Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee is a city [5]and the county seat of Cochise County[6] in the southeast of Arizona, United States, 92 miles (148 km) southeast of Tucson and 11 miles (18 km) north of the Mexican border. According to the 2010 census, the population of the town was 5,575.[2]

Main Street, Bisbee
"An American Original"
Location of Bisbee in Cochise County, Arizona
Location in the United States
Bisbee (the United States)
Coordinates: 31°26′53″N 109°55′42″W
Country United States
State Arizona
County Cochise
IncorporatedJanuary 9, 1902
  MayorJason Zulkowski
  Total5.18 sq mi (13.41 km2)
  Land5.18 sq mi (13.41 km2)
  Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
5,538 ft (1,688 m)
  Density1,006.38/sq mi (388.53/km2)
Time zoneUTC−07:00 (MST (no daylight saving time))
ZIP Code
Area code520
FIPS code04-06260
GNIS feature ID1436[4]
WebsiteCity of Bisbee


Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880, and named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the adjacent Copper Queen Mine.

In 1929, the county seat was moved from Tombstone to Bisbee, where it remains.

Mining industry

Mining in the Mule Mountains proved quite successful: in the early 20th century the population of Bisbee soared. Incorporated in 1902, by 1910 its population had swelled to 9,019, and it sported a constellation of suburbs, including Warren, Lowell, and San Jose, some of which had been founded on their own (ultimately less successful) mines. In 1917, open-pit mining was successfully introduced to meet the copper demand during World War I.

A high quality turquoise promoted as Bisbee Blue was a by-product of the copper mining. Many high-quality mineral specimens have come from Bisbee area mines and are to be found in museum collections worldwide. Some of these minerals include cuprite, aragonite, wulfenite, malachite, azurite, and galena.

Bisbee deportation

Miners attempted to organize to gain better working conditions and wages. In 1917, the Phelps Dodge Corporation, using private police and deputized sheriffs, transported at gun point over 1,000 striking miners out of town to Hermanas, New Mexico, due to allegations that they were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); the company wanted to prevent unionization.[7] Earlier that year, industry police conducted the Jerome Deportation, similarly intended to expel striking miners.

Mining decline and tourism

Continued underground work enabled the town to survive the changes in mining that caused mines in neighboring towns to close, leading to a resulting dramatic loss of population. But the population of Bisbee had dropped nearly 60%, from a high of 9,205 in 1920[8] down to 3,801 by 1950[9]. In 1975 the Phelps Dodge Corporation halted its Bisbee copper-mining operations. Bisbee Mayor Chuck Eads, with the cooperation of Phelps Dodge, implemented development of a mine tour and historic interpretation of a portion of the Copper Queen Mine as part of an effort to create heritage tourism as another economic base to compensate for the financial loss due to the end of the mining industry.

Community volunteers cleared tons of fallen rock and re-timbered the old workings. Eventually, this local effort came to the attention of the federal Economic Development Administration. It approved a large grant to the City of Bisbee to help the mine tour project and other improvements in downtown Bisbee; these were designed to meet tourist business needs. The Queen Mine Tour was officially opened to visitors on February 1, 1976. More than a million visitors have taken the underground mine tour train.

Modern Bisbee

From 1950 to 1960, the sharp population decline changed course and the number of residents of Bisbee increased by nearly 160 percent when open-pit mining was undertaken and the city annexed nearby areas. The peak population was in 1960, at 9,914.

In the following decade, there was a decline in jobs and population, although not as severe as from 1930 to 1950. But, the economic volatility resulted in a crash in housing prices. Coupled with an attractive climate and picturesque scenery, Bisbee became a destination in the 1960s for artists and hippies of the counter culture.

Artist Stephen Hutchison and his wife Marcia purchased the Copper Queen Hotel, the town's anchor business and architectural gem, from the Phelps-Dodge mining company in 1970. The company had tried to find a local buyer, offering the deed to any local resident for the sum of $1, but there were no takers. The property needed renovation for continued use.

