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With Halloween just a couple of weeks away, it seemed appropriate to do a little hiking around the ghost towns of Charleston and Millville. The BLM trailhead is just across the San Pedro River on Charleston Road, a short drive from Casa Wallace. We haven’t explored the trails in this area, so it was time to check out a little Old West history and enjoy a beautiful fall day.
The trails are well maintained and marked with numerous historical markers about the two short-lived boom towns of the late 1800s. The area’s economy was driven by the Tombstone silver mining business which sprang to life in 1878. The Schieffelin brothers, Edward and Al went into partnership with Richard Gird forming the Tombstone Mill and Mining Company. Gird began construction of a ten-stamp mill that same year and the town of Millville was born a few miles from Tombstone. Ore taken from the Toughnut Mine and several others the company owned in Tombstone had to be crushed to recover the silver. Huge stampers pulverized the stone to extract the bullion. A canal was dug from the San Pedro River to divert water to power the mill. In those days, there was abundant water in the river. Reports are that 13-million gallons a day were available to power the mill and irrigate the many gardens near the San Pedro which were tended by Chinese farmers.
Gird built his home right next door to the mill which ran 24/7. The noise must have been incredible. So much for peaceful rural living. He married shortly after building the house and the wealthy couple’s large home became the social center of the area. In its heyday, the mill produced more than $1.3 million in silver in 1881-82. It would soon come to an end, however. The terrible earthquake of May 3, 1887 leveled some of the adobe buildings in Millville and damaged many others. Close on the heels of the earthquake came severe flooding in the Tombstone mines which brought about the closure of the mining enterprises. Within 10 years, the town evaporated into the desert dust. Only a few foundations remain to hint at any town in the scrubby creosote bush and mesquite hillsides.
However, an added bonus to hiking out to the Millville site is another trail that takes you to the petroglyphs. Early native residents in the area, the Hohokam tribe left some of their artwork on the rocks. The trail leads toward the river and the old railroad bed that helped Millville and Charleston thrive for a decade. The river was trickling along today, yellow leaves on the cottonwoods that line the banks.
The glyphs were visible from a distance, but we managed to scramble up a few rocks for a closer look. We didn’t have time to add in an extra mile to Charleston, and according to our information, there’s not much to see. Ft. Huachuca used the old adobe ruins for target practice during WW II, which pretty much took care of the remaining buildings. Charleston grew quickly after Millville was birthed. It managed to take the post office away from Millville and had a thriving retail trade with Sonora besides the milling business with a 15-stamper mill running around the clock. Records indicate that there were 62 different professions in Charleston with restaurants, stores, livery stables, saloons, bakeries, but no bank. For all the wild tales of armed robberies, the town never lost a payroll or a load of silver bullion.
We encountered nothing spooky other than a snakeskin lying under a bush. Fortunately, the occupant was nowhere in sight nor did we spot anything else venomous along the trail. All in all, a good Saturday morning hike exploring the history of the San Pedro. For a more detailed history of Millville and Charleston visit BLM website and Arizona Ghost Town Trails.