Greenlee County has seen Coronado’s conquest and Geronimo’s raids, outlaws and epidemics, destructive fire and devastating floods and the struggles to build Arizona’s first railroad, bank and a vast Copper Empire.
The Founding. In 1974 a number of pioneers-ranchers, farmers, merchants, miners, educators and political leaders - banded to form the Greenlee County Historical Society. Their mandate was to preserve, protect and enhance the community’s historical and cultural heritage. The first president was Father Frederick D. McAninch. The society originally located in Eastside in the adobe Henry Lesinsky home but, because of the San Francisco River flood of 1983, it became necessary to relocate to the Eagles’ Hall in the old, historic business district of Chase Creek. The Society has a fifteen-member Board of Directors, a membership of 170 persons and receives more than 1,500 visitors annually. It is an affiliate of the Arizona Historical Society.
The Collection. Over the years the Society has collected many local artifacts for exhibit in the Museum. Indian artifacts include baskets, ceremonial gloves, belts, axes and effigies, examples of pre-historic Mogollon and nineteenth-century Western Apache and Pueblo cultures. The Museum contains turn-of-the-century clothing including wedding dresses, millinery and children’s frocks. Its kitchen utensils include tin cans and porcelains and there is oak furniture from homes and county offices. There are exhibits of photographs and sheet music, also architectural plaques and markers. There is an exhibit honoring Harold E. Wilson, a rancher’s son who was the first local casualty of World War I.
The mining exhibit includes a 1915 geological relief model of the entire community. The map is particularly valuable to locate disappeared Metcalf and Old Morenci and the early underground mines, includes and Arizona’s first railroad which brought copper ore from the Morenci mines to the smelters in Clifton.
The Museum has a rare rawhide ore bucket used to raise copper ore from the small underground mines. Also, it has a rock and mineral collection. The ranch collection has old saddles and a blacksmith’s shop. The farm collection includes horse-drawn ploughs, planter, hay cutter and cultivator.
There is a large pictorial exhibit of local photographer O.A. Risdon who left an uninterrupted account of the community from his arrival in 1900 until his death in 1940. It shows the celebrations and misfortunes of the community as well as its values. There is a similar exhibit of postcards of the photographer Frank Gabusi during the period 1940 to 1972.
Library and Archives. Upstairs in the Museum is the GCHS’s library and archives which contain hundreds of books, maps, letters, newspapers, photographs and audio/video recordings documenting the multi-cultural heritage of the community from Indian, to Spanish Colonial, to Mexican National, to Modern Asian/European.
Video Programs. The GCHS has a permanent collection of classical, domestic and foreign films in its Video Library. Films such as the Maltese Falcon and the Wizard of Oz are available for viewing. They span from silent to the computer-generated era.
One particular, historical program of importance is PBS’s, American Experience, “Los Mineros,” which documents the struggles of immigrant Mexican miners in the early Clifton-Morenci copper mines.
Tours. The Museum may be used as a starting point for “A Walking Tour of Historic Chase Creek, 1900-1929” with brochure available at the desk. The tour leads to twenty-seven business-houses on the National Register of Historic Places, within walking distance. Also, it is a guide to some of the town’s secrets, e.g., caves which were once a jail, a saloon and Chinese opium dens.
In addition, Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold offers guided tours of the Morenci mine Firdays and Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. During the tour a visitor may collect mineral specimens of the area. Tours may be booked by calling the Morenci Motel at 928-865-4111.
Hours. The Museum is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. Docent private openings and tours are available by calling (602) 865-3115. There is no admission charge. All ages are welcome and the building is handicapped-accessible and has adequate parking next door. The Museum
Gift Shop is open during regular Museum hours.
Greenlee County Historical Society
P.O. Box 1125
Clifton, AZ 85533
Rights & Reproduction
Property of The Greenlee County Historical Society, 299 Chase Creek / PO Box 787, Clifton, AZ 85533. All rights reserved.