A City in Ruins: Willcox, Arizona

Driving into Willcox, Arizona, I had no idea of the adventure that awaited me. After stopping to check out the creepy abandoned miniature golf course on the outskirts of town, I planned on getting back on I-10 and heading into New Mexico. I'd barely driven past the "Welcome to Willcox" sign when I realized I wouldn't be leaving anytime soon.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Roughly 45 miles west of the New Mexico border, Willcox has a population of about 3700. The town was originally established as a whistlestop along the Southern Pacific Railroad, but has been reinvented several times since then.

At one time Willcox was the largest beef-producing town in America, giving it the nickname the Cattle Capital of the West.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

The first thing that caught my eye was the abandoned Desert Inn Motel.

[Edit: the below picture is actually of the abandoned Desert Rose Cafe. The Desert Inn burned down several years ago. A huge thanks to the lovely people who left me comments letting me know about this]

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Across the street stood an abandoned mechanic shop/car wash...

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

with a misleading sign in the window.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

I slipped in through a broken window and had a quick look.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

The pigeons that had taken up residence inside were panicked by my presence, so I didn't stick around too long. It looked like a human had recently spent time there too.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

I drove another block or two before I realized Willcox is best explored on foot. Haskell Ave, the main road through town, is flanked by so many abandoned buildings, it looked like a scene out of a post-apocalyptic movie.

Willcox reminded me of Needles, California, but smaller and with less traffic.

Dilapidated motels stood as bleak reminders of declining tourism.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Empty storefronts and shuttered restaurants indicate a struggling economy.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

I don't think Walt Disney would have approved of this branding:
Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Much of the town's economy seems to have been centered around the auto industry, as evidenced by the name of this pawn shop,

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

this vacant Chevy dealership,

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

and quite a few abandoned automotive-related businesses.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

This service station attempted to find new life as a hobby shop, but was unsuccessful.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

An abandoned liquor store and recreation center share the block with a series of other shuttered businesses.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Across the quiet street the remains of more closed shops languish with signs that have become weathered and illegible.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Burger-wielding statues keep vigil over the parking lot.

[Edit: Adolfo's Taco Shop is brand new and had not yet opened when I visited. If you're in town, you should stop by and have a taco! The statues have been removed, but were beloved artifacts from Carter's Hamburgers, which previously occupied the space.]

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

The face of Willcox is made even bleaker by an abundance of abandoned housing complexes.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

The apartment complex for seniors was in awful shape, its lobby empty and most of the units trashed.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

I snapped a few pictures and was about to leave when a man in a motorized wheelchair appeared out of nowhere. Thin and frail with graying skin, he spoke through an electrolarynx, which gave his voice a frightening mechanized quality that startled me when I first heard it.

"What are you doing?” he demanded.

I explained that I thought the place was abandoned and was just taking pictures.

He said he’s the only one that still lives there. I am not sure why he volunteered that information. I apologized very sincerely and felt awful to see someone living in such conditions. I got out of there in a hurry.

Later he sped past me on the sidewalk, but didn’t acknowledge me. Two American flags mounted on the back of his wheelchair waved in the breeze.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Just as I finished admiring the abandoned Sands motel, a police officer approached. He said someone had reported me as looking potentially suspicious. At first I assumed it was the guy at the senior apartments, but it had actually been a postal worker who had watched from across the street while I photographed the Chevrolet Dealer.

I told the cop I didn’t mean to cause any trouble and would stop taking pics if he wanted (I’d already taken SO many, it wouldn’t have been a problem). He said something to the effect of: "There's nothing wrong with what you're doing. It’s not like we’re in a military base. Pictures are fine." I thought that was really cool of him. He seemed surprised that someone would consider me a suspicious character. I feel like he made his mind up when he saw me and realized I wasn’t a crackhead looking for copper to pillage.

It was the first time a cop was polite and respectful and didn't approach me as if I were a criminal, a stark contrast from the way other police officers in Arizona had spoken to me. For once, I didn't feel compelled to flee the area after being stopped. I appreciated it more than I can say.

