Home » History » Old Dominion Days returns as Gila County Historical Museum moves forward with expansion plans

Old Dominion Days returns as Gila County Historical Museum moves forward with expansion plans

Old Dominion Days is coming back Sept. 28 and will feature historical talks, book signings, a hamburger fry and the return of the popular chuck wagon supper on the final day. Pictured is the Capstone Mining presentation from 2021. Photo by LCGross

As activities around the region resume again in the wake of the COVID shutdown, the Gila County Historical Society and Museum is once again poised to host Old Dominion Days, a celebration of the mining history of the Globe-Miami area that will return for its fourth iteration.

“It survived the pandemic and it’s back now stronger than ever,” says Sheldon Miller, former executive director of the museum.

Miller established the event in 2018 during his tenure as director, and has returned to help with the planning of this signature event that took an unplanned COVID hiatus in 2020 and 2021.

Now that Miller has stepped away from his leadership role at the museum, the job of director has fallen on the capable shoulders of third-generation Globe native and historian Bob Bigando, a Renaissance man who has often worked with Miller around the state in various capacities.

Bigando’s historical chops go back to his time as Gila County’s Community Development Director, a position he started in the early 1980s. It was then that he wrote one of the quintessential histories of Globe, titled “Globe, Arizona: The Life and Times of a Western Mining Town,” published in 1990.

“We started really focusing on economic development with City of Globe in about 1982, because there was a major layoff in the copper industry,” Bigando remembers. “I was in the county position, but I was also the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee. We began to look at all sorts of alternatives, and through my office, we focused on having downtown Globe designated as a historical district.”

Throughout Bigando’s 18-year tenure at the county, Miller led the Globe-Miami Chamber of Commerce. The two struck up a professional relationship focused on economic development that remains to this day, although Miller is officially retired and Bigando devotes his time as a volunteer.

In the mid-1990s, Miller left Globe to take on the role of director of the Safford Chamber of Commerce, and in about 2000, Bigando moved to Safford to be the Community Development Director there.

Bigando moved on to Freeport-McMoRan in 2006, where he worked for 14 years, until his retirement in 2020. During that time, Miller returned to Globe, where he eventually took on the job of museum director.

Upon his retirement, Bigando returned to his hometown and promptly began volunteering with his longtime friend and colleague.

“I promised Sheldon that when we moved back to Globe, I would get involved with the historical society and the museum,” Bigando says. “I moved back here, got put on the board, and was working as a researcher, but then Sheldon decided that it was time for him to retire.”

For the museum, filling the void left by Miller’s departure would be no easy task. Bigando was a natural choice.

Bob Bigando, history, and economic development

During the 1980s, Bigando worked with local leadership to lay the ground for an economic development plan that has influenced what is happening in the city to this day.

The Gila County Development Office realized something had to be done in the aftermath of layoffs from the mining industry. They set sights on building a tourism economy based on Globe’s historical significance.

Large-scale projects included applying to the National Register to create the Globe Historic District, purchasing the old Gila County Courthouse – which now houses the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts, and developing Besh Ba Gowah’s visitor center and park.

“We put a group together called the Cobre Valley Fine Arts Guild through the Economic Development Committee at the Chamber of Commerce,” Bigando says. “We were also working with one of the city council members [Louis Aguirre], who was very involved in Besh Ba Gowah back in 1982.”

Although Bigando’s book arose primarily from his work, his life as a multigenerational resident of Globe played a large part, as well.

Bigando’s grandfather Anton was born in Globe in 1897. His grandmother Lena was born in a coal-mining town in Colorado but moved to Globe with her family as a little girl. They met when Anton worked at Lena’s stepfather’s grocery store.

“They had all sorts of stories about early days in Globe, and I was fascinated,” Bigando says. “We had all of those things going on related to Globe as a historic place at the same time, so that also worked as a stimulus for writing the book.”

Having such a deep background in local history, it seemed only natural for Bigando to bring his talents back, to the benefit of the community.

“We knew he was coming back to Globe and told him the minute he’s back, we need him and his expertise at the museum,” Miller says. “He’s very talented when it comes to the history of Globe-Miami.”

