Editor’s note* Lowell was at one time a sizable mining town, settled in the late 1800’s at an elevation of 5075 feet above sea level, and located just to the southeast of Old Bisbee. The majority of the original town site was consumed by the excavation of the Lavender Pit mine during the 1950s. 191 houses and businesses were either moved or torn down, 3200 feet of U.S. Highway 80 (the first paved highway in Arizona) was relocated, and the Southern Pacific railroad line serving Lowell and Bisbee was abandoned. All that is left today is a small portion of Erie Street, along with Evergreen Cemetery, Saginaw subdivision and Lowell Middle School. These days Lowell is considered by most of the local residents to be more of a place name than an actual community. As you read this article and take in all the photos, keep in mind that these are all present day photographs. None of the photos used in this article are from the past. Erie St. when caught at the right time can be a very magical place!
We visited Erie St. on a mid July late Saturday afternoon, and had the entire area to ourselves with almost no interruption. With not another soul present, walking down Erie St. produced a feeling of almost being transported as an invisible observer, back to a frozen moment in time somewhere in the late 1950’s or early 60’s, through a ripple in the space-time continuum. It almost seemed, that if you blinked, the magic would be broken, and the street would be full of activity again. It certainly was “eerie, on Erie St.” as signs hanging from storefronts creaked in the wind, and not another noise was to be heard except that of the breeze shuffling random debris here and there. All that was needed to really send the effect over the top was the strains of “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” striking up in the background, as we headed into a wild west shootout on Erie St. Our ‘side-arms’ of choice, were of course two of our trusty cameras ‘loaded’ up with 32MB sd cards….. So we gathered our concentration, and we stepped out into the street, shots blazing of course 😉 !
It was an incredible stroke of luck to arrive at this location with no one else present. Typically, the photos you see of this area are a mix of old and new, with the modern vehicles of visitors parked alongside the classics your see in our photos. In fact, when we came back the next morning to have a great breakfast at the Bisbee Breakfast Club, it just was not the same experience with so many people milling about up and down the street…… but not on this lazy July afternoon. So enjoy the photos of an “abondoned” Erie St. as we detail some of the history of the building, and the later demolition of the Lowell community to make way for the Phelps Dodge Lavender Pit mining operation.
The main road (U.S. Highway 80) runs behind the town and unless you purposely drive down the old main street (Erie St.) you will miss it. Many buildings are boarded up, though there is life in some. The Bisbee Breakfast Club (highly recommended by the way!) has a line to get in on most days, and the Food Coop does a steady business. The location was also a filming site for both Stephen King’s Desperation, and William Shatner’s Groom Lake. The old movie theater has been spruced up, and the historical society has done some preservation of the area to retain the look and feel of Erie St. from it’s heyday. But mostly, Lowell is at rest.
The first businesses in Lowell, two saloons and livery stable, were built in 1900. A modern ice plant was also built along the road to Douglas. In 1901 a generating plant was added and gas was produced giving Bisbee complete utility service. In 1901, a New England merchant opened the Lowell mine, and the town was named, quite possibly after Lowell, Massachusetts. In 1904, plans were laid out for Lowell, and in 1906, the Chief Engineer for the Copper Queen Mining Co. was directed to prepare 90 lots in upper Lowell for miners and managerial staff. That same year a petition to incorporate Lowell failed when only 35 of the needed 80 property owners signed. Two years later in 1908, a petition passed to annex Lowell to Bisbee.
There was some excitement in 1907, when four tons of dynamite stored at the Denn Mine exploded, leaving a 60 foot crater. No one died in the explosion, although 5 people were injured and every window in Lowell was shattered. Meanwhile, the population grew rapidly as the mines expanded and the trolley line opened. The Copper Queen Hospital Building was moved down from Sacramento Hill when the open pit expanded. By 1910, almost half the total population of Bisbee lived in Lowell and Warren. In 1915, Lowell boasted 5000 citizens. Five years later there were more than 6000. Lowell had become a town in its own right with schools, shops, churches, and plenty of saloons, although a post office was still missing. The many boarding houses in the area were quickly being replaced by family homes.
By 1913 sidewalks were being installed, even though a bid to borrow Bisbee’s cement mixer was refused and the town had to find one elsewhere. July 12th, 1917 brought a very dark chapter of history to the Bisbee and Lowell area, that also ties the area to another well known copper mining area, Jerome, Arizona. The event, known as the Bisbee Deportation, can be read about in depth in a very complete wikipedia article, at this link.
By 1920, plans were underway to build a train depot and good streets and sidewalks were in place. Lowell had one of Bisbee’s ten schools but it was severely overcrowded with classes spilling into nearby churches. Lowell also boasted the first movie house in the district to show “talkies”. The first feature was “In Old Arizona” starring Warner Baxter as “The Cisco Kid”.
Judge Murphy’s court in Lowell did more business than the three Bisbee police courts combined. The Lowell Justice Court was housed in a small building that still stands on Erie Street next to the railroad overcrossing. Busy police officers were using their own cars to patrol an area that included Warren, Jiggerville, Johnson Addition, Upper Lowell, South Bisbee, Tintown and Don Luis and a request was made for real police cars.
Lowell was a busy, active place for many years. Before the mines closed, the Junction Shaft, Lavender Pit operations, the power plant and other support functions of Phelps Dodge were located here. The main street was lined with a variety of stores including Brophy Garage, Bisbee Lumber Co., Lowell Drug and McQueen’s Pharmacy, Ortega’s and Grant’s shoe stores, Southern Arizona Auto Co., Star Chevrolet, the White House and Aztec Cafés, Lowell Waiting Room, Sprouse-Reitz, Pierson’s barber shop, Steven’s grocery, Vernon’s and Water’s department stores, Spear’s and Ryan’s service stations, the Lowell Theatre and the place with the greatest smells, Arizona Baking Co, known to all as Patsy Bakery. Over the years other businesses lined the only road from Bisbee to the rest of the district and beyond.
The future of Lowell took a decided turn when the Korean War came along. Technology had advanced and as the price of copper rose to meet demand, the ore body that lay deep beneath the mountain between Bisbee and Lowell came into play. The idea for the Lavender Pit was born. 191 homes and businesses in Lowell were either relocated or torn down to make way for the Phelps Dodge mining operation to exploit the copper deposits. You can read all about the Lavender Pit in another posting here in the gallery at JnGmedia.com
When you are in the Bisbee area, we highly recommend the very short trip south down US 80. Stop into the viewing platform for the Lavender Pit, and then continue to the south end of the mine, and pull off into the parking lot located there. At the other end of that parking lot, you’ll find what remains of Erie St. Stop by on a late afternoon and maybe you too will be lucky enough to experience it deserted, as we did. Also, make plans to return for the BEST breakfast in the area at the Bisbee Breakfast Club, located at the north end of Erie St.
Stay tuned here at JnGmedia.com as we have plenty more to come from our swing through Bisbee and the surrounding area. Although it was an all too short weekend, the trip yielded over 1300 photos. We’re staying busy back here at the home base getting these shots ready, and researching more history and interesting stories to bring to you in the near future! In the meantime, don’t forget to click an ad or two in this story. It costs you nothing but a moment of your time, and helps support our efforts here at JnGmedia.com 🙂