I was in a good mood after talking to the cop, I decided to stick around Willcox for a little while and do what I could to support the local economy. I went to Railroad Avenue, a cute little area that was once the business center of town and is now in the midst of revitalization. A strip of stores and bars operate out of historic buildings centered around a railroad crossing.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona
The old railroad depot now houses Willcox Town Hall

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

I stopped for a wine tasting at a beautiful little wine dealer and bought a bottle of delicious Zinfandel. I was surprised to learn that Willcox is in an up-and-coming wine region, which grows 74% of Arizona's wine grapes.

Across from Willcox Town Hall, a neat restaurant built from an old dining car beckoned to me and I couldn't resist. I enjoyed a tasty BBQ dinner at Big Tex BBQ before taking a stroll through the rest of the historic district.

Several abandoned buildings remain, but the old-west style architecture lends authenticity to the area's historic feel rather than making it seem run-down.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Plaques adorn many of the buildings, informing visitors of their historic significance. If you're ever in the area, you might consider having a drink at Headquarters Saloon, where Wyatt Earp's brother met his demise.

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

Urban Exploration of abandoned places in Willcox, Arizona

I truly enjoyed my time in Willcox, and hope the revitalization effort is successful. This town has great potential. But the road called to me and I had no choice but to obey. 

Next week I'll tell you about my first stop in New Mexico, an unexpected detour to several large abandoned businesses at a desolate freeway exit


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119 comments :

  1. Oh gosh, we actually stayed in Wilcoxx, but at a HIExpress. We didn't explore the town at all---it was just a layover for us. Wow. Didn't realize we were so close to so many neat empty buildings.

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    1. If you ever get the chance, you should explore the place. There is so much to see. And if you enjoy wine tasting, there's plenty of that in the revitalized area. I fell in love with Willcox.

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    2. I grew up in Willcox, married a guy from there, and if there was work would still live there. When we left (for jobs), method had a pretty good hold on the town and things seemed to go downhill rapidly. But boy I miss Willcox,Dave and I both graduated school there in 1979 and those were the days of cruising Maine going to Carters or Dairy Queen after church or the football game just hanging out with friends. I am so glad that you to write about what you found. I do remember all those buildings and it brought back great memories thanks again. Kathy Cathcart

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    3. I grew up in Willcox, married a guy from there, and if there was work would still live there. When we left (for jobs), method had a pretty good hold on the town and things seemed to go downhill rapidly. But boy I miss Willcox,Dave and I both graduated school there in 1979 and those were the days of cruising Maine going to Carters or Dairy Queen after church or the football game just hanging out with friends. I am so glad that you to write about what you found. I do remember all those buildings and it brought back great memories thanks again. Kathy Cathcart

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  2. I live in Willcox, and it's definitely a place that "Was" There's not much left here but it is interesting to see it from a nonresident's perspective.

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    1. Thank you for commenting. I hope I did not come across as disrespectful toward your town. I love abandoned places, but in no way mean to disparage the towns or people that remain in them. I hope things improve in Willcox. The redevelopment in the Railroad Ave area was a pleasant surprise. If expanded, it could be a great tourist attraction.

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    2. I grew up in will ox as a kid I love and miss , my mother ran a lot of restaurants there my favorite place she ran was the Sands motel and Mickys place.that town use to be a great place.I haven't been there in like 24 yrs but one day I plan to go back .I have 2 sister who still live there today.

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    3. George Nierham owns several of the buildings he lives in Sierra Vista

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  3. what you guys dont seemed to understand is there is a man who owns all those buildings......I wont say his name but you all should educated yourselves. Instead of renting them out at a reasonable price he would rather have them vacant and brag about his monopoly. He doesnt want to invest in wilcox because its nothing.....and yet its nothing because he wont invest his millions. Just speaking the truth. Im 30 years old and I remember as a child every picture of a vacant place....they were all open and flourishing with people smiling and working. It is sad. Dont worry wilcox.....your day is coming....but not soon enough.

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    1. I had no idea. Thank you for the info! It sounds like the guy needs to rethink things. Keeping the buildings vacant is not helping him or Willcox at all. I hope positive change is just around the corner for your town.

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    3. They are not keeping them vacant on purpose, they are trying to sell the properties but they are way past being able to renovate and need to be demolished, it is hard finding investors in this type of economy.

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    4. I agree wholeheartedly I remember drive through root beers from Milos and going to carters (the creepy burger guy place) after little league games.