Hutchison purchased and renovated the hotel, as well as other buildings in the downtown area. One held the early 20th-century Brewery and Stock Exchange. Hutchison began to market Bisbee as a destination of the "authentic," old Southwest. His work attracted the developer Ed Smart.

Among the many guests at the hotel have been celebrities from nearby California. Actor John Wayne was a frequent visitor to Bisbee and the Copper Queen. He befriended Hutchison and eventually partnered with Smart in his real estate ventures. This period of Bisbee's history is well documented in contemporary articles in The New Yorker and in an article by Cynthia Buchanan in The Cornell Review. It was at this time that Bisbee became a haven for artists and hippies fleeing the larger cities of Arizona and California. Later it attracted people priced out by gentrification of places such as Aspen, Colorado.

In the 1990s, additional people were attracted to Bisbee, leading it to develop such amenities as coffee shops and live theatre. Many of the old houses have been renovated, and property values in Bisbee now greatly exceed those of other southeastern Arizona cities.

Today, the historic city of Bisbee is known as "Old Bisbee" and is home to a thriving downtown cultural scene. This area is noted for its architecture, including Victorian-style houses and an elegant Art Deco county courthouse. Because its plan was laid out to a pedestrian scale before the automobile, Old Bisbee is compact and walkable. The town's hilly terrain is exemplified by the old four-story high school; each floor has a ground-level entrance.

Bisbee, 1916
Bisbee, 2009


The city of Bisbee now includes the satellite communities of Warren, Lowell, and San Jose. The Lowell and Warren townsites were consolidated into Bisbee proper during the early part of the twentieth century. There are also smaller neighborhoods interspersed between these larger boroughs, including Galena, Bakerville, Tintown, South Bisbee, Briggs, and Saginaw.

Warren was Arizona's first planned community. It was designed as a bedroom community for the more affluent citizens of the mining district. Warren has a fine collection of Arts and Crafts style bungalow houses. Many have been recognized as historic places, and the city has an annual home tour during which a varying selection are offered for tours. Since the end of mining in the 1970s, Warren has seen a steady decline in its standard of living. The residential district still houses a significant portion of the population, and includes City Hall, Greenway Elementary School, Bisbee High School, and the historic Warren Ballpark.

Lowell was at one time a sizable mining town located just to the southeast of Old Bisbee. The majority of the original townsite was consumed by the excavation of the Lavender Pit mine during the 1950s. All that is left today is a small portion of Erie Street, along with Evergreen Cemetery, Saginaw subdivision and Lowell Middle School. These days Lowell is considered by most of the local residents to be more of a place name than an operating community.

San Jose, on the southern side of the Mule Mountains, is the most modern of the city's subdivisions. As it is not restricted by mountains, it has had the most new growth since the late 1990s. Named after a nearby Mexican mountain peak, it is the location of many newer county government buildings, the Huachuca Terrace Elementary School, and a large shopping center.

Current state of mining industry

In 2007, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold bought Phelps-Dodge company.[10] Freeport has invested in Bisbee by remediating soil contaminated in previous mining operations, donations to the school system, and other civic activities.


Arizona State Route 80 runs through the city, leading northwest 23 miles (37 km) to Tombstone and 47 miles (76 km) to Benson, and east 26 miles (42 km) to Douglas. The Mexican border at Naco is 11 miles (18 km) south of the center of Bisbee.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.2 square miles (13.4 km2), all land.[11]

Natural vegetation around Bisbee has a semi-desert appearance with shrubby acacia, oak and the like, along with cacti, grass, ocotillo and yucca. The town itself is much more luxuriant with native trees such as cypress, sycamore and cottonwood plus the introduced ailanthus and Old World cypresses, cedars and pines. Palms are capable of large size, but are not reliably hardy. A few higher-elevation trees such as blue spruce and white fir are growing fairly well in Bisbee.


Bisbee has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate (Csb), but due to relatively low precipitation it borders on the typical semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk) of the upland Mountain West. Summer days are warm to hot and dry before the monsoon brings the wettest season from July to September with 10.65 inches (270.5 mm) of Bisbee's total annual rainfall of 18.63 inches (473.2 mm), often with severe thunderstorms. During the winter, frontal cloudbands may bring occasional rainfall or even snowfall, though average maxima in the winter are typically very mild and sometimes even warm.

