From a rich and long history in mining to a world-renowned living botanical museum, 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 cherished what they have 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 Picket Post 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 townsite 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
In the early 1920s, Thompson, enamored with the landscape around Superior, built himself a winter home overlooking Queen Creek. And as his fortunes grew, he created and financed the Boyce Thompson Arboretum on the property of the Picket Post House, just west of Superior. Thus establishing what is now the oldest botanical institution west of the Mississippi. It continues to this day as a desert plant research facility and 'living museum'. Today over 2600 species of arid land plants from around the world grow at the Arboretum.
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 bards, a movie theatre, a drive-in theatre, a hospital and three new car dealerships. The population hit it's peak at well over 8,000 residents.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rebuild Superior, Inc.
Superior's economy suffered greatly after the closure of the Magma Mine in 1996. Some predicted that it might become yet another Arizona ghost town. The following decade proved them wrong. The town developed a much loved sustainable community in their beautiful high desert setting. The population increased as people returned to Superior. The community became a draw for tourists interested in its long mining history, local architecture, the spectacular mountain scenery, and the preserved infrastructure of the Magma Mine. In the 2000s, Superior transitioned and established itself into a world-class destination for desert botanical gardening, ecotourism, and 21st-century mine engineering and techniques.
The diversity of the population remains. Descendants of the former settlers are proud of their ancestors and heritage. The town, to this day, retains its small-town cultural and historic charm.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia Commons
Many treasures await to be discovered and appreciated in Superior. In our deserts the prickly pear offers it's vibrant fruits which are celebrated with an annual festival. In our community, our youth, our 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.
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!