Ajo Copper News
Home Search this siteCommunity informationContact us
The Plaza in 1925
The Plaza about 1925

Ajo History
Points of Interest

A Brief History of Ajo.
    Before the community of Ajo was settled, the Tohono O'odham used water from a series of potholes in the are they called Mu'i Wawhia or Moivavi (Many Wells). Mexican miners later called the site Ajo after the abundant wild garlic, perhaps influenced by another O'odham name for the area which meant red paint -- au-auho -- for the pigment they obtained from the ore-rich rocks.

    On the way to silver mines near Magdalena, Sonora, Tom Childs, Sr. and his party chanced upon the Ajo area in 1847 and stopped to mine the ore they found. Soon the Arizona Mining & Trading company, formed by Peter M. Brady, a friend of Childs, worked the rich surface ores, shipping loads around Cape Horn for smelting in Swansea, Wales in the mid 1850s. The mine closed when a ship sank off the coast of Patagonia. Childs and other prospectors worked claims here; however, long supply lines and the lack of water discouraged large mining companies.

    A wily promoter, A.J. Shotwell, enticed John Boddie of Missouri to help set up the St. Louis Copper Company in the 1890s. Shotwell organized the Rescue Copper Company when bankruptcy threatened. This became the Cornelia, then the New Cornelia, named after Boddie's first wife.

    "Professor" F.L. McGahan and Shotwell introduced the so-called vacuum smelter which supposedly channeled each type of molten ore to different spigots and ran perpetually on the initial fuel. McGahan conveniently slipped away from the demonstration model in Los Angeles -- it exploded when being tested.

    The first to fully develop the Ajo area was John Campbell Greenway, a Rough Rider and star Yale athlete. He became general manager of the Calumet and the Arizona mining company. Dr. L.D. Ricketts and Greenway developed a leaching method to process the carbonate ore overburden. Greenway also located the well that still provides water to Ajo. Calumet and Phelps Dodge merged in 1931 and the mine became the New Cornelia Branch of Phelps Dodge, managed by Michael Curley. Copper mining stopped in 1985.

    The local newspaper, the Ajo Copper News, published its first issue April 29, 1916. With over 90 years of history, it is one of a few businesses still in operation from the early days of the community, although it has changed locations several times. Its inception was at the urging of Greenway and Curley.

    The architecture of Curley School and the nearby churches blends in the with Old Mission style of the downtown Plaza, which was built under Greenway's orders. The central point of the Plaza is the eye-catching park whose verdant plants invite people to stop for a while.

    An active community, Ajo is home to many churches, fraternal groups, and social & cultural organizations with long and rich histories of their own.

Points of Interest
  • The Plaza, built in 1917, serves as a place of beauty and also the location of many community events such as the traditional 4th of July and Christmas Eve celebrations.
  • The Mine Lookout, on Indian Village Road, offers a panoramic view across the 1.5-mile-wide open pit. Operated by the Ajo District Chamber of Commerce, it can provide information about the mine to visitors.
  • Greenway Home, also on Indian Village Road, was built for John C. Greenway and his young wife, Isabella. It later served as a convent and then as a hall for the Knights of Columbus. It is now privately owned.
  • Greenway Memorial, next to the mansion, was designed by Isabella Greenway for her husband's interment after his death in 1926. A statue of Greenway, commemorating his service as an engineer and soldier, was unveiled in the nation's capitol in 1930. Greenway is no longer buried by the monument.
  • Ajo Historical Society Museum displays artifacts and mementos of Ajo's past. Locate in the old St. Catherine's Indian Mission on Mission Road, it has a complete blacksmith's shop, an old dentist's office, and part of an old print shop. It is open afternoons during fall, winter, and spring and may be seen by appointment at other times.
  • The Cross on A Mountain is a memorial to John C. Greenway. It is made from the wire frame of a funeral floral piece that has been covered with cement.
  • Copper Wire Epitaph in the Ajo Cemetery on West First Avenue is an unusual tombstone. It has an epitaph of almost 400 words made of letters fashioned from copper wire and embedded in a stone cross six feet high.
  • Bud Walker Park at Fifth and Palm is home to the Ajo Community Center. It is the site of many adult and youth activities and sports.
  • Phelps Dodge Mine at the south end of town includes the open pit, mill, crusher, smelter, tailings dam, and slag dump. The mine stopped operations in 1985.
  • Curley School, built in 1917, faces the Plaza. It complements the churches and the lush green park and has been renovated, maintaining its facade, into studios & apartments for artists by ISDA.
  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, south of Why on Route 85, was established to protect this unique cactus and to maintain the great southwestern Sonoran Desert. A visitors’ center, campground, and two scenic drives enhance the traveler's desert enjoyment. A link to their web site appears below.
  • Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, north of Ajo, protects the Sonoran Pronghorn and several other indigenous animals. Their visitor center is located in Ajo on Highway 85. A link to their site appears below.
  • Why

        Located at the junction of state routes 85 & 86 is the community of Why. Route 86 crosses the Tohono O'odham Reservation with possible stops at the Native American community of Sells or at Kitt Peak Observatory before reaching Tucson. Route 85 continues on to Mexico. Parks offering RV & trailer parking are found in Why.


        Lukeville, named after native Arizonan Frank Luke, a World War I flying ace, is the last stopping point for supplies before entering Mexico. It has a U.S. Customs & Border Protection inspection station as well as several small shops and a gas station.

    Ajo District Chamber of Commerce
     Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
    Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge
    International Sonoran Desert Alliance
    Who Represents Us?
    Map of Ajo, Arizona

    HomeSearch this siteCommunity informationContact us

    Copyright 1993-2013 by Ajo Copper News

    Ajo Copper News, P.O. Box 39, Ajo, AZ 85321