Climate data for Bisbee, Arizona
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 85
Average high °F (°C) 57.3
Average low °F (°C) 34.3
Record low °F (°C) 6
Average rainfall inches (mm) 1.18
Average snowfall inches (cm) 3.4
Average rainy days (≥ 0.01 inch) 4 4 4 2 1 3 13 13 6 4 3 4 61
Source: Western Regional Climate Center[12]


Historical population
Est. 20185,209[3]−6.6%
U.S. Decennial Census[13]

Bisbee first appeared on the 1890 U.S. Census as an unincorporated village.[14] It did not appear on the 1900 census, despite having a population of thousands (many unincorporated communities were not reported).[15] In 1902, it incorporated as a city and has appeared on every census since 1910.[16] On September 10, 1959, it incorporated the adjacent unincorporated villages of Lowell-South Bisbee (1950 pop. 1,136) and Warren (pop. 2,610).[17]

As of the census[18] of 2000, there were 6,090 people, 2,810 households, and 1,503 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,266.3 people per square mile (488.8/km²). There were 3,316 housing units at an average density of 689.5 per square mile (266.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 84.12% White, 0.46% Black or African American, 1.22% Native American, 0.49% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 11.07% from other races, and 2.58% from two or more races. 34.38% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 2,810 households out of which 21.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.8% were married couples living together, 12.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.5% were non-families. 39.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.15 and the average family size was 2.90.

An analysis of United States Census Bureau data by researchers at The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that, on a proportional basis, Bisbee had more gay couples living together than anywhere else in the state. The ratio was 20.9 for every 1,000 households.[19]

In the city, the age distribution of the population shows 21.6% under the age of 18, 6.8% from 18 to 24, 24.1% from 25 to 44, 27.8% from 45 to 64, and 19.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females, there were 90.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $27,942, and the median income for a family was $36,685. Males had a median income of $29,573 versus $23,269 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,129. About 12.9% of families and 17.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 23.2% of those under age 18 and 9.0% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture

The Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb is a five-kilometer run through the city that traverses 1,034 stairs. Billed as "the most unique physical fitness challenge in the USA!" by the organizers,[20] the Climb includes runners being serenaded by musicians at various locations among the stairs. The event has grown to include the Ice Man Competition, designed to honor the history of men delivering blocks of ice by hand before the advent of refrigeration. In the Ice Man Competition, entrants race up 155 steps carrying a ten-pound block of ice with antique ice tongs.

Bisbee hosts an annual Blues festival, occurring in 2015 during the second week of September. The festival effectively lengthens the tourist season, and provides a large amount of business to local bars and breweries.[21]

Sites of interest


Bisbee joined with Clifton in forming a cricket team that travelled to Santa Monica, California, in 1908 to play the Santa Monica Cricket Club in two games overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the grounds of the Polo Field. The miners lost both cricket games.[22] The Copper Echo reported that Bennie, the general manager of the Shannon Company Copper Mine, was the miners' best cricketer.


Bisbee is governed via the mayor-council system. The city council consists of six members who are elected from wards, each ward elects two members. The mayor is elected in a direct citywide vote.[23]

In 2013, the city council received public notoriety when it proposed same-sex civil unions and shortly after became the first municipality in Arizona to pass a civil union law.[24][25] The state's Attorney General, Tom Horne, threatened to sue, but decided against it after Bisbee amended the ordinance; the civil union ordinance came into effect July 5, 2013.[26] "Bisbee was the first in Arizona to approve civil unions, with Tucson, Jerome and Clarkdale following."[27]



The City of Bisbee administers the Bisbee Bus System which is in fact operated by the City of Douglas under contract, with regularly scheduled services from Monday through Saturday; One-way fare is $1;[28] The City of Douglas also operates the Cochise Connection, with regular shuttle services between Douglas, Bisbee, Benson and Sierra Vista; One-way fare is $3-4. [29]

