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Florence is in Pinal County midway between Phoenix and
Tucson. Colonel Levi Ruggles, an Indian agent, staked and platted
the town in 1866. Sources cite different origins for the town’s
name, but all agree it was someone’s sister or daughter. By the
The 1920s, the area had become the agricultural center of the country.
The Florence business district is still on Main Street and, aside from
the obvious improvements, downtown remains much as it must
have been in the 1880s. Both visitors and residents appreciate the
diversity of the community. Florence offers the convenience and
lifestyle available in a small western community, yet is only 45 minutes
away from the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas.
Incorporated in 1908, Florence, at an elevation of 1,493 feet, has
been the county seat since its formation in 1875.
Florence is home to both the Pinal County government complex
with 1,500 employees and the Arizona State Prison with 1,700
employees. Agricultural products from the area include cotton, cattle,
grains, and grapes.
In January 1987, Florence was selected for inclusion in the Main
Street Program sponsored by the National Trust for Historic
Preservation. This public/private partnership program assists businesses
in design and promotion, with the ultimate goal of economic
revitalization for the central business district. Because of the year-round sunshine and ideal climate, Florence is the perfect place for the retired. It is excellent for those seeking a warm, clean air area for health purposes.
As the fifth oldest town in the state, downtown Florence has been
designated an official “Historic District.” It is said Florence has more
buildings listed on the National Register than any other town in
Arizona. Some of the notable historic sites are the first and second
county courthouses, both completely different in architectural style.
The first was built in 1877 and is open to the public as McFarland
State Park. The second was built in 1891 of American-Victorian
architecture and is still in use today. The fully restored Brunenkant
Building, built in 1889, serves today as the Greater Florence
Chamber of Commerce. The Pinal County Visitors Center, formerly
located in the historic Suter House, is now located at 330 E. Butte.
Pinal Pioneer Parkway, a portion of U.S. 79 south of Florence, contains
a unique natural garden. Virtually all species of Arizona desert
flora are displayed and identified along the main route and easily
accessible side roads. The Tom Mix Monument, commemorating
where the popular movie cowboy died in 1940 when his Cord automobile
crashed, is located on the parkway. Since 1932, Florence has been the home of the world’s oldest Junior Rodeo in the United States. It is held every Thanksgiving weekend.
Florence is located in Central Arizona. It is in Pinal County and has been the county seat since 1875. It is the fifth oldest white settlement in the state. Florence sits in the Sonoran desert surrounded by multi-colored mountains. The town is located at the junction of State Highway 70 and State Highway 287, just south of Phoenix.
Florence is proud of its history and is currently involved in a restoration and preservation program to reclaim some the town’s early glory years. It is said that Florence has more buildings listed on the National Register than any other town in Arizona. Today Florence’s population is 7,500. The town sits at an elevation of feet 1,492 feet. The southwestern climate has a summer high temperature of 100 degrees and a winter low temperature of 40 degrees. The year round sunshine and ideal climate have made it a perfect place for the retired and those seeking warm, clean air for health purposes. Florence offers the convenience and the lifestyle available in a small western community, yet is only 45 minutes away from the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas.
There are so many attractions to go visit when you are in Florence. The McFarland State Park is the first courthouse built in town. The courthouse held many historic trials. Today you can learn more about those trials and about one of the largest POW camps that were located near town. The park was named after Ernest W. McFarland, who represented the state for many years. The Pinal County Historical Society Museum has lots of exhibits ranging from Indian artifacts to descriptions of life as a prisoner in Florence. There is also a display showcasing 100 varieties of barbed wire. The Historic District has a walking tour, which includes many of the homes and businesses from the town’s beginning. A map of the walk can be found at the Pinal County Visitor Center.
One terrific outdoor activity is the Pinal Pioneer Parkway. This scenic drive is noted to be one of the best in the state. There is a portion of the drive just south of Florence that contains a natural garden. The garden has almost every species of flora found in Arizona’s deserts.
Historic Homes Tour February
Founder’s Day March
Cinco de Mayo May
World’s Oldest Junior Rodeo November
Courthouse Christmas Lighting December
The community of Florence began just two years after Arizona was established as a Territory. It is the fifth oldest white settlement in Arizona. The community’s first general store opened in 1868 and the post office was established in 1869.
But it wasn’t until 1875 that the town started to grow. Levi Ruggles decided to transfer the title of his land claim to the town. Ruggles had come to this area in 1866 and had served at the first United States land office south of the Gila River. His piece of land became the main section of the town. He even laid out its pattern. It was in this same year that Florence became the Pinal County seat, which it continues to hold today.
As for the town’s name, there are many opinions of how it came to be. Some say it was named after one of Ruggles daughters. Another is that it came from the sister of the Territorial Governor Richard McCormick. Yet another says that it was named after Governor Anson Safford’s sister.