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    5. The "creepy" burger statues were actually located at was once the A &W burger "Carters". Back in the day they were all over America. There was a whole set Papa, mama and baby. They were made by my uncle, Harold Brown. Willcox was once a very thriving and decent town. Once I-10 ran through it. When they moved the freeway construction outside of town it started the decline.

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  4. what you guys dont seemed to understand is there is a man who owns all those buildings......I wont say his name but you all should educated yourselves. Instead of renting them out at a reasonable price he would rather have them vacant and brag about his monopoly. He doesnt want to invest in wilcox because its nothing.....and yet its nothing because he wont invest his millions. Just speaking the truth. Im 30 years old and I remember as a child every picture of a vacant place....they were all open and flourishing with people smiling and working. It is sad. Dont worry wilcox.....your day is coming....but not soon enough.

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    1. You should say who. It's not a crime and there's absolutely nothing he can do. It'd be fascinating to delve a little deeper into the history here.

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    2. I was born in Willcox and have so many fond memories visiting my grandparents outside town. I remember my mom telling me the same thing. I'll definitely have to make some inquiries.

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    3. George Nierham from Sierra vista owns several of these buildings
      Sad Our town is dieing

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  5. I was raised 33 miles out Ft. Grant road on a farm. Graduated Elementary School from Bonita Elementary, and High School in Willcox Class of '75. I now live in NE Texas, but have many friends & relatives there. I Love & Miss Willcox! :)

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  6. I actually enjoyed the article but I do currently live in Willcox, the "abandoned" taco shop isn't actually abandoned. It was in the middle of being renovated by the new owners. It used to be a mock 50s diner and had some of the best food in town before it went out of business which explains the giant statues outside. Maybe you should have asked the police officer for more information about this place. It is run down and needs help but not all of it looks like that either. That part of the historic part of town that isn't greatly kept.

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    1. I forgot to mention some things some of the old motels are now refurbished and running, the desert Inn is no longer standing and there are amazing things to see here if you just look :)

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    2. Thanks for clearing up my misconception about the taco shop. I'm so glad to hear that it's open for business and the motels are reopening. The police officer only mentioned the historic area. I'd like to know what other points of interest are worth checking out, in case I pass through again. I hope my article did not come across as disrespectful. That was certainly not my intention. I like your town!

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    3. I actually enjoyed the article a lot. many of the people in our town have shared this on Facebook,we would enjoy your visiting again and doing another article, it's really a nicer place than what most see at first :)

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    4. I'm so glad you enjoyed it and that people are sharing it on Facebook! I would love to visit again and write a followup.

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  7. My grandfather owned the Hacienda Motel which used to be Sue's Hacienda Motel. It is sad to see those buildings in such poor shape. That motel used to be full all the time.

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    1. I remember that we would go there all the time during the summers. I miss it. And you and Chelle. It truly saddens me to see our hometown looking like this.

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    2. I'm glad you have such positive memories of the Hacienda Motel when it was in its prime. It's good to know that those walls knew many happy times. Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone fixed the place up and gave it new life? Do you have photos of what it used to look like?

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    3. April those were some good times we had. I would to see that property rebuilt. I don't know if those particular buildings could be rebuilt. There were lots of happy memories in that complex.

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    4. Hello Chris Webb I met you in Wilcox "milk man twins " Mariah, been wondering what ever happened to you guys!




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  8. Too bad you didn't go into the Willcox Historic Theater. Its an Art Deco treasure that has just undergone a complete makeover. It's also state-of-the-art for technogy.
    There are about 16 or so wineries here, many with tasting rooms.
    Please come back in February for the Art League's world-class Miniature Show; or, in April for the Southeast Arizona Independent Film Fest; or May for the Wine Festival and the Art League's annual show; or October for Rex Allen Days, the rodeo and the Fall Wine Festival; or, December for the Winter festival & Art Show. Sorry you weren't here last week for Wings Over Willcox.
    There's much more to this town than what you saw.

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    1. I'm disappointed I missed the Willcox Historic Theater. I love Art Deco designs; thank goodness it's been given the respect it deserves with the makeover. I will be sure to check it out when I pass through again. I only saw a few of the wineries and enjoyed the wine I tried there. It sounds like you have so many events going on throughout the year. I'd love to come to one or more of them. In my hometown we had a lot of festivals, but mostly only in the summer. They were so much fun and created a real sense of community pride.

