Yesterday was the Florence, AZ historical open house tour. Florence is the county seat of Pinal County, and one of the oldest towns in Pinal.
There are more than 25 buildings listed on the National Historic Register. Many are private residences, but we did get to tour a dozen that are now businesses or unoccupied.
Florence is located on the Gila River, a dry sand bed during most of the year. The only time the Gila River flows is during years of extremely heavy rainfall. This area was a part of Mexico until the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.
Florence was founded by Levi Ruggles, a veteran of the Civil War in 1866. He understood the agricultural advantages of this area. The discovery of silver in 1875 led to the development of the Silver King Mine.
Florence now houses 8 different detention facilities, from detention centers to a high security state prison complex. During WWII Florence was home to a POW camp housing German and Italian prisoners of war. Prisons are the major source of employment in Florence. The City of Florence sells tee-shirts – “Florence, a gated community”.
Many of the original houses in Florence were built of local materials, adobe and saguaro ribs and local trees. Four are on the historic register, with one being almost original.
Many of the houses covered the ceilings with muslin. This gave the ceilings a finished appearance, and also helped keep the manure dust from sifting through the ceiling.
The mix of adobe houses with American-Victorian architecture is unique in Arizona, or anywhere.
The second Pinal County courthouse was built in 1891. Still in use today, it is the most prominent landmark in the city – other than the many prisons. Upon completion, the city discovered they had not budgeted for the clock tower. Clock faces were painted on the clock tower, with the time always 9 o’clock.
The town has hundreds of stories, from the humorous to the macabre. Famous shootouts, murders, and the Tom Mix memorial just south of the city. Many of the historic buildings served as bars, but the only drinking establishment in the historic district is the American Legion.
Florence is anything but dry, though. Just outside the historic district, next to the Gila River is the River Bottom. A popular destination, the immense parking lot is always filled with hundreds of motorcycles and side-by-sides.
Live music from Thursday through Sunday, it is a mandatory stop any time we pass through Florence. The kitchen is top notch. You can’t go wrong with the prime rib sandwich and a side of garlic fries. It was a perfect way to end our tour of Florence.