Pretty renovated, dark green clock tower of 1904 Pythian Castle rises above heart of Bisbee's historic district and dominates skyline. The jade green cupola and skyward spire is perfect orientation point while strolling up Brewery Gulch and has become a Bisbee landmark for years. The building looks almost exactly the same as on vintage photographs from 1904 I saw in local saloons and bars. It looks like an old courthouse but it's an apartment building since 1984. It's one of many Bisbee buildings converted into rentable residences.
Joseph M. Muheim, Sr., an early Bisbee entrepreneur who emigrated from Switzerland in 1883, built the Pythian Castle in 1904 for the Knights of Pythias Lodge (fraternal order popular in post-Civil War days). Then the Pythian Castle was owned by Walter Bomas who also owned the Philadelphia Hotel and the Miner’s Hotel. Together with his daughter, Bomas fixed up both hotels for training camps for Peace Corps volunteers that were going to Latin American countries.
I didn't know what Smithsonian meant when I arrived to Besbee and saw Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum proudly advertising as Smithsonian Museum (affiliated). Now, I know, that Smithsonian museum always means: of the best quality and worth seeing.
Let me explain that The Smithsonian Institution is a powerful research and education center financed by US Congress (read: Federal tax payers - over US$ 500,000,000 a year!) and sponsors. Some VT-ers, I know, are members of this great institution based in Washington, D.C. The organisation was founded in 1846 under terms of the will of James Smithson of London. He bequeathed his fortune to the United States (1829) to create an establishment for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The institution began as a museum and today "the nation's attic" is the largest museum in the world. There are 18 Smithsonians Museums (of which 13 in Washington, DC), 140 affiliate museums (all over the USA) and 9 research centers now. All their museums are FREE for visitors.
Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum is located in pretty renovated building which originally housed the offices of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company, the world's most powerful company in copper mining in the beginning of 20th century. Unfortunatelly the museum was closed when I arrived. They close too early, being open daily 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Thus I could only see an 18-gauge electric mine train and hoisting equipment on display on the lawn in front of the museum and read about the museum highligts (area's rock samples and early photographs depicting the daily lives of miners and their families nearly a century ago) in my travel literature.
This impressive building was erected on Brewery Gulch in 1905 by Joseph M. Muheim, Sr., an early Bisbee entrepreneur who emigrated from Switzerland in 1883. He brewed beer for thirsty miners for about four years. It housed the Brewery Bar (open as Stock Exchange Saloon now), the Edelweis Restaurant (the Brewery Food & Spirits - steakhouse + seafood now) and the Branch of New York Stock Exchange (closed in 1964). While the fancy Cooper Queen hotel saloon was the gathering place for officials and politicians around the corner "Brewery Gulch", named after Muheim's Brewery, provided diversion for the miners with a number of bars and a vast number of shady ladies (that's more sophisticated and elegant American name for prostitutes). However the bar closed when the federal government enacted the “Noble Experiment”, which banned all liquor sales in Arizona, in 1912, 8 years before national prohibition law (1920 - 1933) went into effect.
I could amaze this pretty renovated and full of history, red brick building with beautiful wooden, corner bay window on the second floor. The writing on the corner top says Muheim Block 1905 but it's often called the Old Brewery. There is the Stock Exchange Saloon (bar) inside which offers live music in some evenings. I paid attention to old, green, wooden stock exchange blackboards. Generally the interior looks for me pretty Irish or British. Well, I have never visited these great countries but wooden design of brown color fixed with dark green says all. Well, there is no British red call box there but they have Happy Hour - native to America.
This old, three-floor, red brick building with arcades around is called by locals Copper Queen. It looks too heavy and I didn't like its grey and simple upper part. It needs some frescos on walls under the roof and decorative attic. The building exterior is going to be renovated for the 100th anniversary in 2007.
The building was completed in 1907 and houses Arizona’s oldest continuously-operating public library, the Copper Queen Library, established in 1882. Unfortunatelly it was closed when I arrived. They are open on Mon: noon - 7 pm, Tue-Wed: 10 am - 7 pm, Thu-Fri 10 am - 5 pm, Sat: 10 am - 2 pm.
Since my visit to Nogales-Santa Cruz County Public Library in Nogales early morning that day, whenever I saw any public library in the USA, especially in smaller towns and cities, I always wanted to visit it at least for two reasons: to check e-mails and to find some tourist information (in the net, local newspapers/magazines, books or asking a librarian); add some local events which sometimes may take place in a library. Generally internet in each US public library is free for 1 hour, but this limit is enforced exclusively when someone else waits for free computer table, that never happened to me. Another great US institution I learned to visit soon later was local Chamber of Commerce always providing local tourist information and sometimes small library. Everything above mentioned is public that means free of charge in the USA and libraries are usually open longer hours than local tourist offices and chambers of commerce.
