Fairbank ghost town, Arizona - Just a few miles to the west of the famous 'ghost town' of Tombstone is the tiny, forgotten community of Fairbank. While Tombstone has been turned into more of a tourist trap and amusement park, Fairbank truly is a ghost town - a collection of abandoned ruins from the nineteenth century crumbling in the desert sun.
The area was first settled in the 1870's, but Fairbank became an official town when the post office was established in 1883, just as Tombstone was booming due to rich mine strikes nearby. Located on the banks of the San Pedro River, Fairbank became the junction for three railroad lines and quickly rose to prominence as a major shipping hub for the region. A stagecoach line was quickly set up to transport people to Tombstone ten miles away (which didn't receive its own railroad spur until 1903). Fairbank was never large - at its peak it only had about a hundred residents - but Fairbank had everything a town needed - several saloons, a hotel, general store, mill, restaurants, jail and school.
But just as quickly as southeast Arizona boomed from the silver mines, in a few short years it turned to bust and people looking to make a fortune turned elsewhere. Due to the rail line, Fairbank hung on through the early twentieth century, even after the original land grant owners evicted most of the nearby homesteaders. The school closed in 1944, the post office in the 1970's, and soon all that remained were the shells of abandoned buildings on the side of the road.
In 1987, the Bureau of Land Management bought up the land and established the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, which included Fairbank and the surrounding area. Some of the buildings were restored, including the former schoolhouse which is now a small museum. The hotel was demolished to make way for the nearby highway, but some other buildings remain near the original town center. The general store has collapsed, and is fenced off, halfway restored by the BLM.
Heading north, parallel to one of the original railroad alignments and the San Pedro River is the River Loop Trail, a five mile round trip starting at Fairbank. A spur leading off the trail leads to the town cemetery, with rotten wooden crosses and crumbling concrete markers scattered about the top of a hill. Further up the trail are the ruins of the Grand Central Mill, which processed the ore from the nearby Grand Central Mine for the few short years it was in operation before it flooded.
For my trip, I visited Fairbank on New Year's Eve 2007, while on the drive home from passing through Tombstone that morning. While the amusement-park-type ghost town typified by Tombstone can be fun and entertaining in its own right, I've always been partial to 'real', completely abandoned ghost towns, nearly forgotten by the passage of time. In fact, finding Fairbank was somewhat of a happy happenstance, I never intended to stop there until I passed by on the highway. From a small parking spot just off the road, there are a handful of restored buildings at the center of town (the stone schoolhouse, plus a stable and related buildings constructed in the 1940's). Further along the railroad alignment, perpendicular to the highway are the nearly-collapsed ruins of a small house and the general store/saloon/post office. The foundations of the hotel are under the highway itself.
However, the most interesting ruins I found were on the south side of the highway, closer to the river - a small building in the brush just visible from the road, containing an old boiler and some machinery, tower rising above and cement foundation blocks outside. I have no idea what this building used to be.
I also headed up along the River Trail to the cemetery on the hill, one of the most interesting cemeteries I've visited because it was so broken down and untended. Unfortunately, by this time I was starting to feel quite poorly from the advancing effects of the flu, which started earlier in the morning and got worse as the day progressed. So I cut the visit short, didn't continue further up the trail to the Grand Central Mill, and got back on the road heading west.
Pictures taken December 31, 2007. For more pictures, please visit my Fairbank Arizona ghost town photoset.
For more information:
- Wikipedia Entry on Fairbank.
- Legends of America Entry on Fairbank.
- San Pedro River Loop Trail map.
- Fairbank area map and information.
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