Restored schoolhouse at Fairbank, AZ.
We had been intending to visit Fairbank for at least a year. Yesterday, Ms. Karen and I took a Sunday drive and had a look around this 1880′s ghost town.
Fairbank was named for Chicago investor Nathaniel Fairbank. He was the founder of the Grand Central Mining Company, which had investments in several Tombstone silver mines. In the 1880′s Fairbank was the closest railhead to Tombstone, then one of the largest cities in the West.
Fairbank, AZ: ca. 1890.
From Fairbank, trains took silver ore from the Tombstone mines and delivered it to the stamp mills at Contention City and Charleston. When the Butterfield Overland Mail Line started in 1885, Fairbank was also an important stage stop.
By 1886, Fairbank had about 100 residents. The little town boasted a steam quartz mill, a general store, a butcher shop, a restaurant, a saloon, a Wells Fargo office, the railroad depot, and a stage coach station.
Today, the schoolhouse has been restored. Inside we found a knowledgable docent, his dog, and many books and historical photos about this area along the San Pedro River. Outdoors, there are numerous interpretive plaques that help identify some of the old buildings and explain what life in Fairbank was like back then. Fairbank is open to the public 9:30 – 4:30. There are trails from the schoolhouse north along the San Pedro to the cemetery. We’ll return in the spring to photograph the cemetery and surrounding area when all the vegetation is green. Yesterday, the wind was cold and all the vegetation, including the giant cottonwoods along the river, looked dead-dead.
Millville trail head sign off the Charleston Road just east of the San Pedro River.
From Fairbank, we picked up the Charleston Road at Tombstone and headed southwest toward Sierra Vista hoping to come across the ruins of Charleston and Millville. Just before crossing the bridge over the San Pedro, Ms. Karen spotted an outhouse and a rail fence that looked suspiciously like it might be related to one of the ghost towns we were searching for. A quick U-ee and we approached the trailhead sign just off the north side of the road.
Giant cottonwood tree on the grounds of the San Pedro House. The little house in the background is constructed of railroad ties and was the playhouse for the young daughter of a rancher who lived here many decades ago.
From there we wanted to visit the Clovis site, but a slight navigational error put us too far south, so we just continued on to the San Pedro House. Operated by Friends of the San Pedro River, this is where you come to learn first hand about this rare and important Southern Arizona riparian conservation area. They have have a self-guided walking tour, and bookstore, and some merchandise. Ms. Karen acquired a specialty hummingbird feeder and two large Nyjer Thistle Socks (nylon bird feeders). All through the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area are all sorts of wild critters and dozens of species of birds.
Not far away, we found the trailhead for the Mammoth Kill site, but again, my legs were not up to the one mile hike. After that, we continued south to the Coronado Memorial on the International Border. This is the most likely area where the Coronado Expedition (1540-42) passed on its quest for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold that turned out to be nothing more than a Zuni pueblo in what is now New Mexico. Amazingly, the Expedition made it all the way to Kansas before giving up. However, some of expedition turned west from present-day New Mexico and became the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.
The small visitor center had some paintings and video that told the story of the Coronado Expedition. They also had a conquistador’s metal helmet and some armor made of chain mail just laying in a box. So, never having handled chain mail, I picked up a suit. Unbelievably HEAVY! I have no idea how soldiers fought effectively wearing this stuff. But as to its effectiveness, Wikipedia has this to say: Mail armour provided an effective defence against slashing blows by an edged weapon and penetration by thrusting and piercing weapons; in fact a study conducted at the Royal Armouries at Leeds concluded that “it is almost impossible to penetrate using any conventional medieval weapon”
Here the Park Service has a picnic area and a nature trail along a creek. Also, there’s a trail to a nearby cave that you are welcome to explore. The Park Service suggests you bring a flashlight. Seems like a good idea.
During my recent convalescence I read fairly extensively about this remarkable expedition and just posted my take on it on our Southern Arizona Guide. My intent is to retrace the route they took through Arizona to the Zuni Pueblo this spring by foot and back road. You can read the short story by clicking HERE.