The Copper Queen building also houses another useful institution for visitors: the post office (USPS - United States Postal Service) open Mon-Fri 8.30 am - 4.30 pm. By the closed entrance I've seen drop boxes not only for mail but for materials borrowed from the library as well. I've never seen something like that in Poland and found it very smart.
I always assumed southern Arizona including Bisbee (it's almost Mexico) as hot area. Thus I expeccted to see lush subtropical plants (palm trees) growing on watering yards of local houses and no plants or typical desert species (cacti, agavas, various bushes etc.) growing on arid soil. In reality Bisbee and the Chihuahuan desert around is said to be one of the three most biologically rich and diverse desert ecoregions in the world, rivaled only by the Great Sandy Tanmi Desert of Australia and the Namib-Karoo of southern Africa.
As soon as I arrived to Bisbee I was very, very surprised to see tall, evergreen coniferous tree growing at Copper Queen Plaza. It looked like Norway Spruce common at my area in Poland. I couldn't believe and went to check whether the tree grew in a pot. It grew naturally. Soon later, I was very, very surprised to see pictures of Bisbee under snow in a local bar. At first I though that it was a joke but not. It snows in Bisbee in winter. I would like to see it! Well, Bisbee is located at an elevation of 5,538 ft (1690 m)!
So, there are no palm trees in Bisbee but there are some desert plants growing on hills around, specifically cold-hardy creosote and other bushes and some species of acacias (pictures 3-5). In town more ornamental plants, like soaptree yucca or agaves grow in yards. Add a few very tall thujas which add Medditerranean charm to Copper Queen Hotel hidden behind them (picture 2).
Practical Americans used to name the most important and often the first street in each town and city just Main Street. Unpractical Europeans had to change names of streets with each change of their Gods and heroes, quite often even in 20th century.
In Bisbee, Main Street, although short, was and still is the most important street of Bisbee Historic Shopping District. I was strolling along and amazed architecture of old, mostly Victorian 1-2 floor little houses. Unfortunatelly I couldn't enjoy shopping in numerous little stores or art watching in tiny galleries. Bisbeetans don't like long work hours - who likes? - but in contrast to their neghbours living on the other side of the Time Tunnel they practice their love to spare time closing everything at 4 or 5 pm. And don't think they open at 8 am next day, never. Don't forget that they have saloons open long hours and love them. So, they are ready to work usually at 10 am.
On Main Street I paid attention to:
#20 - Killer Bee Honey (locally made gourmet incl. honey and mustards)
#23 - The Coipper Shop, LCC ( locally hand-crafted copper art and others)
#29 - Belleza Fine Art Gallery (an elegant, eclectic collection)
#35 - Cafe Roca ( four-course dinner from $14.50 to $21.50, with entrees inspired by Italian and California cuisine; awarded cafe)
#55 - 55 Main Gallery (contemporary art and paintings, metal and glass art, sculpture and jewelry from local artists and around the world)
#78 - Bisbee Framing & Fine Art (fine art from local artists and serigraphs from well renowned Southwest artists)
#79 - Metalmorphosis (decorative metal art)
#81 - Finder Keepers Antiques & Collectibles (quality antiques and collectibles incl. jewelry, pottery and paper collectibles).
Gulch is an American word for "gully" or "gulley" in Shakespeare's English. Gully is a narrow, stony valley or channel with steep sides, made by a fast flowing stream (a ravine). Brewery is a place where beer is produced but also where it's drunk. So, Brewery Gulch had to be a place where a lot of beer was drunk.
In Bisbee it is the name for a gulch (a ravine) or a side canyon that held more than 50 saloons in the early 1900s, earning a reputation as the best drinking and entertainment venue in the Arizona Territory (state since 1912). Many of the fine commercial buildings and Victorian houses built in the boom years still stand there. And in Brewery Gulch beer was brewed by Joseph M. Muheim, Sr. His house is a Registered National Historic site and houses the Muheim Heritage House Museum now but I didn't visit it. Instead, I walked a liitle bit up along O.K. Street, Brevery Avenue and some stairs to have better panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and hillside homes on Brewery Gulch. Some of these Victorian and European-style houses perched on hillsides look empty and neglected, some quite opposite. But there are no two houses which look similar one to each other.