Still, another says that Florentines in the service of the United States Army were reminded of Italy by the hills and shadows of this mountain-rimmed valley. Who knows if the truth will ever be known?
In the early years, the town was a stagecoach hub and a center for freighting supplies to the mines located nearby. However, as the town began to grow agriculture became its focus. Then in 1921, when the Ashurst-Hayden Diversion Dam was completed farming really took off. Later in 1928, the Coolidge Dam was constructed and crops became a staple for the area.
The first courthouse was built in 1878 and later became a sheriff’s office, jail, hospital and now a state park. The second courthouse was completed in 1891. It is still used today and is noted to be the oldest public building in use in Arizona. An unusual fact about this courthouse is its clock at the top of the building. The funds that were to be used to put in the clock workings were diverted to build a jail. The clock has a painted face on it and can still be seen today.
The town was chosen as the site for the building of the jail. The Territorial Prison in Yuma was closed in 1909 and these prisoners were transferred to Florence. Even now, Florence is known for its prisons. There are five such places in town. There are two private prisons that contract to import prisoners from other states, one Immigration and Naturalization Service detention center, one county prison and a state prison. The state prison is the largest one out of the five and has been in operation back to when the Yuma prison was closed in 1909.
One of Florence’s distinguished residents was Ernest W. McFarland. McFarland held many offices in Arizona and represented the state for many years. He served in the United States Senate as the Senate Majority Leader in the 1950’s, governor of Arizona from the mid to late 50’s and was Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. The McFarland State Park is the first courthouse built in town and was named after this great man.
Charles D. Poston was known as “The Father of Arizona” is another famous resident. Poston helped Arizona in many ways. The most influential act was when he secured the territorial government for Arizona while working in Washington, D.C. He later returned to Arizona and became Superintendent of Indian Affairs, the first delegate to Congress and then consular agent in Nogales. After Poston died in 1925, he was buried at Poston’s Butte just outside of Florence in a grave marked with a large pyramidal rock monument.
One more notable resident was Charlie Whitlow, who was a rancher in the area. During the Depression when the milk market dropped, many ranchers decided they would rather dump their milk than to sell it at a loss. Whitlow came up with another idea, instead of dumping the milk he would give it to schoolchildren for free. Other ranchers joined Whitlow and soon the National Milk and Free Lunch Program was born. Due to Whitlow’s idea, Florence received the nickname the “Cowboy Cradle of the Southwest”. However, this name is misleading because Whitlow was not a cowboy but a rancher.
Florence was incorporated in 1908. Today Florence’s business district is still on Main Street and aside from the obvious improvements; downtown remains much as it has been since the 1880’s. In 1987, Florence was named to the Main Street Program sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Florence is proud of its history and is currently involved in a restoration and preservation program to reclaim some the town’s early glory years. It is said that Florence has more buildings listed on the National Register than any other town in Arizona.
Florence Arizona Essay
My Home, Florence
I live in a pretty small town in-between Phoenix and Tucson. There isn’t much to do here, no theatres, bowling alleys or major grocery stores. We have two stoplights, two Circle K’s and many, many bars. Despite the lack of normal city places, I would not have changed the place where I grew up.
There is no other place for the safety and comfort of Florence. It’s not a big deal to leave your vehicle or doors unlocked. Everyone knows everyone and despite small-town gossip, you always have a sense of security.
My favorite thing about Florence is the smell of rain during monsoon season. Even though we get very little, I always look south during the summer months to see if a storm is on its way. I love the lightning, thunder and occasional downpour only Arizona has to offer. The smell is invigorating and gives me a rush of adrenaline and excitement. I have lived in Chandler and the smell of wet pavement just doesn’t do it for me like the smell of damp desert dirt and creosote bushes. I love the rain, and it just isn’t the same anywhere but home. It is by far my favorite thing about Florence!
The friends I have made in our small school are still some of the most important people in my life. I met my husband there. I knew everyone I graduated with and remained close to many after graduation. The friendships I have made in my hometown contribute to the feeling I have for her. Everyone is close and they all look out for one another. It’s great.
Another great thing about Florence is the history here. There are many buildings on the National Historic Registry. Many of the old buildings are still open and tell the stories of the years through their appearance. From the sign at town limits that says “Welcome to Historic Florence” to the stories told from the gray-haired older generations, history is written all over our town.
We also have something that no other town has to offer, Country Thunder! Every year a three or four day festival of country superstars, karaoke contests and just a lot of country fun arrives and thousands of people show up to the middle of the desert to take part. Stars like Big and Rich, Brooks and Dunn and even Larry the Cable Guy have been some of the lucky stars to visit us here in Florence.
Even though there isn’t a lot here, there is enough to keep me coming back to the only place that gives me the feeling of comfort and security that Florence has to offer. It is a great place to raise children and retire. I would recommend Florence to anyone looking to get a way from the noise and retreat to a place with the security Florence has to offer.
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