Old West history and culture beckons curious minds to visit Florence Arizona’s historic downtown. Florence keeps the Old West relevant today with various opportunities that allow visitors to explore what once was.. Check out these three Florence attractions and activities that will bring the past alive and get you into that western state of mind. A vibrant town with deep roots in western culture and history is waiting to be discovered.
McFarland State Historic Park
We recommend starting your visit at the McFarland State Historic Park which also houses the Florence Visitors Center. This is an ideal place to start your stroll into Arizona's past as you will be inundated with stories and images that will transport you. There are very nice people on hand who will be able to answer your questions and point your visit in the right direction. Learn all about the humble beginnings of Florence and its place in the state's history.
Some history of the First Pinal County Courthouse, the home of McFarland State Historic Park
In 1878, Florence, Arizona was known as “the garden city.” Located in the middle of the desert, its lush grass would spread outward from tall stands of cottonwood trees that lined the hard-packed streets. Farmers, ranchers and miners would join townspeople at the Pinal County Courthouse, the center of activity, to socialize and transact business. The courthouse occasionally served as a dance hall, where memoirs from Estella Kentfield Colton, circa 1887, reveal: “Every week there was a public dance at the courthouse. They danced in the courtroom. There was always a big attendance and ... men, women and children came just to look on and enjoy the music.
The local “Vigilance Committee” stormed the sheriff's office in this building in 1883, dragged two men from their cells and hanged them in the corridor of the jail. Those two had been charged with holding up a stage and killing Johnny Collins, the guard. A coroner's jury later found that the two prisoners had met their deaths "at the hands of parties unknown." A short time later, the same "vigilance" group attempted to lynch four other prisoners under the same circumstances but were thwarted in their efforts when Michael Rice, the jailer, armed the prisoners, took them upstairs and faced down the mob from the windows above the street.
This adobe brick building, now McFarland State Historic Park, served many roles during the late 1800s and early 1900s, most notably as a jail house and a hospital. Indeed, it was the first Pinal County Courthouse. Built in 1877-78, it held the sheriff's office, the courtroom, the judge's chambers, and the jail on the first floor. The second story was used as a jury room and quarters for visiting lawmen.
Today, visitors tour the building where they can see and feel for themselves the history of Arizona and the people who helped shape it. Inside the park, be sure to visit Florence's WWII Prisoner of War Camp exhibit. This exhibit depicts the lives of the people who were stationed and imprisoned there. Photographs and artifacts from U.S. Servicemen and the Prisoners of War are displayed.
Ernest W. McFarland, or “Mac”, contributed to Arizona history through an active public service career and many lasting projects. He is the only known American to have served his state in the highest branches of government (U.S. Senator of which he served as majority leader, Governor, and Arizona Supreme Court Justice).
The decades in which “Mac” served the government also witnessed unprecedented growth in Arizona and the Southwest. McFarland was in the forefront during a crucial time, assisting in the modernization of Arizona, the region and the country.
“Mac" McFarland was commonly referred to as the “Father of the G.I. Bill” because he wrote the home and business loan sections. Other major contributions include working on the Central Arizona Project and founding the Arizona State Parks system in 1957.
For more information visit the State Park's website here: azstateparks.com/mcfarland/
24 W Ruggles St, Florence, AZ 85132 (520) 868-5216
Pinal County Historical Museum
Next up find your way to the Pinal County Historical Museum. Inspired by the Sonoran Desert and its diverse history, the Pinal County Historical Society promotes shared heritage and encourages conversation. They are a center for community, cultural engagement, and a destination worth visiting for all.
Founded in 1958, the Pinal County Historical Museum is the oldest historical organization in Pinal County. The museum preserves Florence and Pinal County’s rich history through exhibitions and educational programming. Additionally, the museum houses a large and diverse research collection from which exhibitions, programs, and events are created as well as opportunities for academic and community-based research.
Explore Florence’s rich history and diverse culture from precontact Native Americans known as the Hohokam through the centuries of local families who lived, worked, and went to school, enriching our collective stories. See fascinating displays including, cactus furniture, Florence’s Historic District, Second Territorial Prison, farm implements, and more!
For more information visit the Museum's website here: pinalcountyhistoricalmuseum.org
715 S Main St, Florence, AZ 85132
Take a fascinating Audio and Walking Tour of Historic Florence
Audio Tour of Historic Florence
Start Audio tour here: Audio Tour of Historic Florence
Hear Your History: An interpretive Audio Tour of Historic Florence is the exciting result of a partnership between the Florence Community Library, the Town of Florence, the Florence Main Street Program, and the Pinal County Historical Society Museum. The sixty-minute tour explores twenty-nine of Florence's historical, architectural and cultural sites.
Stop one for each tour begins at the Brunenkant City Bakery Building at 291 N. Bailey Street.
Learn about all the architectural styles in Florence including Sonoran Style 1866-1960, Early Transitional Style 1871-1947, Late Transitional Style 1878-1949, American Victorian Style: 1885-1922, American Bungalow Style 1908-1950 and Mission Revival Style 1911-1942.
Walking tour of Historic Florence
If strolling and reading is more your style you can follow along with an easy walking tour that will take you through the various architectural styles found in Florence. The walking tour is 1.5 miles long and will take approximately 1 hour to complete. You can visit the same twenty-nine historical sites that are featured on the audio tour.
An excerpt from the walking tour brochure showing the map of historical sites you can visit.