There are few places in Arizona that allow one to simultaneously stand in the present and experience the past as vividly as the Old Dominion Mine Park in Globe.
Seen through the eyes of a woman who considered herself an outsider some 19 years ago, the park is simultaneously a valuable receptacle of area history while offering learning and tourist opportunities to the community now and in the future. Dr. Thea Wilshire, previous chairman of the Old Dominion Historic Mine Park Committee for 17 years, rarely thought of the park as a future collection of play areas and hiking trails.
Instead, the child psychologist imagined children – hair flying as they buzzed down the zip line and eyes shining as they passed through the miniature mine entrance – on their way to their own enriching experience of learning through play. Wilshire saw families laughing and talking as they hiked the trails, connecting with nature and each other.
Wilshire moved to Globe 19 years ago after being recruited by the San Carlos Apache Tribe as a child psychologist. When she first saw the Old Dominion Mine, she remembers being “surprised by the potential that wasn’t being embraced.
“As an outsider, I knew people would come,” she said. When she took over the chairmanship of the fledgling committee in the late ‘80s, she knew that however hard the project turned out to be that she had two useful tools at her disposal: phenomenal tenacity and good organizational skills. Over the next almost decade, those characteristics would sustain her and project through numerous setbacks.
Now that the vision has slowly taken on the sharper edges of reality, adults can enjoy pieces of actual mining history while reading about the construction and life of the mine while children play nearby in a handicap accessible park. Since the construction of the hiking trails in 2011, public restrooms were designed and constructed, as well as picnic ramadas, a zip line and several new play areas.
“I know the back story and can see people doing these things,” Wilshire said. “Then they are, and that is highly satisfying.”
The bones of the old mine can still be seen against the skyline, and although most of the historic buildings no longer stand, there is something just as valuable in its place: A gathering place for tourists, locals and children to recreate, exercise and absorb some of this area’s rich past.
The Making of a Community Park
The Old Dominion was an active mine from 1882 to 1931 when the area grew from a few prospectors excited about the potential for personal wealth to a thriving community.
Since the Old Dominion closed in 1931, talks of making it into a park have occurred for at least 40 of those 86 years. It has only been in the last 17 years, however, that the community has started investing massive amounts of volunteer hours into making the dream a reality.
A small group of locals initially led the charge: Wilshire, Mary Ann Moreno, Tanner Hunsaker, Brandon Parker, Bob Zache and Ellen Kretsch. They were later joined by Sue and Bruce Binkley, and the latter became the chairman.
“We worked hard on this project for 11 years before we were even allowed on the property,” Wilshire said. During this time, the mine was owned first by Phelps Dodge and then by BHP Billiton. Both companies were in the process of the reclamation part of the mine’s life that is required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when plans began for the park.
While serving the city of Globe – first as a council member and then as the appointed vice mayor – Wilshire was finally able to get the easement needed to allow people onto mine property. The main reason for the delay was that it is still an open mine, and the general public is rarely, if ever, allowed in a mine that has not been closed.
“There are only a few properties in the United States that are open mine sites that allow people to visit unsupervised,” Wilshire said. “That makes for an interesting pat to satisfy (the requirements) of MSHA, EPA, the city of Globe and BHP.”
In 2011, walking paths were completed and opened to the public thanks to a $140,000 grant from the Governor’s Rural Tourism Development, as well generosity of local services clubs, mining companies and individuals.
Bruce, an architect who relocated to Globe with his wife, Sue, in 2008, was approached by Wilshire during the annual Historic Home Tour in 2011. Plans to build the picnic structures were already in progress, and Bruce not only designed and helped build the ramadas, he did the same with the bathrooms, which were required by the city of Globe.
Wilshire had previously been designing structures for the park and paying a draftsman to make her ideas into plans. When Bruce began designing the structures, the group gained credibility in the eyes of the powers-that-be because it had a licensed architect working for them.
She then approached Gila County for an economic development grant, which was used to build the bathrooms. Wilshire thought the more than $60,000 grant could be used to build the bathrooms and foot bridges.
“The bathrooms took every penny,” she said. This was mostly due to the expense of digging through the extremely hard slag to connect to the water and other city infrastructure.
The next big expense that is still ongoing was the playground. So far, the committee has spent about $250,000, and they are about three-quarters of the way through the project.
So far, the playground contains a zip line, which is extremely popular with children and adults, a swing set that is handicap accessible. The committee plans to install a prospector’s mule ($25,000), a head frame climber ($40,000) and ore car benches ($15,000).
Future plans include outdoor adult exercise equipment that is heavy duty and weather resistant, including a recumbent bike and an elliptical.
Under the direction of Binkley, more pictures of the original mine site were printed, made into signs and set into the ground at the same angle of the original structures. His idea was to show visitors how the mine worked and the steps in the process of mining copper ore.
“My whole approach was to create ‘You Are Here’ signs so people can get an idea of how it was when the mine was working.
Binkley and John Espinoza built the new entrance to the park using old existing fencing and donated logs.
History of the Mine
The mine is the reason for the existence of the city of Globe, which was, in the 1910 Census, the fourth largest city in the Arizona Territory. Its population was 7,083. It is likely it held that spot two years later when Arizona became a state. The largest city 117 years ago was Tucson at 13,193; second largest was Phoenix at 11,134, and the third largest was 9,019.
Included on the property, which spans 195 acres, was a hospital, a dining hall, a park for miners’ children, . It was a community neatly contained within itself perched on the side of a hill.
Originally a miner of silver, the Old Dominion Company received a copper furnace in the early 1880s to treat ore. This was the beginning of an operation that produced about 21 million pounds of copper from 1876 to 1884.
In 1906, one of the largest low-grade ore deposits in the United States was discovered at Old Dominion, but there were two natural springs underground. To access the copper, the water had to be continuously pumped out. The mine was closed in 1931 when the cost of copper plummeted and pumping the water that covered the ore body became cost prohibitive, according to a historical publication called The Border (1909).
Binkley said the mine used to take wagons loaded with copper 120 miles to Wilcox, unload it and then make the trip back with a load of English coke, which is refined coal that burns at extremely high temperatures to fire the smelter.
To this day, much of the copper remains under the water, is pumped by BHP Billiton, which purchased the mine from Magma Copper in 1995, and transported to the Capstone Mine west of the property for leaching operations.
When reclamation proceedings began in the mid-1990s, members of the community turned out to support preserving the character of the mine and making it into a park to be used by the community. The mine park is only one in a handful of open mine sites in the United States that are accessible to the public – and the only one of its kind in the state of Arizona. Other sites include gem and mineral mines that encourage amateur mining in Alabama, Oregon, California, Nevada and Texas.
Although the headframe, which can be seen on the skyline above the park, was scheduled for dismantling in the 1990s, the community rallied to retain the piece of historic equipment. Although touching the actual frame is not allowed, the public can walk within feet of the structure.
The entrance to the Old Dominion Mine Park is at 1300 N. Broad Street in Globe. The sign can be seen from the parking lot of the DeMarco’s Italian Restaurant off the highway. There are more than 3 miles of walking paths that feature signs that detail the history and evolution of mining and local railroads, as well as mining and geological terms that pertain to mining and excavation.