Ghost Towns of the West

Tombstone 1882 PopulationFrom Tombstone Weekly Epitaph April 10, 1882

Ghost Towns are places that used to be thriving communities. But now they have no citizens living along their streets. The buildings are abandoned. Many structures have become ruins. Foundations sometimes can barely be seen.

Events causing this situation were economic or natural. Consider the usual circumstances contributing to a town's desertion:

  • A railroad route didn't include the town - passed it by. 
  • A new major highway or travel route by-passed the town. 
  • A seaport's advantage was lost. 
  • A natural disaster devastated most of the inhabitants. Think drought, flood, earthquake or tornado.
  • The town was dependent on one economic support, which then gave out.
  • A disease epidemic came through and wiped out the population.
  • In the Old Wild West there was relentless assault by Apaches.

Sometimes a ghost town may still have inhabitants. The town's population has dwindled drastically from its heyday. So the term "ghost town" is applied there, as a comparison. Occasionally people refer to Tombstone Arizona as a ghost town! I'm not sure why?! Except for that definition I just mentioned. We live here, after all!

When Tombstone AZ was a booming silver mining town, in 1882, the population was up to 6000. Today's population is a little over 1300. I think those among the 1300 don't think of it as a ghost town!

But there are many ghost towns throughout the West, and nearby to Tombstone Arizona. We've traveled to quite a few, especially in the Southeastern Arizona area. We'll suggest visits to those here.

Arizona Ghost Towns

If you're traveling through Arizona, many places have old ruins of former towns to visit. These storied places are great stops for you. We'll start with those closest to our home in Tombstone - the ones we know best!

Southeastern Arizona

Charleston Arizona

Charleston Arizona map1882 Vintage Map Locating Charleston

Old photos of Charleston show the nice little town that it was around the year 1885. It's located on the West bank of the San Pedro River. Take the Charleston Road out of Tombstone, toward Sierra Vista. When you see a parking area on your left, pull in. This is part of the San Pedro Riparian Area.

When it was a living town about 400 people were there. First built in 1879 as a support town for Millville's stamp mill across the river. It met its demise by 1888 when Tombstone's mines were flooding.1

From the parking area, you have an overgrown hike North. It's about 1 mile total - but through a lot of brush and thorns. Cross the road to locate the railroad tracks. Follow them until you see the sign pointing to Charleston. Go down the riverbank and across the river. Up the other bank, toward the right about 1/2 mile you'll begin to see ruins. They're quite deteriorated. 


Fairbank Arizona

Fairbank CabinCabin in Fairbank AZ

The first settlement in this area was in the 1700s. Native Americans living there called it Santa Cruz. It had been deserted when it was built in 1882 as a railroad and stagecoach terminal town. Approximately 100 people lived there.1

The old school-house serves as the visitor center. Some buildings are still closed, as the reconstruction continues. A short, nice trail leads to the ruins of the railway station. 

Fairbank Railroad Station RuinsRailway Station Ruins


Today Fairbank Arizona can easily be visited. Off Hwy. 80, North of Tombstone, take Hwy. 82 East (the only way it goes from there!) about 6 miles. The entrance is on the right.





Cochise Arizona

Cochise HotelCochise Hotel - Once Run by Big Nose Kate

Cochise was a refueling support stop for the Southern Pacific Railroad. It sprang up during the 1880s. About 3000 people lived there during that time. Now only about 50 reside in this unincorporated village.

It's also memorable for being Big Nose Kate's residence for a time. You can stay in a Bed and Breakfast where she lived, that's in business now. The Cochise Hotel houses this stay.

Gleeson Arizona

Gleeson Arizona


Gleeson is a short drive from Tombstone AZ. After going East through town on Fremont Street (Hwy. 80), make a left on N. Camino San Rafael. Follow this down the hill until you see the sign pointing right for Gleeson. This is the Gleeson Road. In about 14.5 miles, you'll enter the Ghost Town of Gleeson.

There are some residents here, so be careful when walking around. You can call ahead to visit the Gleeson Jail - which is open intermittently. Usually on the first Saturday of the month. Call ahead: (520) 609-3549. The jail is the Gleeson museum, which has all the area memorabilia. You can ask there about all the historic area buildings in Gleeson Arizona.


Courtland

Courtland ArizonaCourtland AZ in its Prime Mining Days

The town of Courtland Arizona was established at the foot of the Dragoon Mountains in 1909. It began as a copper boom town, with settlers coming in quickly until the population reached 2000 or so.

It supplied the needs of it citizens with auto sales, an ice cream shop, hotels, and a local jail. Baseball and horse racing provided sporting entertainment. There was even a movie house.

But soon the mines gave out, and people left. Most were gone by 1921. In autumn of 1942 the post office closed. 


Willcox Area

Fort Bowie

Currently Fort Bowie is a National Historic Site. Fort Built in 1862 by the California Volunteers under Colonel George W. Bowie. During the Civil War, the Union assigned its California Column to Arizona and New Mexico. Its purpose was primarily to protect the area from Apache engagement. The Battle of Apache Pass was the conflict that particularly determined the need. The Chiricahua Apaches were the focal point of their encounters.

