Florence City Tour
Feb 15, 2006
|This is the last episode of Our Life on Wheels, Volume I. We are beginning a new set of journeys and will continue to regale you with stories and dazzle you with spectacular photography as long as we can.
Last weekend my brother Chuck and his wife Karma joined us at our Desert Gardens RV Park in Florence, AZ. We went to lunch at a neat little Mexican restaurant in town, then started on the Walking Tour of Historic Florence. It is a small town so we didn't have to walk too far; Suzy's little mobility cart was a great help for her getting from place to place, but most of the old buildings aren't as accessible as they might have been.
Arizona became a territory under the signature of Abraham Lincoln in 1863. When the very un-civil Civil War ended two years later, the Cavalry came to protect the new territory from bandits and marauding Apaches. Settlers came from the east, and families from Mexico moved north to escape wars in northern Mexico. Thus began Florence. The town boomed in the 1870s and became the Pinal County Seat in 1875.
The first building we entered was La Capilla del Gila, or the Chapel of the Gila. (The Gila River flows through our valley, when it flows at all.) This is the last remaining mission church of Arizona's territorial period, and likely the first church of any kind built in Central Arizona. It remains in use today, completely renovated, for daily Mass and catechism classes and meetings for the local parish we attend on weekends.
Now a State Park and museum, the original courthouse and jail stands across the street from the post office. It is a two-story adobe structure, and in places the original adobe is exposed to view. In its courtyard, costumed interpreters told stories of the early days. After the Second Courthouse was built, the old courthouse served as a hospital for over 50 years.
The "Second Courthouse," now closed because of serious deterioration, was open for view. There is an active campaign for restoration, and we chipped in a couple of bucks. The courthouse was built in 1891 for $29,000. Due to a shortage of funds (what we today call a "cost overrun") the clock could not be completed, so hands were painted in place on all four faces. At the courthouse, "time stands still" at 11:44! When the courthouse was in use, it was the only county building that was cleaned during the day rather than at night, as many people believe it is haunted. Strange noises, screaming and yelling, doors slamming and chandeliers swinging are said to attest to the haunting.
A story is told that during a trial in the second floor courtroom pounding and hammering started below. It grew so loud the judge called a recess and sent the bailiff to order a halt until the trial concluded. The bailiff returned laughing and explained that prisoners in the jail below had been pounding a hole through the wall directly below the judge's bench. Fortunately, their work was interrupted before they could escape.
The Pinal County Historical Museum was interesting, but we weren't able to see it all because a lecture was going on in one half. There were very interesting exhibits in the half we were able to see, including a display of antique glass that has turned purple due to the effects of ultraviolet light on impurities in the glass; a collection of over 125 types of barbed wire; actual hangman's nooses accompanied by photos of the criminals they were used on, the trapdoor from the gallows, and the two-seater gas chamber chair where a husband and wife were executed together (we didn't photograph this gruesome display!). Next to all this hangs a 17th century crucifix from a Mexican mission. Punishment and redemption displayed side-by-side.
Rancho Sonora Inn, which sits adjacent to our RV Park, was built as a winter residence and guesthouse in the 1930s. Today it has been beautifully renovated as an inn, and the surrounding grounds have been developed into another RV park.
After the tour, Chuck and Karma returned to our park, and we visited until it was time for them to leave, and for us to go out to a steak dinner with friends at our church, the church that had replaced La Capilla del Gila in 1912.
We'll see you in a couple of weeks as Volume II begins, in ... Our Life on Wheels.