Notable people


  • The 2018 documentary Bisbee '17 chronicled the Bisbee Deportation on the 100th anniversary of the incident.[32]


  • Author Betsy Thornton's mystery novels, including her Chloe Newcombe series, are all set in Bisbee (thinly disguised as Dudley) and the surrounding areas.[33]



In the May–June 2000 issue of Modern Maturity, the AARP highlighted what they called the most "alive" places to retire in the U.S. Bisbee was a runner-up as one of the "quirkiest" towns in America.[36][37]

In 2016, Bisbee was named the Best Historic Small Town in both Sunset magazine and a USA Today online reader poll. Bisbee's director of tourism credited social media and comedian Doug Stanhope for the USA Today win.[38] July 3, 2016 was declared "Killer Termites Day"[39] after Doug Stanhope's social media followers, The Killer Termites, voted for Bisbee in the online poll.[40]

See also


  1. "2018 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Jul 1, 2019.
  2. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
  3. "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  4. "Bisbee". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  6. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  7. "Bisbee Deportation of 1917".
  10. Bloomberg News. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
  11. "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Bisbee city, Arizona". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
  12. "BISBEE, ARIZONA - Climate Summary".
  13. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  18. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  19. Services, HOWARD FISCHER Capitol Media. "Census: Bisbee is most friendly to gay couples". Arizona Daily Sun. Retrieved 2016-01-30.
  20. Bisbee 1000 Stairs site Archived October 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
  21. "11th Annual Bisbee Blues Festival - September 11th - 13th, 2015". 11th Annual Bisbee Blues Festival - September 11th - 13th, 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved 2015-12-17.
  22. David Sentence, Cricket in America 1710-2000 (McFarland: N.Carolina, 2006) 192
  23. "Bisbee, AZ - Official Website". Retrieved 2016-12-05.
  24. Gaynor, Tim. "Arizona city poised to pass state's first civil union ordinance". U.S. Retrieved 2018-07-27.
  25. "Arizona town approves same-sex civil unions; Ariz. AG threatens legal action". Retrieved 2018-07-27.
  26. Carcamo, Cindy (2013-08-19). "Bisbee OKs same-sex civil unions, but only 4 couples say 'I do'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-07-27.
  27. Press, Associated (2013-12-19). "Cottonwood latest to approve civil unions". KNXV. Archived from the original on 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2018-07-27.
  28. "Bisbee Bus- Schedule and Fare".
  29. "Cochise Connection - City of Douglas". Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  30. Leatherman, Benjamin (May 6, 2014). "12 Celebrities Who Live in Arizona". Phoenix New Times. Archived from the original on September 25, 2014. Retrieved September 25, 2014.
  31. "TUC Hall of Fame Ken Westerfield". Toronto Ultimate Club. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
  32. Kate Erbland (2018-06-27). "'Bisbee '17' Trailer: Robert Greene's Haunting Documentary Follows a Border Town Grappling With a Terrible Past". Indiewire.
  33. Webb, Betty. "A Song for You". Archived from the original on 2017-02-22. Retrieved 2016-01-30.
  34. Plot Summary for "Sheriff of Cochise" at Retrieved 2010-03-12.
  35. Bisbee misspelling in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" at
  36. International Real Estate Digest Archived June 7, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
  37. "AARP's 50 Best Places to Live, IRED". 7 June 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-06-07.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  38. "Bisbee named best historic small town by USA TODAY readers".
  39. Elle Loneprotestor (22 June 2016). "Bisbee Mayor Honors Doug Stanhope Fans, Proclaims Killer Termite Day" via YouTube.
  40. "Best Historic Small Town Winners: 2016 10Best Readers' Choice Travel Awards".

Further reading

  • Martinelli, Phylis Cancilla. Undermining Race: Ethnic Identities in Arizona Copper Camps, 1880–1920 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009). xii, 225 pp. ISBN 978-0-8165-2745-8
  • Graeme, R.W., 1987, Bisbee, Arizona's Dowager Queen of Mining Camps; A Look at Her First 50 Years, in History of Mining in Arizona, vol. 1. Full text:
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