In 1882 the Lesinsky brothers sold out to
the Arizona Copper Company, owned by Scottish Investors, who continued
to expand the operation, despite the fact it wasn't hugely profitable
due to the fluctuations in copper prices. In 1902 the Shannon Copper
Company built another smelter on what is now known as Shannon Hill, to
refine ore from the nearby mining town of Metcalf.
In 1906, the Clifton Cliff Jail closed
it's doors after a large flood nearly submerged the building. Prisoners
had to be pulled out a small window high in the roof and the jail was
left filled with mud and debris. Restored in 1929, the Clifton
Cliff Jail is now part of the Clifton Townsite Historic District.
Of the more notable businesses, Clifton
Mineral Hot Springs and Bath House attracted many from around the
region. Known for its thermal springs that fed directly into the
building, the business had a steady flow of patrons, which benefited
other businesses in Clifton as well. A rich social life
sprang up, compared with that of larger cities. Attractions included
theatres and opera houses which drew renowned talent to their stages.
So it was not surprising that voters
selected Clifton as the seat of the newly formed Greenlee County in
1909. A new courthouse and jail were completed in 1912. It was
also around this time that Clifton peaked in population, with census
numbers indicating 5,000, however it was likely more as numbers for
Mexican and Chinese residents varied according to who was counting.
In the years leading up to 1921 many of
the mining operations were consolidated and firmly under the control of
the Phelps Dodge Corporation, which had been a part owner in the Detroit
Copper Company. Although the Stock Market Crash of 1929 ultimately resulted in the
mines closing for 4 years, open pit mining brought back yet another boom
and continued copper mining to this day.
Although there had been flooding in the
past, few were as severe as the floods of 1972 and 1983, both of which
did severe damage and hurt the local economy. Each time however, the
people of Clifton have persevered.
Also, Clifton and nearby
Morenci are the setting for the Arizona Copper Mine Strike of 1983,
which lasted nearly three years and resulted in the the governor calling
in the National Guard, replacement of most of the striking workers and
the largest decertification of Unions in U.S. History. In the latest
data available, the mining operation at Clifton/Morenci is the 2nd
largest in the world, beaten out only by Escondida, Chile.
With just over 3,000 residents today,
Clifton's rich mining history is on display and is an interesting visit for Old
West and mining enthusiasts. Be sure to check out the Historic Depot and
Visitors Center, and
Clifton Cliff Jail while your there.
While the downtown was primarily abandoned during our visit in 2007,
there has been talk over the years of trying to bring life back to the
district, much like Bisbee did.
©Dave Alexander, Legends of America, updated May, 2017.