Arizona’s History Museums

By: Elena Acoba

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February 28, 2015

Travel back in time and get to know the people and events that shaped the Grand Canyon State.

About the author

Elena Acoba

Elena Acoba

Since moving to Tucson in 1988, freelance writer Elena Acoba has enjoyed traveling to the four corners of Arizona. Her favorites spots in her adopted state: the natural wonders and the rich historical sights.

Travel back in time and get to know the people and events that shaped the Grand Canyon State.

Centuries of stories about Arizona and its people are told in more than 100 community and regional history museums all over the Grand Canyon State. Here are a few unique must-sees when you visit.

The Old West

Nineteenth-century Bisbee was known as “Queen of the Copper Camps.” The story of its mining boom is told at the Smithsonian-affiliated Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. Take a walk through a mine replica and displays of early Bisbee life in this old mining company building.

Wander through renovated and replicated 1880s buildings of the Castle Dome Mine Museum near Yuma. The saloons, mercantile, doctor’s office and other businesses typical of 19th-century southwest Arizona are full of everyday items. The museum is open daily October through April; call for admission dates during other times of the year.

The real West and the romanticized West come alive in eclectic displays at the Superstition Mountain Museum in Apache Junction. Artifacts introduce you to the ancient Hohokam and Salado people. Found items tell the fascinating tale of the Lost Dutchman Mine. Stroll over to the “Elvis chapel” and “Rifleman’s barn” – survivors of fires at the old Apacheland Movie Ranch. They house memorabilia of dozens of western movies and TV shows.

While many Arizona museums detail the state’s copper mining boom, the Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale focuses on what happened once the metal was sold. Clarkdale was built to produce industrial copper from 1912 to 1953. Essentially, the museum’s copper and copper-alloy kitchenware, spirits stills, ceiling panels, arches and decorated military shell casings have returned to their beginnings.

Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is one of Arizona’s newest history museums. Artwork and artifacts describe the settling of the western United States. Check out the Heritage Hall for information on Arizona history-makers, including lawman Wyatt Earp, labor leader Cesar Chavez and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. 

Artwork and fine craft at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg help detail life in Arizona from pre-European American Indian culture to territorial cowboy and mining days. 

Transportation 

What looks like a rail yard in Chandler is actually the Arizona Railway Museum that displays more than three dozen passenger and freight cars and locomotives from the last 100 years. Many plied the Arizona rails. It’s open weekends from September to May.

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is housed in the restored 1941 Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in Tucson, which still serves as an Amtrak station. Recorded personal stories enhance the displays – including a 1900 locomotive – that describe how the railroad’s 1880 arrival turned Tucson into a major destination.

More than 300 aircraft – passenger and private jets, spy and fighter planes, satellites and more – at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson cover all of aviation history. It’s the largest privately funded, non-governmental museum of its kind. The Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame lauds the state’s noteworthy aviators, including astronauts Frank Borman and Dick Scobee, Tuskegee airman Vernon V. Haywood, and Janet Harmon Bragg, the first black woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license in the United States.

Public Service

The Titan Missile Museum in Sahuarita provides a unique look at the Cold War Era. Stand next to a decommissioned Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile. See where military personnel worked and lived as they stood ready to deploy the warhead. Experience a simulated launch in the actual launch control room.

Firefighters are honored and their work is explained at the Hall of Flame Fire Museum in Phoenix. Its international collection of firefighting vehicles and equipment includes antique trucks used in Arizona. Its 1951 Phoenix dispatch center shows the state-of-the-art technology of the time: punch cards. Another exhibit honors first responders to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

The Postal History Foundation in Tucson is the state’s only philatelic sales facility and the only United States post office that gets almost all new stamp issues. Its museum includes a post office built from a kit that served the town of Naco from 1895 to 1925. See early postal equipment, paintings of Arizona Territory mail delivery and massive collections of stamps from around the world.

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