The Fort Bowie CemeteryGrave of John Slater
Fort Bowie Ghost TownFort Bowie Ruins Today

The Fort was shut down in 1894. The restored ruins are now well-protected. To reach the site, you must hike a 1.5 mile trail from the parking area off of Apache Pass Road. The trail has historical markers along the way. You'll also pass through the Post Cemetery. When you reach the area of the Fort Bowie ruins, a visitor center is open daily 8 am to 4 pm Mountain Standard Time. Read More>


Camp Rucker

Its first name was Camp Supply, then Camp Powers. Finally in 1878 named Camp Rucker in honor of John A. Rucker who drowned in an area flash flood.2 About 1880 the military made it an official Fort - but people still refer to it as Camp Rucker. A rancher eventually purchased it before the National Forest Service took it over.

You'll find some old adobe walls & building ruins, and a barn made from logs. Some wood fences remain, some enclosing old corrals. The Forest Service has installed interpretive signs on the marked trail to the camp. Take Hwy. 191 South off Interstate 10 - West of Wilcox. You'll go through 2 large bends in the road before you see the left turn onto Rucker Canyon Rd. Keep following that and you'll enter National Forest land. In Coronado Nation Forest, follow FR 74 East to the Camp Rucker turn-off on the left. 


Bisbee Area

Lowell Arizona

Lowell ArizonaTown of Lowell in 1905 - Much Larger Then!

After driving Eastward on Hwy. 80 through the Old Bisbee area, you pass by the Lavender Pit Mine Overlook. Continuing on, just before entering the traffic circle - to the right is Lowell. Erie Street is what's left of it. It's an area of abandoned buildings, with some interesting vintage stuff around. Photographers will have inviting opportunities here!


Warren Arizona

Warren ArizonaView of Warren AZ in 1909

Calumet & Arizona Mining and Copper Queen Consolidated built the community of Warren as a "Company Town" for employees. It's just Southeast of Bisbee, and a part of that municipality. Many of these craftsman style bungalows are on the historical register.

By 1910 the first section was planned and construction was nearly complete. They completed two more sections by 1916 and 1918. At its peak, Warren Arizona had over 2000 residents. People still live in Warren today. It has many historical aspects, including Warren Ballpark. But some of the homes have deteriorated. The population now is about 1500.


Naco Area

Fort Newell

This deserted military facility was built in the decade of the Mexican revolution. That conflict took place from 1910 to 1920. This was one of 12 placed near to the  Mexican border at that time for border security. Some battles were crossing over into the U.S.

It's the only one with still visible ruins. Some refer to it as Camp Naco or Fort Naco. Huachuca City owns the property, and it is fenced off. There are likely plans to restore the area for eventual tours. A Facebook Support Page is active. You can view the ruins from the road. In Naco, at the corner of S. Wilson Rd. & W. Newell St.

Stark

A village near the Mexican border. The name came from the first settler there. William Stark chose its location in 1913 for its stop on the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad. Stark had a ranch and ran the local store. The post office closed in 1921.

It's located about 5.8 miles West North-West of Naco. This ghost town location doesn't have any ruins to speak of. It's difficult to access and find. You'd have to follow the railroad bed Southeast from Hwy. 92.


More Southern Arizona Areas

There are many significant ghost towns in Southern Arizona. We can recommend a visit to these...

  • Ruby - An well preserved mining town. Restoration work is still underway.
  • Oro Blanco -  It's a little South of Arivaca. The Noon family handles the restoration. They're descendants of the original settlers.
  • Harshaw - A rancher dug the Hermosa silver mine. Take Harshaw Road South out of Patagonia. A number of remains, but some private property.
  • Washington Camp - A supply town for a mining operation and 3 other towns. Take FR 49 off of Hwy. 82 in Patagonia
  • Kentucky Camp -  Off Hwy. 83, NW of Sonoita on E. Gardner Canyon Rd. Gold mining area. Building restoration ongoing by the Forest Service.
  • Pantano Station - Exit 289 off I-10, Marsh Station Rd. Former stagecoach stop & train station. Building ruins, water towers.
  • Helvetia - It was inhabited from 1899 to 1921 as a Mexican community. They supported a local copper mining operation with their labor. Adobe building ruins & an interesting cemetery. Off Sonoita Hwy 83, take Helvetia Rd. West turn-off.

Other Wild West Ghost Towns

Throughout the remaining areas of Arizona there are many more ghost towns. The old west had many other settlements that came and went. Their remains are scattered throughout the West. A lot of them are quite interesting places to visit.

We'd like to hear about those Ghost Towns that you've visited! Where did you go? What did you see? Tell us now...

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References

1 Sherman, J.E & B.H. (1969). The ghost towns of Arizona. Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

2 Massey, P., Wilson, J. & Titus, A. (2007). Arizona trails Southern region. Adler Publishing. ISBN 1-930193-03-3


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