In nearby Warren Township is the William Douglas House (AKA Loma Linda). It was built in 1907 by the renowned Southwest Architect Henry C. Trost. The home was designed to be the private residence of Mr. Douglas, a civil engineer who was to head the worlds largest copper mine in Bisbee, Arizona. The home consists of some 42 rooms including a five room master suite, twelve bedrooms, ten bathrooms, a third floor billiards room, and a two bedroom one bathroom guest apartment with full kitchen and living room off the main floor with its own private entrance. Over the years it has also served as the Loma Linda Lodge, a health clinic retreat, an apartment complex, and is now a private residence again. It is listed on the Register of Historic Places. It is also currently for sale, with an asking price of 2 million dollars US.
I didn't stay at this hotel but I liked either its pretty renovated exterior (wooden, covered balconies, red-tiled roofs - in Mexican or Mediterranean style) and old-fashionable, stylish interior of the lobby, Winchester's Restaurant and Old West Saloon. It's for sure worth seeing.
The hotel was built by Phelps Dodge Corp (still one of the world's leading producers of copper) in 1902 and became a fancy hotel for both dignitaries and weary miners in the heart of the largest city between Saint Louis and San Francisco that time. It advertises as the longest continuously operating hotel in Arizona that I find a very American advertisement.
I asked at the lobby about the room for two but it cost about 150$ without tax and breakfast that was over twice above my maximum daily hotel budget and simply seemed to me much for just a 2-star hotel. Additionally they don't have any hotel parking lot. Hotel guests have to carry luggage by themselves. People who are used to the Hyatt will not find much to like here, I guess. Despite it the hotel was almost fully booked. I had to think that Americans were ready to pay a lot for staying just in only a bit over a hundred years old hotel. Excuse me, are they ready to pay 5 times more for 5 times older hotel in Europe? :-)
Like Hollywood is famous for its name put on a hill above Los Angeles (a tourist trap in reality), Bisbee may be famous for huge, white letter "B" on Chihuahua Hill overlooking the town. You may see it via satellite now, look here. You may also climb the hills surrounding Old Bisbee to get panoramic view over the town. I only walked a liitle bit up along O.K. Street, Brevery Avenue and some stairs up.
If you have more time and energy and want to enjoy views over the town you may take a longer hike around town following itinerary of annual event: Bisbee 1000 and climbing in total 1,000 stairs (map not to scale here).
Well, I have read a funny statesment on Bisbee T-shirts: "SAN FRANCISCO IS FLAT." Yes, they are right, in comparison with Bisbee San Francisco is flat. But they have never strolled around Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal.
There are probably no two houses similar one to another in Bisbee. Even each three-floor tenement house in a row of Main Street is different from its neighbour. Here and generally in lower part of town red brick buildings dominate the setting although an eclectic blend of architecture includes styles from the Romanesque, Renaissance, Victorian and even Art Deco periods.
Futher up there are wooden hillsides houses in different styles as well, including roadless homes that I found unbelieveble and very rare in the USA. Well, Bisbee founded in 1880 was designed before automobile era. Thus the old miner's houses have a yard but have no road. The only way to enter there is to go upstairs on foot. Numerous staircases lead away from the city hub to these, sometimes neglected and abandoned, houses.
This is the Historic John Treu House in Warren Township just outside Bisbee. The Treu family was very important to this part of Arizona at the turn of the last century. This house was built in 1919 and is a fine example of the Bungalow/Craftsman style of architecture. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This is the 1st Presbyterian Church in Bisbee, Arizona. It has an interesting style and was built in 1903. It is part of the Bisbee Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum is affiliated with the famous Smithsonian Institution. It containes some impressive display about Bisbee and the early mining industry. There are also a number of items on display on the museum grounds. The museum is located in a nicely restored building and is in the middle of old town that originally housed the offices of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company. Admission is $7 for adults. Hours are 10 AM to 4 PM. They do not allow any photography inside the museum. Check out their website, it's pretty impressive too.
Looking for something to do with the kids? Ride a mine car thru the Queen Mine! A copper mine that closed in 1943 that now offers tours above and below ground. The underground tour last about 60 to 75 minutes. You are provided with a rain slicker, a hard hat, and a head lamp. Wear a sweater or fleece. The tempurature is only about 47 degrees (8 degrees celcius). And leave your back pack in the car, they don't allow them in the mine. I took this tour in December 2006. It was $12. I did not do the surface tour but my information says it also lasts 60 to 75 minutes and visits the Lavender Pit and downtown Bisbee.