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  9. Your "abandoned desert inn motel" is actually an abandoned restaurant. The motel was behind it but burned down about 4 years ago.

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    1. Thank you for correcting my mistake. It's a shame the motel burned down. Please let me know if I got anything else wrong.

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    2. My Dad owned the Desert Rose restaurant many,many years ago. Wilcox is a great place filled with good people. You should check out Dos Cabasa just a few miles down the road. Very cool"ghost" town!

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    3. Thanks, Heather. I'll be sure to check it out next time I'm in the area :)

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  10. Thank you for taking those pictures. It reminded me of what Willcox was growing up. I started kindergarten there and graduated in 85. The A&W was the best I loved the 25 cent baby burgers and root beer in the frosty mugs. All the building we open and bought clothes at Dicks store on the corner of railroad ave. Loved going to Virginia's for French fries the best around. It's really sad to see the shape it's in. Good ol Willcox a lot of good memories.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures and they reminded you of happy memories. I think it's so important to document places before they disappear. I always think to myself "Someday someone is going to want to remember these places, and I'll have pictures to show them."
      We had an A&W in my hometown too. It was a real treat on the rare occasions my parents took us there.

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  11. I was born there but moved away when i was a young boy but I still have family that lives there today!!

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    1. I am gonna guess and say that your family might be Dr Harmin?

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  12. So sad to see all the abandonded business in Willcox. I owned the Desert Rose Cafe (the picture you called the Desert Inn) from 1999 to 2008 with my husband Chef J.D. The parking lot was always full of cars which in those days gave a warm greeting to travelers.

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    1. Always looked forward to a great Friday night dinner with friends at the Desert Rose Cafe. The restaurant was always crowded.
      I left Willcox in 2006, and I am saddened to think that the town is changing...and maybe not for the better. Great people deserve better. I miss it to this day!

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    2. I made a note in the article to correct my mistake. Thank you for letting me know. I wish I had gotten to eat at the Desert Rose Cafe. I love mom and pop restaurants. They have so much more character and are cozier than the large chain restaurants.

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  13. I was born and raised in the Sulfur Springs Valley. I remember when Willcox had John Deere, International Harvester, Massey Ferguson, Ford and Chevrolet dealers, A&W dinner, Tasty Freeze, Dairy Queen, numerous mom and pop restaurants, two grocers, a movie theatre (saw the first Star Wars there), numerous machine shops and diesel repair shops. All of this was thriving due to farming and ranching. Once the farms shut down and a drought hit the ranches, the entire area went downhill from there. I visit periodically and it is sad to see the valley I was raise in. Nobody would believe the economy from the Graham Mountains to the Mexico border that existed only 30 to 40 years ago. Depressing.

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    1. Thank you for all the information! I tried to research the cause of the decline, but was not able to find a whole lot. I grew up in Racine, WI and we had John Deere and many of the other places you mention. Racine was once a thriving manufacturing city, but it too has really gone downhill. It saddens me to see that so many great towns and cities are experiencing this sort of decline. I hope we find a way to turn things around.

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  14. Another another really cool piece of history from there is that THE Rex Allen used to live there before he became famous many many many years ago and every year they still celebrate him with what they call Rex Allen Days! It's the funnest time of year because the high school also plans their homecoming at the same time! The town is just a party! I only lived there for a few years but I loved learning the history of it!
    The town hall used to be the train station and my English teacher used to live in the upper part as a young girl!

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    1. I would love to go to Rex Allen Days! It sounds like a blast. I thought it was so neat that the old train station was converted into the town hall.

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    2. I live in Willcox. Honestly it would be very hard to beat the community. The people here are wonderful and take care of each other. I love living in a town where your neighbors not only know you but truly care about you. Our son was in an accident and was in the hospital in Tucson for 4 months. We stayed in Tucson with him. There was hardly a day that went by that we didn't have someone visiting, bringing us something, giving us something etc. They organized a benefit, built a ramp on our house, offered to widen our doorways some stopped and asked our adult daughter what she needed since she was minding the house. I truly enjoyed your article about the historical buildings in this town and will definitely share it. I do get a little sad when I look at those, however old buildings are not what makes Willcox a wonderful place... it's the people. If you get back this way again Rex Allen Days is the first full weekend in October, Wings over Willcox is in January, we always seem to have something going on with the wineries, the remodeled theater is beautiful and for a small town I think our fireworks display for the 4th is pretty awesome. Come and visit us anytime! Willcox would love to have you... and it is too bad you didn't get the opportunity to eat at The Desert Rose. It was truly fantastic food and atmosphere.

