Thursday, December 8, 2016

Copper! The Story of Ajo, Arizona Part 1

Odometer  54464

Ajo, AZ

I thought it would be a good thing to write a blog posting about the community that we frequent in the winter months- Ajo, AZ.

Map of southern Arizona

As you can see from the location of the push pin above, the town of Ajo is located about half way between Tucson in the east and Yuma in the west, and coincidentally, just above the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  The town site is also about 40 miles from the Mexican border, and 100 miles from the ocean at the Sea of Cortes.
 Map of Arizona topography
By Mortadelo2005 Wikipedia

As you can see on the map at the right, there are three layers to Arizona, a high plateau on the top right, a mid line transition zone and a basin and  range area to the bottom and left side.
The Plateau area averages 5,000- 8,000 foot elevations (Flagstaff 6,910') while the Basin and Range zone averages sub-2000' elevations.  (Tucson 2400' and Yuma 141')

Ajo comes in at the high end of the basin and range at 1760' feet high. The relative height above the lower parts of the basin keep the Ajo area just a tiny bit cooler and a little wetter, making this a very green looking desert compared to most.

Photo of lush vegetation in Organ Pipe Nat Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
The Ajo area has long been a source of mineral wealth.  First to extract minerals were the Native American tribes that inhabited this area.  In the mid 1800s Spanish explorers discovered these high grade gold and copper ores along with other minerals, staying long enough to dig a 60 deep shaft all the while being harassed by native warriors.  It wasn't until 1886 that a white rancher named Childs came to the area to find the Spanish encampment empty.  Childs and a group of investors ran a successful copper mine under the name Arizona Mining and Trading Co.  The ore had to be sent by ship, around the tip of South America and across the Atlantic to Wales for refining, still the town of Ajo was doing very well.  Incidentally, the name of the town comes from the native word for the area "o'oho" which translated into "red" for the reddish pigments they found in abundance here.  The Spanish heard the word as "ajo", their word for garlic.

In 1911 John Campbell Greenway came to Ajo and bought the Cornelia Mine and became the manager for the newly formed Calument and Arizona Mining Company.  Greenway had plans to modernize and expand it on a grand scale.  Greenway laid out a town site with churches, schools, a hospital,markets and general stores, and the jewel of Ajo, a grand plaza.

Ajo Plaza circa 1911-12
Very importantly, about this same time, the TC&GB railroad spur was built down from the mainline at Gila Bend,giving the mine an economical way to haul the enriched ores to far away smelters.

Ajo's railroad terminal anchors one full side of the plaza

Greenway felt very strongly about making the town wholesome to attract good employees and families.  The mine paid to have two churches built, one Catholic and one Federated

Ajo AZ Catholic and Federated Churches
Ajo Catholic and Federated Churches

Schools, of course were very important and Greenway made sure Ajo had a very good one.

Ajo, AZ Curley School  taken  2016
Ajo's Curley School built circa 1919
This is actually the front of a complex of three schools that occupy two city blocks.  If you are interested in learning more about the Curley School complex and how it came to be revived into artist's housing click this link to one of my previous blogs Read more

Ajo would also need a first class medical facility, and Greenway did not skimp here either.

Ajo, AZ Hospital building taken 2016
Ajo Hospital built in 1930 

This modern 29,000 sf hospital was competed in 1930 and served the mine and the community for 55 years until the mine closed in 1985.  The hospital sits on a 4 acre site and has commanding views of downtown and the surrounding desert.   The building has sat empty for 31 years.  Ownership has changed hands a few times, and schemes and plans have been kicked around for years.  At present it is on the market for $350,000.  

Stay tuned for part two on a brief history of Ajo.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

No comments:

Post a Comment