Monday, October 19, 2009

A is for Ajo, Alpine and Apache Junction. Arivaca, Ash Fork and Avondale.
Don’t forget Adamana, Ahwatukee and Anthem!
B is for Benson, Bisbee and Bullhead City. Also Bagdad, Buckeye, Bowie and Bylas.
C is for Calabasas, Casa Grande and Chandler. Not to be left out, Cameron, Camp Verde, Carefree, Cave Creek, Chinle, Chloride, Clarkdale, Clifton, Cochise, Colorado City, Concho, Coolidge, Cottonwood and Courtland.
Now we know our Arizona ABCs. We can’t name them all, but we’ve made a start. We’ll go through the alphabet to give short histories of each community. When we reach “Z” we will start over with communities passed over. We begin with Ajo.

"Ajo is where summer spends the winter"

Pronounced AH-hoe, like the Spanish word for garlic, the name of the mining town 42 miles south of Gila Bend may have come from the Papago word for paint, because the tribe collected a copper pigment there [Arizona Handbook(1986)]. Spanish prospectors found rich silver-copper ore there and Americans followed in 1854 after the Gadsden Purchase annexed the site to the USA. Ajo was probably the first copper mine in Arizona [Rock to Riches(1966)].

Early attempts at large-scale production had to wait for better technology and John C. Greenway, manager of Calumet & Arizona at Bisbee and a former Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt. He acquired New Cornelia mine stock and set about building a large operation in the remote desert. A railroad was built from Gila Bend in 1915 and a model company town laid out around a classic Hispanic Plaza with buildings in the southwestern mission style, all the rage at the time.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was created in 1937 to preserve a region of the Sonoran Desert south of Ajo. The organ pipe cactus is a saguaro that branches at the ground rather than higher up on a central trunk.

Phelps Dodge acquired the New Cornelia mine in 1931 but had to close it the next year due to falling copper prices during the depression. Reopened in 1934, the huge open pit became the leading copper producer in the state until bested by the Morenci mine in 1943. At first copper concentrates were transported by rail all the way to the C&A smelter at Douglas, but a smelter at Ajo was completed in 1950. Eventually the business cycle again played havoc with prosperity and the mine closed for good in 1985.

Former Phelps Dodge workers now anchor a retirement community and Department of Homeland Security keeps a sizable presence of border patrol agents and customs officers at Ajo. The historic Curley School (1919) was restored in 2007 to become Curley School Artisan Housing. While the last tall smoke stack at the old Phelps Dodge smelter was demolished the same year, some mining continued, with a contractor salvaging precious metals from the old slag pile.

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