The churning wheels and whistle of railroad trains are distant echoes along the banks of the San Pedro River, but a few buildings stand testament to an Old West boom town called Fairbank. Listen closely and you might hear the sounds of children playing outside the schoolhouse, men shouting orders to each other at the Steam Quartz Mill site, or women chatting as they went about their chores. Or maybe that’s just the wind.
Fairbank was established with the construction of a railroad and grew to be one of the largest western cities in its day with 15,000 residents in 1882. Named after N.K. Fairbank of Chicago, who helped finance the railroad, Fairbank was built on an old Mexican land grant, which was bought in 1901 by the Boquillas Land and Cattle Company. The company leased the mercantile building and a few residences well into the 1970s. The Bureau of Land Management acquired the land in 1986 and has restored several buildings.
The most impressive structure remaining is the 1920 schoolhouse, which includes desks obtained in Bisbee and historic displays. The imposing adobe commercial building, which housed a general store, post office and saloon, awaits reconstruction. The ghost town includes a couple of houses, foundations where many other buildings stood, and a stable and outhouses built in the early 1940s during a Works Progress Administration project.
Stroll down a dirt path to pay respects to some of the former residents in the Fairbank cemetery, perched on a mesa with spectacular views of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Humble graves of piled stones with wooden crosses rest beside wrought-iron fences enclosing graves marked with carved tombstones. The site of the old mill is also accessible.
Fairbank is a great day trip drive from Tucson and just minutes from Tombstone, where there are hotels, motels, bed & breakfast inns and guest ranches, as well as RV sites and campgrounds. To get a feel for the real West, camp under the stars at primitive camping spots in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Sierra Vista, home to Fort Huachuca, is also a few miles from Fairbank with many accommodation options.
For hours and pricing, please visit the website.
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
4070 S. Avenida Saracino
Hereford, AZ 85615