona, United States, 92 miles (148 km) southeast of Tucson. According to the 2010 census, the population of the city was 5,575.[2] The city is the county seat of Cochise County.[3]


Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880, and named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the adjacent Copper Queen Mine.

In 1929, the county seat was moved from Tombstone to Bisbee, where it remains.

Mining industry[edit]

Classic azurite mineral specimen from the Bisbee mines, collected circa 1890

Mining in the Mule Mountains proved quite successful: in the early 20th century the population of Bisbee soared. Incorporated in 1902, by 1910 its population had swelled to 9,019, and it sported a constellation of suburbs, including Warren, Lowell, and San Jose, some of which had been founded on their own (ultimately less successful) mines. In 1917, open-pit mining was successfully introduced to meet the copper demand during World War I.

A high quality turquoise promoted as Bisbee Blue was a by-product of the copper mining. Many high-quality mineral specimens have come from Bisbee area mines and are to be found in museum collections worldwide. Some of these minerals include: Cuprite, aragonite, wulfenite, malachite, azurite, and galena.

Bisbee deportation[edit]

For full article see: Bisbee Deportation

In 1917, the Phelps Dodge Corporation transported at gun point over 1,000 striking miners out of town to Hermanas, New Mexico due to allegations that they were members of the Industrial Workers of the World; the company wanted to prevent unionization.[4] Earlier that year, the Jerome Deportation took place.

Mining decline and tourism[edit]

The introduction of open-pit mining in the 1950s and continued underground work assisted the town escaping the fate of many of its early contemporaries that were closed with the resulting loss of population. Nevertheless, by 1950, the population of Bisbee had dropped to less than 6,000. In 1975 the Phelps Dodge Corporation halted its Bisbee copper-mining operations but Bisbee Mayor Chuck Eads, with the cooperation of Phelps Dodge, brought about the realization of making the mining experience of a portion of the world-famous Copper Queen Mine part of an effort to replace the economic loss with the end of the mining industry in the area.

Community volunteers cleared tons of fallen rock and re-timbered the old workings. Eventually, this local effort came to the attention of the federal Economic Development Administration, which approved a large grant to the City of Bisbee to help the mine tour project and other improvements in downtown Bisbee designed to meet tourist business needs.

The Queen Mine Tour was officially opened to visitors on February 1, 1976; more than a million visitors, from all 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries, have taken the underground mine tour train.

Bisbee in 1916

Modern Bisbee[edit]

The sudden flood of real estate onto the market and crash in housing prices, coupled with an attractive climate and picturesque scenery, led to Bisbee's subsequent rebirth as an artists' colony in the early 1970s. Artist Stephen Hutchison and his wife, Marcia, purchased the town's anchor business and architectural gem, the Copper Queen Hotel, from the Phelps-Dodge mining company in 1970 after the company had failed to find a local buyer. The deed to the hotel had been offered to any local resident for the sum of $1.00, with no success.

Old Bisbee High School building

Hutchison purchased and renovated the hotel, as well as other buildings in the downtown area, which included a start of the 20th century Brewery and Stock Exchange. Hutchison began to actively market Bisbee as a destination where travelers could find the authentic, old Southwest. Hutchison's endeavors attracted developer Ed Smart. Among the many guests at the hotel were celebrities from nearby California. John Wayne was a frequent visitor to Bisbee and the Copper Queen. He befriended Hutchison and eventually partnered with Smart in his real estate ventures. This period of Bisbee's history is well documented in contemporary articles in The New Yorker and in an article by Cynthia Buchanan in The Cornell Review. It was at this time that Bisbee became a haven for artists and hippies fleeing the larger cities of Arizona and California and, later, the increasing gentrification of places like Aspen, Colorado.

The rediscovery of Bisbee by baby boomers in the 1990s saw it develop a more polished look, complete with coffee shops and live theater. Many of the old houses have been renovated, and property values in Bisbee now greatly exceed those of other southeastern Arizona cities.

Today, the original city of Bisbee is known as "Old Bisbee" and is home to a thriving downtown cultural scene. Old Bisbee is noted for its architecture, including its Victorian-style houses and elegant Art Deco courthouse. Because its plan was laid out before the automobile, Old Bisbee has an almost European feel. The town's hilly terrain is exemplified by the old four-story high school; each floor has a ground-level entrance.

