Bisbee is the city in the middle of a desert. The mining community was once considered the most highly urbanized town between St. Louis and San Francisco.
But did you know the town is also considered one of the most architecturally diverse in the nation, considering its population and size?
“Bisbee has all the characteristics of a city, except for size,” said Carrie Gustavson, director of the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum.
Gustavson leads discussion walks with residents and tourists alike. One walk in October focused specifically on Old Bisbee architecture.
“It’s just quite stunning, the variety of architectural features you get here,” Gustavson said.
It all started when the Phelps Dodge Corporation purchased the Copper Queen Mine in 1885. The mine is considered the most profitable in the state.
Phelps Dodge funded infrastructure and construction projects that fueled urbanization by creating hotels, saloons, schools, fraternal organizations, a library, churches, and even a public pool.
“Most western towns have a saloon and whatnot, but very few of them had that initial investment,” Gustavson said.
Most of Old Bisbee was built by 1938. This includes nationally recognized historical landmarks that double as primary tourist attractions.
Commercial design is one style prevalent in Bisbee.
But this doesn’t mean shopping.
Commercialism is defined as the emphasis on maximizing profit. These brick buildings are not ornate in any way; they were meant to maximize efficiency in the blazing desert summer and chilly winters.
In 1902, Bisbee’s first city ordinance declared that every building was to be constructed in brick and stone to keep buildings preserved.
Brick is one of the most versatile building materials, so builders were able to construct in a variety of styles. Carpenters also added hand-carved and painted designs to ornament buildings.
Almost all of the buildings were constructed during an early 1900’s American architectural era that intended to replicate history’s classic architectural movements.
This time period is also referred to as the Eclectic Movement because it reflects designs and techniques used in movements like Mannerism, Renaissance, Neoclassical, and Gothic Revival.
Other styles found along the terraced roads include Pueblo Deco, Carpenter Gothic, Streamline Moderne, and Italianate.
“If you take a picture of the Cafe Roka storefront, you could put it in Saint Mark’s Square in Venice, and it would feel right at home,” Gustavson said.
Here are some of Bisbee’s most precious gems:
The Copper Queen Library and Post Office
This Romanesque Revival building is situated on a popular corner in Main Street, across from the Bank of Bisbee. The Copper Queen Library and Post Office, built through projects funded by the Phelps Dodge Corporation.
Tourists often stop at this intersection to admire colossal arches that support cobble brick walls. A large copper sign on the side of the building reads: Post Office.
The town’s library is conveniently tucked above the post office on the second floor.
Unlike many cities in the United States, Bisbee does not deliver home mail. This keeps the corner bustling with residents coming to check their mail or grab a book. Commercial Style influences are apparent in the structure. Many buildings in Old Bisbee are designed to protect humans from the heat and chill that comes with harsh desert climate.
– This beautifully preserved red-bricked building is influenced by Mannerism. This Roman style focuses on emphasizing walls by using textured patterns with stone and concrete.
Mannerism originated in Rome and Venice, and the style quickly spread through Italy. It was popular through most of the 1500’s and made its way well into central Europe.
The bank is located on one of the busiest corners in Bisbee, across from the library and post office.
The Pythian Castle–
Joseph M. Muheim, Sr., an architect who emigrated from Switzerland, built this Renaissance Revival clock tower in 1904.
During the mid 8’s, the space was renovated into an apartment residence.
The building honors the Order of the Knights of Pythia, a secret society founded in Washington, D.C. in 1864.
The Phelps Dodge Corporation has funded other fraternal organization buildings like the Masonic Lodge on Main Street. The green castle is one of multiple buildings the Muheim family constructed during their time in Bisbee.
The Muheim House–
An elegant pioneer home built by Joseph and his wife, Carmelita Muheim. The first four rooms were completed in 1900.
By 1915, the Muheims added to the cabin for their growing family.
The late 19th century style building has been renovated. Visitors are able to tour the inside of the home.
The museum displays renovated furniture popular during the early 20th century.
The Copper Queen Hotel–
This Romanesque Revival style building was built between 1898 and 1902, and was designed by a New York City architecture firm.
The ghost house is known as Arizona’s longest operating hotel, and is a place of countless paranormal activities.
The building has been featured on paranormal investigation shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. John Wayne is known as a frequent visitor.
Bisbee Central School–
This building was constructed between 1905 and 1906 in the Italian Renaissance Revival style.
The school’s elongated rectangular shape and vertical windows reflect basic elements used by European architects during the Italian Renaissance period (early 14th through 16th century).
The principal’s office was located on the second floor in front of the staircase. This is said to have helped him keep track of student whereabouts. The school was transformed into an artist co-op in 1982, and classrooms are now leased to local artists as work spaces.
McKinzie Frisbie is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.