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    3. I hope your son has recovered from his accident. That must have been such an awful time. It's great to hear that the community was so supportive. That is such a rare thing these days. I wish I lived in a place like that. I haven't even met most of my neighbors. Living in a big city, people are more guarded and tend to keep to themselves. I'd like to come back to Willcox again to experience at least one of your many celebrations and try out some more restaurants and wineries.

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  15. Willcox is a little town that I grew up in and love and would like to eventually try to fix up make it a little more appealing to the eye so that our wine industry can grow and flourish as once one cattle and rail way did! I would like to start trying to make Willcox more pleasing to the eye, if you would like tohelp in any way please contact me joshuacllns2@gmail.com.

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    1. I hope you are successful in fixing up the town. I would love to help if there is some way that I can. Willcox deserves to flourish again!

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  16. Thank you I need all the help I can get but I am not sure where to start! If you have any ideas please let me know!

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  17. You really hit the nail on the head, I lived here for several years, including through high school. I had moved away from AZ and recently come home and visited Willcox. It was never an "L.A." type town, but it was so shocking to see what it had become. So many of those pics you took were successful, operating businesses just 15 yrs ago. That abandoned liquor store was Milo's and had THE best fountain Pepsi you could find anywhere, with the sweetest family operating it. In addition, that little taco shop with those statue characters, used to be the BEST little Mom and Pop burger joint, with frosted mugs for your root beer, it was a favorite at lunch time during school. It was sad to see all those memories in ruins when I went back. I hope someone brings this Old West Town back to life, it holds many personal memories, but more importantly it holds many historical milestones and history.

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    1. I hope someone rejuvenates Willcox too! It is a charming place with so much character. Thank you for sharing your memories of the mom and pop shops. Now I'm craving root beer in a frosted mug :)

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  18. Hello good sir. Fantastic article you wrote. If you are ever back this way, and would like a 'guide', please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to show you around. My e-mail address is az.emt.911@gmail.com.

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    1. Thank you! I'm not sure when I'll have the opportunity to return to Willcox, but when I do I will take you up on your offer.

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  20. I loved reading your article. I've been known to do a little exploring of abandoned towns & mines myself, once upon a time! I lived & taught in Willcox for 12 years. I recognize the names of former students who have commented on here, see a former co-worker's comment, & a post by the ever-effervescent Lari D., who brought a touch of class to our diamond-in-the-rough cowtown, with the Desert Rose Cafe.

    The businesses in that part of town were abandoned because Haskell Blvd. was the main thoroughfare across Southern Arizona before I-10 was constructed. After the interstate redirected traffic, bypassing Willcox, the downtown area began to decay. But what saddens me most is, they're not just disintegrating, they're being vandalized by kids who think Willcox doesn't have anything to offer but drugs, sex, and destruction. Many kids don't have any investment in the town & feel the town hasn't invested anything in them. I'm not really sure what they want from the town, but the schools and WASA (Willcox Against Substance Abuse) work hard to provide stimulating activities for the kids. Unfortunately, there will always be some kids who prefer to find their own entertainment.

    Unless Willcox can find an industry that provides secure employment for growing families, the young adults will continue to leave. And as the older generation passes away, the history and memories of a flourishing cowtown will die along with them. I'm afraid the responsibility of restoring Willcox lies with the middle generation who remembers good times there & doesn't want to see the town die. It's their turn to grasp the reins and lead Willcox in the right direction. Get on the city council. Vote. Attend school board meetings. Ask yourself....what would attract me here & keep me here if I was 25 years old?

    Love & fond memories to my former students & fellow school employees......

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting. I explored many abandoned and semi-abandoned places in the region, and the main contributing factor to their decline seems to be the construction of the interstate system and the subsequent redirecting of traffic. It's a shame that this important piece of infrastructure caused so much unintentional devastation.

      I am always astounded by the wanton destruction caused by bored kids. Thank goodness for organizations like WASA, but it seems like other resources are necessary as well.