Bisbee, in 2009


In the May–June 2000 issue of Modern Maturity, the AARP highlighted what they called the most "alive" places to retire in the U.S. Bisbee was a runner-up as one of the "quirkiest" towns in America.[5]


Art Deco doors on the Cochise County Courthouse

The city of Bisbee now includes historic downtown Bisbee, as well as the satellite communities of Warren, Lowell, and San Jose. The Lowell and Warren townsites were consolidated into Bisbee proper during the early part of the twentieth century. There are also smaller neighborhoods interspersed between these larger boroughs, including Galena, Bakerville, Tintown, South Bisbee, Briggs, and Saginaw.

Warren was Arizona's first planned community. It was designed as a bedroom community for the more affluent citizens of the mining district. Warren has a fine collection of Arts and Crafts style bungalow houses, many of which are historically registered and can be visited by the public during the city's annual home tour. Since the end of mining in the 1970s, Warren has seen a steady decline in its standard of living, but its residential district still houses a significant portion of the population, and includes City Hall, Greenway Elementary School, Bisbee High School, and the historic Warren Ballpark.

Lowell was at one time a sizable mining town located just to the southeast of Old Bisbee. The majority of the original townsite was consumed by the excavation of the Lavender Pit mine during the 1950s. All that is left today is a small portion of Erie Street, along with Evergreen Cemetery, Saginaw subdivision and Lowell Middle School. These days Lowell is considered by most of the local residents to be more of a place name than an actual community.

San Jose, on the southern side of the Mule Mountains, is the most modern of the city's subdivisions, and has seen the most new growth in the last two decades as it is not restricted by mountains. Named after a nearby Mexican mountain peak, it hosts many newer county government buildings, Huachuca Terrace Elementary School, and a large shopping center.

Resurgence of mining industry[edit]

In 2007, in what has been noted as the world's biggest-ever mining takeover, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold bought Phelps Dodge Mining[6] and has begun some preliminary work in the area.

Special events[edit]

The Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb is a five kilometer run through Bisbee that goes up and down 1,034 stairs. Because much of Old Bisbee is built in the hills of the Mule Mountains, many of the houses can't be reached by car. Billed as "the most unique physical fitness challenge in the USA!" by the organizers,[7] it includes being serenaded by musicians at various locations among the stairs. The event has grown to include the Ice Man Competition, designed to honor the history of men delivering blocks of ice by hand before the advent of refrigeration. In the Ice Man Competition, entrants race up 155 steps carrying a ten-pound block of ice with antique ice tongs.

Mineral specimens from the Bisbee mining district[edit]

Naco and Bisbee Junction[edit]

Naco, Arizona, is a small unincorporated border community some three miles south of the San Jose district of Bisbee. It straddles the Mexico–United States border and is home to an official port of entry. Naco features a U.S. post office, an elementary school, and several businesses, including a small store, garage, and saloon.

Bisbee Junction (formerly Osborn or Osborn Junction) is located four miles south of Warren. It was originally a railroad siding where ore trains from the Bisbee mines joined with the main Southern Pacific rail line. A Southern Pacific depot and U.S. Post Office building in the style of the first half of the 20th century originally stood at the railroad junction, but it was closed in the late 1950s and razed soon afterward. A dance hall, an Elks club and small dry goods store were once located near the depot, and the settlement was once home to several cattle ranches and dairies. The Arizona Cactus Botanical Garden was located in Bisbee Junction.


Bisbee is located in southern Cochise County at 31°25′6″N 109°53′52″W / 31.41833°N 109.89778°W / 31.41833; -109.89778 (31.418390, -109.897772).[8] Arizona State Route 80 runs through the city, leading northwest 23 miles (37 km) to Tombstone and 47 miles (76 km) to Benson, and east 26 miles (42 km) to Douglas. The Mexican border at Naco is 11 miles (18 km) south of the center of Bisbee.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.2 square miles (13.4 km2), all of it land.[9]


Bisbee has the typical semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk) of the upland Mountain West. Summer days are warm to hot and dry before the monsoon brings the wettest season from July to September with 10.65 inches (270.5 mm) of Bisbee's total annual rainfall of 18.63 inches (473.2 mm). During the winter, frontal cloudbands may bring occasional rainfall or even snowfall, though average maxima in the winter are typically very mild and sometimes even warm.

