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 just mentioned. We know many people who have been living here, (as well as us!) after all!
When Tombstone Arizona 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!
TOMBSTONE, Arizona has a population of 6,000, and with an eye to the eternal fitness of things, its principal paper is called the “Epitaph.”
Such is one of the first utterances of the first number of the first volume of a new Denver publication called the Western Railroad Journal. It is eminently correct in its conclusions as to the “eternal finess of thins,” for all of which the EPITAPH is duly grateful. The Journal is will filled with interesting reading matter and it will no doubt surserve a useful purpose. We wish it success.
But there are many ghost towns throughout the West, and nearby to Tombstone AZ. 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 Tombstone Arizona – the ones we know best!
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 right, 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.
The Friends of the San Pedro sponsors a guided hike on a regular basis. A worthy organization, take a look at supporting them.
The first settlement in this area was in the 1700s. Native Americans living nearby called it Santa Cruz. It had been deserted when Fairbank 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 now. Some buildings are still closed, as the reconstruction continues. A short, nice trail leads to the ruins of the railway station.
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 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. It’s in business now – today. The Cochise Hotel houses this stay. We’ve visited here, and the rooms are exquisite, in the historic sense of the word!
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.
One interesting town to visit is Cascabel, Arizona, in Cochise County by the San Pedro River. You might want to time your visit to this town to December, when they hold their annual arts and crafts fair. It’s still got some old structures standing from the early 1900’s.
The town of Courtland Arizona was established at the foot of the Dragoon Mountains in 1909. It began as a copper boom town. Settlers came in quickly, becoming established in town to mine or to serve the community. Until the population reached 2000 or so.
The support services 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 began leaving when realizing the hope of the community was gone. Most had left by 1921. In autumn of 1942 the post office was finally closed. Marking the end of this place, which has now become a ghost town.
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 was shut down in 1894. The restored ruins are now well-protected, and a wonderful place to visit.
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>
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.
After driving Eastward on Hwy. 80 through the Old Bisbee area, pass by the Lavender Pit Mine Overlook. Continuing on, to the right go into Erie Street.
Or if you miss that turn, keep going. And just before entering the traffic circle – to the right you can turn into Erie Street again to get to Lowell. Erie Street is only what’s left of it. It’s an area of abandoned buildings, with some interesting vintage stuff around. Photographers have inviting opportunities here!
A few places are open. For instance, if you’re there in the morning or early afternoon – check out the Bisbee Breakfast Club. Recognized in Southern Arizona for its delicious food, with fantastic servings!
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.
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 the purpose of border security. Because some of those Mexican battles were crossing over into the U.S.
It’s the only one of its kind 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 possible plans to restore the area for eventual tours. A Facebook Support Page is active. You can view the ruins from the road. It’s in Naco, at the corner of South Wilson Rd. & West Newell St.
This was 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 also difficult to access and find. You would have to follow the railroad bed Southeast from Hwy. 92.
Is it worth it? Hmmm! Maybe if you have a metal detector, you might find something you’d like. But still, be wary of crossing into private property.
More Southern Arizona Ghost Towns
There are many significant ghost towns in Southern Arizona. We can recommend a visit to these…
- Pearce – Nearby to Cochise and Sunsites AZ. It’s strongly associated with Sunsites, sharing its zip-code. Gold was discovered there by Celtic Cornishman, James Pearce in 1894. Two years later it had enough people for a post office. The Commonwealth mine was the prime producer. When Tombstone’s mines began filling with water, and the town began suffering, laying off miners – many began moving to Pearce. The 1896 Old Pearce General Store is on the National Register of Historic Places, as is another local building: Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church.
- Ruby – A 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.
- In Mohave county, up in the northwestern part of Arizona, there’s a ghost town called White Hills. Worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Other Wild West Ghost Towns
Throughout Arizona many more ghost towns are located. The old west had dozens of settlements that came and went. Their remains are scattered throughout the West.
One of them, for instance, is Galeyville – the old mining town in Southeastern Arizona. Nearby is the other former mining town of Paradise, which is today inhabited. But because of its historical aspect, is considered a ghost town. Those areas were well known as places where Johnny Ringo and Curly Bill Brocius spent a lot of time. Many of them are quite interesting places to visit.
We’d like to hear about those Ghost Towns that you’ve visited! Did you have any Strange Experiences there?? Would you Tell Us? Post It For Us & Others>
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