|Read about GHOST TOWN: A visit to Fairbank!
The Town of Fairbank
Fairbank is named after Nathanial Kellogg Fairbank, a Chicago merchant who helped finance the first railroad into the area in 1881. The town is built on the old San Juan de las Boquillas y Nogales Mexican land grant that was bought by American interests as the Boquillas Land and Cattle Co. in 1901. Fairbank was a family town, a center of local activity and commerce; sedate compared to the rowdiness of the mill towns of Millville, Contention, and Charleston.
In 1889, Fairbank had five saloons, a meat market, general store, grocery, three restaurants, a hotel, a Wells Fargo Office, livery stables, train and stage depots , a school, post office, and resident’s houses. It was a transportation center for passengers and freight (ore and cattle). A community of Chinese immigrants grew vegetables, especially beans for the miners in Tombstone and Bisbee and for the Army at Fort Huachuca. These “Chinese Gardens” were outside of town on the banks of the Babocomari River. Of course, there were all the residents who supported the “service” industries as well.
Fairbank lived on after the mill towns died and the Tombstone mines flooded in the late 1890s. It made it through the 1887 earthquake. It held on through the 1890 and 1894 floods. It even survived the notorious events of 1900, when Jeff Milton foiled a dastardly plot to rob the train. Jeff had the fight of his life and was seriously wounded. He traveled to San Francisco for medical attention to save his arm and he lived to tell the tale. Fairbank remained a transportation hub as long as the railroads came through to Mexico and points west. The number of railroad workers in town dwindled until the 1960s, when the Southern Pacific Railroad abandoned the Fairbank Station. The Depot was torn down for wood in 1967. The school remained open until 1944 and the last residents left in the mid 1970s.
The Fairbank Schoolhouse
The schoolhouse was built in the late 1920s. The original building was one-room but a partition (long missing) separated it into two rooms. This block structure replaced a wooden structure that had burned down. In the early 1930s, a “third” room was added. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) meticulously restored the schoolhouse in 2007 using original materials where possible, and replicated features such as the doors and windows. The floor is original. BLM tried to save whatever it could. Even if an original item wasn’t usable, it was saved so exact replicas could be made. The blackboards are from the Lowell School in Bisbee.
The block in the walls is special. It was made by the Arizona Gypsum Block Company in Douglas. Each block measures 24x12x9 inches. They are found in several buildings in this area and represent a unique regional building tradition. Using unsealed gypsum blocks for exterior walls is only possible in arid climates as water is a principal cause of gypsum block deterioration.
Spend a few minutes to view the historical displays, sit in the student seats , and try to imagine life in this frontier town.
The House and Garage
We don’t know much about these buildings located to the north of the schoolhouse. These buildings were probably built sometime in the 1930s or 40s. The house is often referred to as the “Teacher’s House.” The two-seater outhouse and stable located to the northeast of the schoolhouse, as well as a single-seat outhouse located behind the adobe mercantile, were constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the early 1940s. Workers carved the initials “WPA” into the concrete floor of each outhouse. The WPA operated out of Fairbank in 1941-42 under the direction of Superintendent Sam Shappell.
The Heney Family operated the Fairbank Hotel until it was torn down in the 1930s. They operated the Commercial Company, post office, and gas station, located in the adobe mercantile building, until the 1970s.
The Mercantile Building
This is the oldest surviving building in Fairbank, dating to 1882. BLM is working to rebuild the south wall and stabilize thestructure. Once construction is finished, the fence will come down and visitors can look inside the doors and windows, and possibly enter into the central room/bay, depending on how well we are able to address structural safety issues.
Many railroads have developed along and adjacent to the river. Included are: the New Mexico and Arizona, the Arizona and Southeastern, and the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad. In 1881-82, the NM&A built a line from Benson to Fairbank and then southwest to Nogales. This line was later bought by the EP&SW which, in turn, was purchased by the Southern Pacific. In 1888, the Arizona and Southeastern constructed a line from Fairbank to Bisbee. In 1901, this line was extended to Douglas. These lines served the smelters and mines in the surrounding communities. This line was also purchased by the EP&SW and, eventually, the Southern Pacific. Tombstone received its first rail service in 1903 with a line built from Fairbank by the EP&SW. The same company also built a spur line from Lewis Springs to Ft. Huachuca in 1912. Service has been abandoned and track removed from all lines.
The cemetery is approximately 1/2 mile from the townsite. The trail is a flat trail and follows the old railroad grade until it reachescemetery hill. There are great views of the San Pedro River Valley from on top of cemetery hill. The graves are most likely town residents, but only one grave has a name on it. Based on artifacts found there, this hilltop has been used by humans for centuries.
Grand Central Mill
Grand Central Mill is a typical silver processing stamp mill. Huge pistons crushed the rock, working day and night, and making dreadful noise. Then the crushed ore was processed with mercury in amalgamating pans to bind the silver. Imagine the health effects of the toxic mercury on the mill workers. Their lives were short.
Fossils and Artifacts
Fossils and artifacts (human-made objects such as glass, pottery, metal pieces, etc.) are protected by law. It is illegal to excavate or remove these things from federal land. Examine and enjoy them, just be sure to leave them where you find them so they may be enjoyed by future visitors and studied by archaeologists.
Use of metal detectors is not allowed within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
The Friends of the San Pedro River is a volunteer, non-profit, non-political organization providing support to the Bureau of Land Management in its stewardship of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.