Welcome to The Copper Chronicle

Bisbee’s volunteer-powered, listener-supported community radio station KBRP is pleased to announce the launch of The Copper Chronicle.

The launch of The Copper Chronicle, hosted by Bisbee native Charles Bethea, reveals a distinctive narrative created through extensive research in the library of the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. Mr. Bethea, a member of the Museum’s governing board of directors who has recently returned to his hometown after a successful arts administration career, conjures a sound that is reminiscent of storytellers familiar to listeners of public and community radio.

Copper Queen - Part 1

A headline in the February 9, 1902 Bisbee Daily Review read “Copper Queen: A Magnificent Hostelry Unsurpassed In the Territory With Every Equipment and Excellent Management.” The article went on to describe what it called one of the magnificent acquisitions to the numerous departments of Bisbee’s commercial life…no city is complete without a first-class up-to-date hotel. And so the story of what is known as the oldest continuously operating hotel in Arizona began.

Copper was booming at the turn of the 20th century and so was Bisbee. Population soared and suitable accommodations were lacking for the many visitors to the town. In 1900, the Copper Queen Mining Company decided to build a hotel and wasted no time. The structure was completed in 1902. They must have expected it to be around for awhile because they blasted the bedrock on the hillside and installed a steel-reinforced concrete foundation. The Italianate façade with its decorative brick trim and tile roof were surely eye catchers to the citizens of Bisbee and impressive to visitors who rolled into the train depot just down the hill.

Built for about $75,000 and furnished for $25,000 more, it was truly a showplace. Richly paneled walls in the office and ladies parlor featured green silk plush and satins. There was a billiard parlor, buffet, barbershop, washroom, bathrooms and a large and beautifully lighted dining hall. The china and flatware had the hotel monogram, and the delicate cut glass in the buffet was unique for the fancy “CQ” etched in every piece. Some of those sherry glasses survived and are on display at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum today. Coffee urns, steam dishwashers and up-to-date appliances filled the pantry off the dining room. Guests could stay in one of the forty-four rooms all furnished with large brass and iron bedsteads plus rich carpeting and drapery from Marshall Field & Company in Chicago. Twenty of the rooms had private baths, a real luxury for many hotels of the time. In later years a swimming pool was built on the hillside behind the hotel. Guests it seems wanted for nothing.

The clientele was wide ranging. Wealthy ranchers from as far east as Kansas and across the border in Sonora stayed there. It was a stopping place for mining men from Butte, Montana to Mexico City along with capitalists, politicians, railroad tycoons, doctors, lawyers and other professionals and tradesmen. Gamblers and con men no doubt attracted by the presence of the wealthy and powerful plied their arts and hatched their schemes in its rooms.

The Theodore Roosevelt room is named for our 26th president who never actually stayed at the hotel. And although a room is named for legendary star Lillie Langtry, records are unclear about her stay as well. Other people of note did, however. General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing was a guest around the time he was pursuing Poncho Villa across the border in Mexico. Famous celebrities like Julia Roberts and William Shatner have stayed there and John Wayne did sleep in the room now named for him. Johnny Depp was also a guest but according to records, he was asked to leave though we aren’t sure why.

The hotel also had an official greeter. Teddy, a Great Dane, lived there and was cared for by the hotel engineer. The dog would wander down the hill to meet incoming trains at the depot. He knew the train schedules, all the regular visitors and had a knack for knowing when everybody was off the train and had their luggage. He would lead the arrivals up the hill to the entrance. Teddy was apparently quite popular with the guests.

Over the years the hotel became rundown and neglected as time and continuous use took their toll. In the 1970’s, when Phelps Dodge Corporation began planning to shutdown all operations in Bisbee, it decided to get out of the hospitality business and offered the hotel to the City of Bisbee for $1. The city declined, but fortunately for it and the old building, a newcomer to town bought and restored the place. Since then it has had a succession of owners all committed to maintaining the charm and grace of the historic structure while continuing to provide welcoming accommodations. As tourism increased, the Copper Queen Hotel became one of the “must see” places in the old copper camp.

In 1980 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places assuring that it will be a permanent reminder of Bisbee’s past and link to the future. It has become a popular gathering spot with its Victorian décor, old-fashioned saloon and patio and fine restaurant. Local residents mingle with visitors to relax listening to live music or just sitting and chatting in the heart of the historic district.

A lot of old hotels across the country have stayed in business by adding a big corporate name to theirs. The Copper Queen Hotel is still just what it has always been. No Marriott or Hilton or Sheraton has come in to take advantage of its unique and colorful heritage. After more than 100 years, you still get a good room for a reasonable price in a great location. And while the train depot is long gone and Teddy is just a distant memory, visitors may still be greeted by a lazy local cat sunning itself on the steps and maybe by one of the Copper Queen’s famous ghosts. But that’s another story.

Credits for This Week's Show

Charles Bethea, host; Judy Perry and Nancy Weaver, original music; and Ryan J. Bruce, producer.