Climate data for Bisbee, Arizona
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 85
Average high °F (°C) 57.3
Average low °F (°C) 34.3
Record low °F (°C) 6
Rainfall inches (mm) 1.18
Snowfall inches (cm) 3.4
Avg. rainy days (≥ 0.01 inch) 4 4 4 2 1 3 13 13 6 4 3 4 61
Source: Western Regional Climate Center[10]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1910 9,019
1920 9,205 2.1%
1930 9,023 −2.0%
1940 5,853 −35.1%
1950 3,801 −35.1%
1960 9,914 160.8%
1970 8,328 −16.0%
1980 7,154 −14.1%
1990 6,288 −12.1%
2000 6,090 −3.1%
2010 5,575 −8.5%
Est. 2009 5,962 6.9%

As of the census[11] of 2000, there were 6,090 people, 2,810 households, and 1,503 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,266.3 people per square mile (488.8/km²). There were 3,316 housing units at an average density of 689.5 per square mile (266.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 84.12% White or European American, 0.46% Black or African American, 1.22% Native American, 0.49% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 11.07% from other races, and 2.58% from two or more races. 34.38% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 2,810 households out of which 21.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.8% were married couples living together, 12.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.5% were non-families. 39.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.15 and the average family size was 2.90.

In the city the age distribution of the population shows 21.6% under the age of 18, 6.8% from 18 to 24, 24.1% from 25 to 44, 27.8% from 45 to 64, and 19.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 90.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $27,942, and the median income for a family was $36,685. Males had a median income of $29,573 versus $23,269 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,129. About 12.9% of families and 17.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 23.2% of those under age 18 and 9.0% of those age 65 or over.


Bisbee is governed via the mayor-council system. The city council consists of six members who are elected from wards. Each ward elects two members, The mayor is elected in a citywide vote.[citation needed]

Sites of interest[edit]

(excluding those mentioned under History)

Sports teams[edit]

Bisbee joined with Clifton in forming a cricket team that travelled to Santa Monica, California, in 1908 to play the Santa Monica Cricket Club in two games overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the grounds of the Polo Field. The miners lost both cricket games.[12] The Copper Echo reported that Bennie, the general manager of the Shannon Company Copper Mine, was the miners' best cricketer.

Popular culture[edit]

Historic Old Bisbee at night, 2008


  • Joanna Brady is the protagonist of a series of mystery novels by author J. A. Jance, centered on Bisbee and surrounding desert-mountain-border areas.
  • Bisbee is one of the towns robbed by the "Butcher Bandit" in Clive Cussler's 2007 novel, The Chase.




  • The 1956-1958 TV series Sheriff of Cochise was set in and around Bisbee, legal seat of Cochise County.[13]
  • A Muppet sketch from Sesame Street, featuring the Readers of the Open Range, has them helping illiterate citizens of a town they come into read a "big ol' sign" telling the town folk the name of their town so they'll be able to tell where they live; it turns out the sign says that they live in Bisbee, Arizona.
  • In a 2005 Supernatural season 1 episode, "Skin", Dean Winchester's fake identity is that he is a police officer from Bisbee.

Notable residents[edit]

See also[edit]

Bisbee, looking east, about 1909


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  4. ^ The Bisbee Deportation of 1917 at the University of Arizona.
  5. ^ International Real Estate Digest. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
  6. ^ Bloomberg News. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
  7. ^ Bisbee 1000 Stairs site. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
  8. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  9. ^ "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Bisbee city, Arizona". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved June 11, 2014. 
  11. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  12. ^ David Sentence, Cricket in America 1710-2000 (McFarland: N.Carolina, 2006) 192
  13. ^ Plot Summary for "Sheriff of Cochise" at Retrieved 2010-03-12.

Further reading[edit]

  • Martinelli, Phylis Cancilla. Undermining Race: Ethnic Identities in Arizona Copper Camps, 1880–1920 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009). xii, 225 pp. ISBN 978-0-8165-2745-8

External links[edit]