See McKusick Tiles in AZ: Tour History at Bullion Plaza Museum (former school), Miami, Arizona
In an earlier article on the Cliff Dwelling of the Tonto Basin, I indicated that we would be traveling south along Arizona State Route 188 to visit the next spot of interest to those who want to enjoy the history that is Arizona. Our next stop is The Bullion Plaza Museum in the copper mining town of Miami, Arizona. Here we will enjoy a peek at the culture and history of Gila County, and more specifically Miami-Globe, Az, where tough single-minded people strove to make a life for their families in an arid land, somewhat isolated, and at times very unforgiving.
Take a left at the intersection of Arizona State Route 188 and Arizona State Route 60 and go for about 2.5 miles west of the intersection on ASR 60. Having been settled in the 19th century by miners, the distance between towns was shorter than we are accostumed to since the means of conveyance was horse. This area, which to this day is one of the richest copper producing areas of the world, has three towns, sometimes referred to as the Tri-cities, in close proximity. From east to west you will travel through Globe, Claypool, and Miami.
The museum is housed in the old Bullion Plaza School. The school was built to provide for the needs of the local native American population and Hispanic children. From its beginning in 1923, the Bullion Plaza School was an institution viewed with pride in the community. In 1950, the school was integrated. Later, it became site of the Miami High School. In 1999, due to its historical significance and architecture, the school was leased to the town of Miami.
This imposing building with classical columns in front harkens back to a time when life was different. Climbing the steps and walking through its tall front doors, one is reminded of another age of pioneer life.
To the left is a room dedicated to Gila County political figures highly respected by the local population. Bigger than life is a painting of Governor Rose Mofford, Arizona governor from 1988 - 1990. Hailing from Globe, Arizona, Mofford was a hardworking politician, and had what I will call an "old western charm". In addition there are biographies of Bill Hardt (Arizona state senator), Ed Pastor (congressman from Arizona's 4th congressional district), and Romana Banuelos, the first Mexican-American and 34th Treasurer of the United States (1971-1974).
The next stop in your visit is the mining exhibit (donated by the local mines and found and restored by local mining enthusiasts). The early black and white photos of mining life and the old equipment used in the mines is striking. Photos of men using pneumatic drills that used air pressure to blow away dust (sometimes with water spray, sometimes without) bring home the fact that mining in Arizona is what made the state, but it was also a difficult life. Early photos of Miami and Globe show how it expanded with time. Of interest to visitors will be a rejuvenated hoist bucket, air circulation pump, ore crushers, star drills and pneumatic bits, and carbide lamps - and much more!
The next room of memorabilia is filled with the history of ranching in Gila County. All contributions to the museum are from locals motivated to tell the Globe-Miami story.
Of note is the Bohme Ranch, northwest of Miami and home to one of the most influential ranching families in the area. In the room, you can see a model 1886 Winchester short rifle abandoned in the high desert area. Speculation has it that a cowboy may have fallen from a horse and broken his leg, not able to move. There are vintage tools and cowboy relics. Here also is the Hardt room where guest speakers talk about the history of the area once a month.
There are mineral displays (all minerals recovered within 100 miles of the museum), a national defense display (equipment from the Iraq-Afghanistan theater including nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare instruments), WW1, WW11, Korea, and Vietnam era uniforms and many other displays, You will also find German uniforms and Mausers, a room featuring accomplished musicians from Miami, an Inspiration Mine hospital history, dioramas, early American firefighting equipment, and more.
A local artist and ceramics expert, Bob McKusick is also featured. Mr. McKusick found clay deposits in the area and began mixing his own clay and creating his own glazes. While living in Tucson, McKusick and his wife saw a housing boom in the 50's and the bulldozers blade cutting up the desert. They feared that future residents would not know of the animal life of that desert. For that reason, he wanted to preserve true images of desert animals and native American culture in his tile works. His tiles show incredible detail and beautiful color. One display of southwestern Indian ceremonial headdress, animals, and native pueblos includes a series of 41 tiles. These tiles were authenticated by a well-known native American named White Bear. The tiles guarantee one more source of a true description of native American culture (Hopi) in the area. Mr. McKusick is also the creator of bas relief murals found across the state of Arizona.
The Bullion Plaza Museum, open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11:00am to 3:00pm and Sunday 12:00 to 3:00pm, has no admission. Donations are welcomed. If you don't take the 2.5 mile detour east at the junction of ARS 188 and ARS 60, you are missing a great chance for insight into a community's mining history, patriotic sense, and multi-cultural heritage. Whether it be Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Hispanic or many other immigrants seeking the mines to better themselves while building strong families and a way of life, their legacy is well-represented in the Bullion Plaza Museum. Don't miss it!!
Miami, AZ Tourist Info
Miami, Claypool, Globe Popular Restaurants
Chalo's Casa Reynoso
Guayo's El Rey
Fantastic Mexican food
De Marcos Restaurant
Great Italian food
George's Hamburger Shop
Drop Dead Burgers
Judy's COOK HOUSE
the chili burger is the best!
© 2011 John R Wilsdon