From a rich and long history in mining to a world-renowned botanical garden, Superior’s story is centered around a resilient and proud community.
The story of Superior is one of transformation, hidden treasure, and diversity. Even before this land was named Superior it has always been a place of connection and trading, a place on the fringes, and a place where people have been surprised and have cherished what they discovered here.
You would have to go back about 70 million years to be present for the formation of the copper that bubbled up into the Earth’s crust deep below Superior’s ground surface. Skip ahead a few million years so that enough erosion and faulting happened that the rich minerals became exposed. Jump way ahead again to the year 1875 when those mineral veins became the subject of the start of the Silver King mining claims filed by Charles G. Mason and four companions and the Silver Queen mining claims filed by W. Tuttle and P. Swain.
FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE
There is evidence that First Nations people mined from obsidian deposits on this land for the making of arrowheads. The area was a common trading route used by many. Among the earliest inhabitants of this land were the Native Americans of the Apache Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Tohono O’odham Nation.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikiwand – San Carlos Apache woman
A boom bust cycle can be said to be traced back to the time when First Nations people lived on this land and times were good until a drought and then they were abruptly forced to move closer to more stable resources.
This boom bust cycle continued over time and became even more pronounced in the early mining days. The Silver King mine which was the richest silver mine in Arizona quickly went from boom to bust in a matter of a few years. Following the drop of the price of silver from $1.50 to $.20 per ounce led to the demise of Pinal City with its two thousand residents where the Silver King Mine was located at the foot of Picketpost Mountain. What remains today of Pinal City is a faint ghost town. Fortunately, in Superior, which was initially established as a supply center for Pinal City, rich copper mines were discovered and thus began its long history as a copper town.
IMAGE CREDIT: Superior Historical Society – Ore wagons waiting to be filled at the Silver King mine, 1880s.
BEGINNING OF SUPERIOR
Superior was initially named Queen, then Hastings, and then finally platted under the name of Superior in 1900. Queen had a population of around 100 circa 1880. There was a general store, 2 hotels, numerous saloons, and a post office, which closed in 1881. The Superior town site was laid out in 1902 by George Lobb and named after the Lake Superior and Arizona Copper Company (LS&A). The Superior post office opened on December 29, 1902. By 1904 the town had many tents and a few primitive board houses.
IMAGE CREDIT: Jack San Felice – Early 1900's Superior Business District
MAGMA COPPER CO.
By 1910 the Silver Queen mine was purchased by William Boyce Thompson and George Gunn who organized the operations into the Magma Copper Company, a large-scale producer. A 300-ton-per-day concentrator was built in 1914, in 1915 a railway that connected Superior with the Southern Pacific Railroad, and in 1924 a smelter that would enable the processing of the copper on site.
In the lifetime of the Magma Mine, which ultimately closed in 1996, it would go on to produce 1,299,718 short tons of copper, 36,550 short tons of zinc, close to 686,000 ounces of gold and 34.3 million ounces of silver.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wittig Family – The Magma Smelter built in 1924
BOYCE THOMPSON ARBORETUM
In the early 1920s, William Boyce Thompson, enamored with the landscape around Superior, built himself a winter home overlooking Queen Creek. Having come to realize the importance of plants and plant science, he founded Boyce Thompson Arboretum just west of Superior in 1924, thus establishing Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. This ‘living museum’ today holds over 4,000 species of arid land plants from around the world on 372 pristine acres of Sonoran Desert.
IMAGE CREDIT: Boyce Thompson Arboretum – Picket Post House built in 1923 and William Boyce Thompson (1869-1930) .
Superior continued to prosper through the early 20th Century. Insulated from the darkest times during the Great Depression as more than 80% of the male population was employed by the Magma Mine. Hard times led to ‘friendships forged in the sweat of our labor and forged in the blood of our sacrifices’. The town grew to have a very ethnically diverse population including Caucasians, Hispanics, Eastern Europeans, Syrians, Lebanese, Chinese, and a handful of Native Americans. Thanks to the flow of copper the town continued to prosper through World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It became home to a dozen grocery stores, eight department stores, six lumber/hardware stores, ten churches, thirteen bars, a movie theatre, a drive-in theatre, a hospital and three new car dealerships. The population hit its peak at well over 8,000 residents.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rebuild Superior, Inc.
Superior has experienced dramatic changes throughout its economic history. Its boom-and-bust cycles revolved around the mining industry, impacting everything from population and business growth and its underlying economic base. This evolution even impacted how the community sees itself. Are we a mining town or a town with a mine? Superior’s recent history has seen the town develop into a much loved sustainable community nestled in its beautiful high desert setting. The population has increased as people return to Superior. The community has become a draw for tourists interested in its long mining history, local architecture, the spectacular mountain scenery, and the preserved infrastructure of the Magma Mine. The diversity of the population remains, and descendants of Superior’s original settlers are proud of their ancestral heritage. To this day, the community retains its small-town cultural and historic charm.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia Commons
Many treasures await to be discovered and appreciated in Superior. In the surrounding Sonoran desert, the prickly pear offers its vibrant fruits which are celebrated with an annual festival. In the community, the youth, the elderly, and the Hispanic family culture are all things that are cherished. The natural beauty here is also treasured deeply once discovered. The diversity of plant and animal life is something that is such a joy to continually discover.
IMAGE CREDIT: Cat Brown
A PEACEFUL PLACE
It is common to hear residents of Superior talk about the feeling they get when they cross Gonzales Pass on the way home to Superior. A deep breath, instant decompression and a peaceful feeling comes over them. Some say it’s simply a feeling in the air of being in a place where they feel safe and home.
Superior is a peaceful place that evokes admiration and necessitates attention. Come and fall in love with Superior and feel the magic for yourself!
IMAGE CREDIT: Cat Brown
Today, Superior, Arizona is in the midst of a renaissance - one that is being driven by long-time residents as well as newcomers and new business establishments who have come to Superior because of its small-town ambience and values, natural beauty and the promise of building a “new”, vibrant community.
Superior, Arizona is much more than copper. During the past few years, the Town has pivoted towards growing tourism, marketing the community as a unique place to visit and live. Superior has become a premier destination for hikers, mountaineers, bikers and nature enthusiasts from across the world who want to experience some of the most majestic beauty in the American West. The Town is home to major international businesses with large production facilities, and also is bustling with entrepreneurship activity. The Superior Enterprise Center has launched a one-stop shop for resources, training and information. A hub of connectivity and learning, this facility represents the importance of enriching the community through engagement, education and opportunity.
It can be surprising to discover such a forward-thinking community tucked away into the charming mountain town of Superior. You will be welcomed in as one of the family here as Superior is deeply committed to creating durable opportunities for the next generation. For entrepreneurs who aspire to create their own enterprise and who are ready to fall in love with Superior will find abundant opportunities and an entire community that stands ready to support their success. Make your mark in a cultural revival of a special travel destination that values residents and visitors alike, peaceful living, natural beauty, and its history — not only the past but making it today.
IMAGE CREDIT: Kirk Rasmussen/Visit USA Parks