Florence Finery and Fearless Phyby John Scott on May. 02, 2012, under Uncategorized
Florence, Arizona, was founded in 1866. When many think of Florence, the huge complex of penitentiaries of off highway 79 comes to mind. You know, the ones right after the sign that reads, Prison Ahead. Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers.
Don’t let this stop you from visiting one of Arizona’s most historic mining cities. In 1909, the overcrowded Yuma Territorial Prison turned over all its inmates to the recently completed Florence prison. Ironically, many of those convicts built the place. If it were me, I would have built my cell with more space and a recliner. Of course, they may not have let hardened outlaws have recliners. Or space.
Main street presents buildings that date back to territorial days, and is one of the highlights of this town. In keeping with the architecture and history, many of these structures along this street have been repurposed. One can find a hardware store, general stores, the Rynning’s Ranger Museum; even an 1880′s hotel now encompasses a fudge shop. The Pinal County Historic Society has terrific displays covering everything from Tom Mix memorabilia to the nooses used to hang criminals at the pen.
There are two historic Pinal County Courthouses in the town. The earliest one is McFarland State Park, built in 1877. It contains a courtyard, Sheriff’s office and jail. The second courthouse was made in 1890, and with its big sweeping staircases and clock tower, it was not only bigger, but much grander. However, money must have run out, because the hands of the clock are actually painted on. Both of these buildings are being restored. Maybe they’ll put real hands on the clock.
The McFarland State Park is where Sheriff Peter Gabriel shared an office with his deputy, Josephus Phy. These two lawdogs had their issues with each other, and Joe lost against Pete later in an election. Whether this was the straw that broke the camel’s back or anger over the fact that his name was Josephus, Phy came after Gabriel with a knife in one hand and a revolver in the other. The scene of this gunfight was the Tunnel Saloon on Main Street. Eleven pistol rounds were fired at point blank range. Joe died, and Pete lived another ten years with one lung. The humorous part occurred when the two men were lying in the street bleeding. The town doctor attended Joe first, and that ticked Pete off so much, he refused medical attention. They had to fetch a doctor from Sacaton to take care of him! This 1888 shooting incident was actually big news during the day, but is largely swept under the rug thanks to the fame of the OK Corral gun battle.
Every February, the Chamber of Commerce holds a Historic Homes Tour. It’s a fascinating tour where the owners of many 1880′s buildings in Florence open their doors to the public. A great way to see the inside of these Victorian homes. Some that aren’t open are still of interest. Pauline Cushman, a famous Civil War spy, lived in a house not far off Main Street.
Famous Florence is a terrific town to visit to experience some of Arizona’s pre-statehood history. You can visit during any number of events they hold every year, or just head on up to see some sights. Eat some fudge, and say hi to the ghosts of Pete and Joe. Just don’t pick up any hitchhikers in orange jumpsuits.