Bisbee is a city in Cochise County, Arizona, United States, 92 miles southeast of Tucson. Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880, and named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the adjacent Copper Queen Mine.
In 1929, the county seat was moved from Tombstone to Bisbee, where it remains.
Mining in the Mule Mountains proved quite successful: in the early 20th century the population of Bisbee soared. Incorporated in 1902, by 1910 its population had swelled to 9,019, and it sported a constellation of suburbs, including Warren, Lowell, and San Jose, some of which had been founded on their own (ultimately less successful) mines. In 1917, open-pit mining was successfully introduced to meet the copper demand during World War I.
A high quality turquoise promoted as Bisbee Blue was a by-product of the copper mining. Many high-quality mineral specimens have come from Bisbee area mines and are to be found in museum collections worldwide. Some of these minerals include: Cuprite, aragonite, wulfenite, malachite, azurite, and galena.
The introduction of open-pit mining in the 1950s and continued underground work enabled the town to survive changes in mining. Neighboring towns had mines that closed, with a resulting dramatic loss of population. But, by 1950, the population of Bisbee had dropped to less than 6,000. In 1975 the Phelps Dodge Corporation halted its Bisbee copper-mining operations.
Bisbee Mayor Chuck Eads, with cooperation of Phelps Dodge, implemented development of a mine tour and historic interpretation of a portion of the world-famous Copper Queen Mine as part of an effort to create heritage tourism as another base for the economy. They worked to compensate for the economic loss due to the end of the mining industry in the area.
Community volunteers cleared tons of fallen rock and re-timbered the old workings. Eventually, this local effort came to the attention of the federal Economic Development Administration. It approved a large grant to the City of Bisbee to help the mine tour project and other improvements in downtown Bisbee; these were designed to meet tourist business needs. The Queen Mine Tour was officially opened to visitors on February 1, 1976. More than a million visitors, from all 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries, have taken the underground mine tour train.
In the 1990s, additional people have been attracted to Bisbee, leading it to develop such amenities as coffee shops and live theatre. Many of the old houses have been renovated, and property values in Bisbee now greatly exceed those of other southeastern Arizona cities.
Today, the historic city of Bisbee is known as "Old Bisbee" and is home to a thriving downtown cultural scene. This area is noted for its architecture, including Victorian-style houses and an elegant Art Deco county courthouse. Because its plan was laid out to a pedestrian scale before the automobile, Old Bisbee is compact and walkable. The town's hilly terrain is exemplified by the old four-story high school; each floor has a ground-level entrance.