Why is the Arizona Mining & Mineral Museum closed? The ornate building in downtown Phoenix contains a remarkable mining and mineral collection, worthy of a state whose history is filled with major mining events and towns built up around massive ore deposits such as Bisbee, Tombstone, and Jerome. One needs only circle round the building and outdoor displays to see that this still has the potential to be a world class mining museum. And, yet the collection remains locked away, on extended hiatus.
Over 100 Years of Mining Education
The museum itself has a long and storied past. It can be traced back to 1884 as an exhibit in Arizona’s first territorial fair. The exhibit was so popular that, in 1919, it became a permanent exhibit on the state fairgrounds where it would be opened during each state fair. The exhibit went into year round operation in 1953 with funding from six Arizona mining companies. It shared a building on the fairgrounds with the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources, which also ran the museum.
In 1991, the museum and department offices moved to its current location in the El Zaribah Shrine Auditorium in Phoenix—renamed the Polly Rosenbaum Building. The collection features 3,000 minerals, rocks, fossils, and artifacts, focusing on Arizona’s native minerals such as specimens from Arizona copper mines and well known mining districts. Notable pieces included a 8-foot long specimen of native copper a 206-pound Meteor Crater meteorite, two 240-pound halves of a quartz geode, and moonrocks.
The historic mining equipment is the only portion of the collection still visible to the general public, as it remains on display outside the museum. These include a Bisbee mine headframe, a 1882 baby guage steam railroad locomotive from a Morenci Phelps Dodge mine, a stamp mill, 13-foot diameter truck tier, and a 27-cubic-yard bucket mining shovel
Where Things Went Wrong
In 2010, with the Arizona centennial two years away, the Arizona Historical Society, took control of the museum with big plans. The museum would be closed and renovated to be reopened as the Arizona Centennial Museum, celebrating “Arizona’s Five C’s: cattle, copper, cotton, citrus and climate.”
However, the transfer was plagued with problems. Despite being eligible for $400,000 of Recovery Act funds and raising $1 million in pledges,* the Arizona Historical Society was encountered legal complications: it hadn’t achieved 501(c)(3) nonprofit status to collect the funds. The Society was also stymied by pieces of the collection that were on loan that the Society now was fully responsible for their liability, worth “tens of thousands of dollars.” The museum was abruptly closed in May 2011 and plans for its reopening have remained, distressingly vague.
New legislation in April 2017, passed to transfer the museum to the University of Arizona. Plans are in progress to reopen the museum. We cannot wait to see what has been hidden away for nearly a decade.
*Far below the $9 million anticipated.