by Eric Zott
FLORENCE, AZ (3TV/CBS5) - One of the oldest towns in Arizona, Florence was once a mining trade center and stage coach stop. It’s recognized as a National Historic District with over 25 buildings listed as historic places. Farming and ranching are still two of the driving forces behind the local economy, just as it had been centuries ago.
The land where Florence is located has known inhabitants since prehistoric times when the Hohokam culture thrived there 1200 years ago. Remnants of their ancient canal system were still visible when a veteran of the Civil war, Levi Ruggles, known as “the Father of Florence,” made his way south of the Gila river and founded the town site in 1866.
Prior to 1853, the land south of the Gila River belonged to Mexico. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 added land south of the Gila river to the United States and established the territory’s southern border.
When he came to the territory after the Civil War, Ruggles was an Indian agent. He saw the agricultural potential in an area where the Gila River was easily crossed. After he purchased land, he laid out a town site, but it would be another couple of years, in 1869 when the post office was established and the first homes were built.
How the name Florence became the name of the town is a bit of a mystery. As some stories go, the name came from Ruggles’s wife, Florence. Another version says it was chosen by territorial Governor Richard McCormick to honor his late sister, also named Florence. Finally, some say the town is named after Florence, Italy.
The discovery of silver nearby in the 1870’s spurred a period of growth for Florence. Nearby the Silver King Mine began operations just north of town. When the silver ran out the mine closed in 1889.
The oldest functioning state prison, built by inmates in 1908, is located in Florence. The Arizona Territorial Prison was moved here from Yuma after the turn of the century and became a major source of employment. In 2020, Gov. Doug Ducey announced that the Florence prison would be closed in order to save the state money. The impact of the prison closing to the Florence economy has yet to be seen.
Arizona’s last territorial governor, Charles Poston, known as “the Father of Arizona,” is buried in a pyramid tomb atop a nearby butte, Poston Butte.
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Eric is an assignment editor and content producer with AZ Family-3TV & CBS 5 News.
Read more about Eric in his bio.