The future of the museum

Looking at the bigger picture, the museum is taking on an expansion, begun under the leadership of Miller, that was briefly sidetracked by the pandemic. The plan is to build an annex on the hill behind the museum that will be used to house the research department, with additional space for meetings and storage.

That will open up space in the main building for more exhibits.

Bigando says the organization has been saving money for the planning stage, but as yet does not know how much the project will ultimately cost. Once planning is complete and final cost estimates come in, fundraising for the expansion will ramp up.

“We’ve applied for grants through Freeport to do that and complete construction drawings, and then we’ll be looking for any source of funding we can find to move ahead with the building,” he says. Bigando says the museum has been setting aside money for the new building for several years and has sufficient funds for the planning phase, but will need much more to pay for the construction.

The Gila County Historical Museum, a 501(c)3 nonprofit and one of Globe’s five bed-tax organizations, works closely with the City of Globe and is part of the City’s future economic development plan.

Bigando, who has a long history of successes in the economic development realm, says the current leadership of the community may be the best he has seen in Globe in his lifetime.

“What’s going on in the City of Globe right now is just remarkable,” he says. “It’s very gratifying to see all of the things now taking place that we started back in the ’80s.”

Globe City Council has prioritized economic development since establishing Globe’s Economic and Community Development department in 2018, and is now working hand-in-hand with the bed-tax organizations to advance tourism. The City is also collaborating with the Arizona Office of Tourism’s Rural Marketing Co-op to market Globe and the region to the rest of the state.

Economic Development Director Linda Oddonetto appreciates Bigando’s “unique perspective” and all he has done to lay the groundwork for the City’s evolution.

“He was part of a movement to establish the bed tax for organizations who, at that time, were the tourism and destination marketing drivers for the City of Globe,” she says. “In one of our quarterly meetings with the bed-tax organizations he said, ‘I wish the City would have done this 30 years ago, but now we have the right people in the right places.’”

Bigando is glad to be back in his hometown and enjoys the day-to-day operations that keep him engaged with the community.

“A lot of what happens here [at the museum] is interaction with members of the public interested in the history of the area,” Bigando says. “I enjoy being here, and when I get time to work on research requests, I enjoy that. I’ve learned a lot in a short period.”

As to Miller, retirement is at the forefront of his mind, but he says he did enjoy his time at the museum.

“As to my biggest accomplishments there, I don’t think there was anything that was earth shaking,” he says. “There were just so many great things and such wonderful people to work with. It was just a joy.”

Old Dominion Days

The Chuck Wagon Supper has become one of the most popular events of Old Dominion Days and is scheduled to round out a weekend of entertainment and education hosted by the Gila County Historical Museum. The event takes place on Saturday, Oct. 1 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

Old Dominion Days is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 28 through Saturday, Oct. 1.

The event begins with a reception and the opening of a photo exhibit by Amanda Moors at the museum from 6 to 8 p.m. Each day after that has a specific theme: Thursday will bring a salute to mining, Friday will focus on celebrating history, and Saturday will feature a salute to ranching.

The museum will open at 9 a.m. each day, and participants can look forward to historical talks, book signings, and a hamburger fry, with the popular chuck wagon supper on the final evening.

A new feature this year will be tours of Pinto Valley Mine on Thursday and Friday, with a bus provided by Freeport-McMoRan departing from the museum at 10 a.m. on those days.

For his part, aside from overseeing event planning, Bob Bigando will display his historical chops with a presentation about the history of the Globe Mining District at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

On the last night of Old Dominion Days, he will show off his other chops: playing guitar for his band, Tumbleweeds.

Bigando says he started out playing music at the Catholic Church in Miami, and later founded Tumbleweeds. The trio regularly played the old Copper Hills Lounge before it burned down, and then appeared at the Rocking Horse Saloon in Safford.

As the only surviving member of the original Tumbleweeds trio, Bigando has joined musical forces with stand-up bass player Ron Green and fiddle player Joe Sharp. The trio (sometimes a quintet with an added drummer and steel guitar player), can be heard at public events throughout the Copper Corridor and will play during the chuck wagon dinner to close out the festival.

For full details on Old Dominion Days, contact the Gila County Historical Museum at (928) 425-7385, or go to the website at gilahistoricalmuseum.org.

Johnny Holmes will be grilling up burgers at the Gila County Historical Museum on Friday, Sept. 30 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

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