In 1900, finding Bisbee's smelter too small and inconvenient to handle ores from recently purchased mines in Mexico, the Phelps Dodge Company, began looking for a new smelter site in Sulphur Springs Valley. They chose this spot and named the new town for Dr. James Douglas, president of the company.
In the early 20th century, Douglas and its sister town in Mexico, Agua Prieta, saw their share of excitement. Mexican government troops battled it out in Agua Prieta with revolutionaries Captain "Red" Lopez in 1911 and Pancho Villa in 1915. Pancho Villa even made threats against the town of Douglas before eventually retreating. An international airport—part of its runway in the United States and part in Mexico—opened here in 1928.
The fortunes of both Douglas and Agua Prieta rose and fell with the price of copper. The prettiest sight in Douglas, some residents used to say, was the billowing steam and smoke from the giant copper smelter just west of town. The busy ore-processing plant meant jobs.
Smokestacks of the Phelps Dodge smelter puffed their last in January 1987, but the two cities have diversified with other industries. American companies operate manufacturing plants in Agua Prieta under the "twin plant" concept, using Mexico's inexpensive labor to assemble American products. With these new opportunities, Agua Prieta's population has mushroomed to about 150,000, eclipsing that of Douglas' approximately 17,500.
Many fine early 20th-century commercial buildings line downtown streets. Church Square, two blocks east of the Gadsden Hotel, earned fame in the 1930 Ripley's Believe It or Not as the only city block in the world with a church on each corner; it's between 10th and 11th Streets and D and E Avenues. These old churches and the buildings in the adjacent Douglas Residential District (Seventh to 12th Sts. and E to Carmelita Aves.) are fine examples of period architecture.
The Beaux Arts Classic Revival-style railroad depot, used from 1913 to the end of passenger service in 1961, has been restored to its former elegance; you're welcome to step inside the rotunda and see the stained-glass ceiling. The depot is at Pan American Ave. and 14th St., just south of Douglas Visitor Center, and now serves as the police station, so it's always open.
Douglas-Williams House Museum
Jimmy "Rawhide" Douglas—who later built the house that's now a museum for Jerome State Historic Park—constructed this house in 1908 when he was working for his dad, Dr. James Douglas, at Phelps Dodge Company The redwood house (10th St. and D Ave., across from Church Square, 520/364-7370, 1-4 p.m. Wed., Thurs., and Sat., donations welcome) now holds exhibits on regional history, including photos showing the early town and smelter operation.
Douglas Art Association Gallery
You'll find changing exhibits of local art inside the town's first public building—a 1901 hall that has served as town hall, church, school, and library. A gift shop sells handicrafts. The Gallery (625 10th St., 520/364-6410, free) is next door to the post office, two blocks west of the museum.
Douglas Wildlife Zoo
Drop in to see parrots, peacocks, emus, deer, lemurs, apes, and other creatures from near and distant lands. The collection (520/364-2515, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except to 4 p.m. on Sun., closed major holidays, $3 adults, $2 children 3-12) got its start as a place for propagation of exotic animals and birds. From Douglas, head west three miles on AZ 80 (between Mileposts 362 and 363), then turn north 1.7 miles on Plantation Road.
John Slaughter (1842-1922), a former Texas Ranger, wandered into southeast Arizona in 1884 and bought a lease to the 73,240-acre San Bernardino Ranch. Today it's the last survivor of Arizona's great 19th-century cattle ranches (520/558-2474, www.slaughterranch.com, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wed.-Sun., $8 adults, free under age 14).
Long before Slaughter developed the vast spread, the springs here had attracted Opata Indian farmers, Apache, Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans. Slaughter shipped 10,000 head of cattle one year and employed up to 500 people, including 200 Chinese vegetable farmers. His 1890s house and other structures have been restored to show ranch life in territorial Arizona at the turn of the 20th century.
A self-guided tour leaflet given out at the visitor center describes the buildings and grounds. The house contains period furniture, photo exhibits of Slaughter's colorful career—including two terms as sheriff at Tombstone—and stories about the area's long history. Longhorn cattle, a breed brought in by Slaughter, graze in a nearby field. The pond, containing endangered native fish and surrounded by grass and cottonwoods, offers a pleasant spot for a picnic. A trail near the pond climbs the hill to ruins of a U.S. Army post useed during the time of Mexican civil unrest in 1911-23; you can see far to the south into Mexico and to the east across the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.
From Douglas, head east on 15th Street to the edge of town, then continue 15 miles on the graded dirt Geronimo Trail to the ranch turnoff, marked by a memorial to the Mormon Battalion. No dogs, please.
San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge
At this 2,330-acre refuge, springs and ponds attract more than 270 species of birds, as well as mule deer, javelina, mountain lions, bobcats, and other wildlife. The waters support endangered Yaqui chub, Yaqui topminnow, Yaqui catfish, and beautiful shiner. Elevations range 3,720-3,920 feet. Old roads and trails lead to ponds and wetlands with excellent birding. The entrance is three-quarters of a mile past the Slaughter Ranch turnoff. Open daily during daylight hours.
Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge, on the south end of the Swisshelm Mountains, protects endangered fish and a rare velvet ash-cottonwood-black willow gallery forest. You can reach it on Leslie Canyon Road; lands south of the road are closed to the public, but you can visit areas north of the road.
San Bernardino and Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuges headquarters (7628 N. Hwy. 191, P.O. Box 3509, Douglas, AZ 85607, 520/364-2104, www.fws.gov/southwest/REFUGES/arizona/sanbernardino.html, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) is 11 miles north of Douglas; turn east one mile on the paved road about a quarter-mile past Milepost 11 on US 191.
To Douglas Practicalities
On to the Chiricahua Mountains