      I recently took a road trip through the Rust Belt and it has become increasingly apparent that secure employment is becoming a thing of the past, thanks to outsourcing and the many other symptoms of corporate greed. I feel for the middle generation; with the many responsibilities they already bear, restoring communities that have been hit hard by economic factors will not be easy. But that doesn't mean it's not worth trying.

      I'm glad that people are sharing their stories about what it was like to grow up in Willcox in its heyday. Reading through the comments has been a touching experience. There is so much love for your town. It is important to record these precious memories so that, no matter what happens, Willcox's history will be preserved in some form.

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  21. I lived in Willcox for over 17 years. As small towns go, it could have been worse. Some of my greatest memories and greatest friends come from there, some are still there. It's a shame at what has become of it, unfortunately, a lot of it was brought on by the leaders of the town. If you get the chance, watch the movie Red Rock West as a majority of it was filmed in and around Willcox.

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    1. Based on the many comments, it is very apparent to me that Willcox is beloved by the people who know it well. It sounds like new leaders should be elected if the current ones are not adequately addressing the problems. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll check out Red Rock West.

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  22. Great article! The Desert Rose always had fantastic food! We went there for everything from just a family dinner to a girls lunch. It was the place we ate when my family came for a visit before we moved out of Arizona. I know their food is definitely missed!

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  23. C Mnnday, from UK, England ,Spent a weeks holiday with cousins who live in Willcox , we stayed at the Desert Inn of Willcox, there is no mention of "The Rex Allen Museum "is it gone as well,,,Really sad to see just a Ghost Town,.,.,

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    1. Cyril, The Rex Allen Museum still exists and the city isn't a "ghost town" -- we're still kickin' and there's a future for us. We have to take pride of ownership in our homes. Clean up our yards, paint our houses, maintain our buildings. Smile and care for the visitor. We have to make people WANT to come here, visit our city and invest in Willcox.

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  24. If you go I recommend to stay at the Arizona Sunset Inn in Wilcox. Next on my list is to see the Chiricahua

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  25. What a great article with compelling pictures...thank you! I lived in Willcox from 5th grade until I graduated from HS in '78 and I make it back there every few years, as I still have friends and family there and in nearby towns. It always saddens me. My parents were doctors there (2 of the 4 in town) for over 30 years. Every one of these businesses was thriving, I worked at 2 of them. Main Street was where you could always run into friends, especially if you had a car, "dragging Main." I also hope there will be progress made with revitalization of what I consider my home town.

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    1. Thanks so much! I love hearing about happy memories. Thanks for sharing

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  26. Teddy DiBiase, where are you? Texas/Willcox. Rex Allen was awesome, but do they not know you were the million dollar man? Susi Bolling Willcox class of 72 had I stayed.

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  27. Willcox is not in ruins, I live here I should know! What an ass this guy is the reason there abandoned is the the highway moved and the business's moved to where the highway is. The Desert Rose Cafe is closed because the owner is a nut and charges way to much for rent. "The Chevy dealership" hasn't been a Chevy dealership in years it was Jimgid an Antique car restoration place till he died about 9 month ago. The detailing place is still going they never have had a sign in that old sign post. This guy drove down one road which is the old I10. The liquor store is also still in business, if the asshole would have panned out more you could have seen Katie's Hot Dog Stand and the Laundromat which is just a little to the left. Adolfo Taco Stand is a brand new business which took over Carters Hamburger's when again the owner passed away. The Pawn Shop is open every now and then don't know why is not open every day. You cant judge a town for one road in town, The business distract moved with the highway the big dumb ass!

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    1. So nice they named him twice...lol

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    2. So nice they named him twice...lol

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    3. Hi Pete Peterson,
      I'm sorry that you misunderstood the spirit of the article. I did not intend any offense. It's a shame you didn't seem to notice any of the positive things I had to say about Willcox. Thank you for correcting some of the facts I got wrong. I hope you are well.
      Sincerely,
      Jim Sullivan, aka. Big Dumb Ass :)

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    4. Just wanted to clear up some facts from Pete Peterson. The owner of the building, which was the Desert Rose Cafe is not a man or a nut. She is a wonderful long term resident of Willcox. The rent was not to high, it was very reasonable. The reason the Desert Rose is closed is because Chef J.D. And I sold the business to a "dumb ass" in 2008 who ran it into the ground in 3 months time.
      Had we not sold the business, I believe it would still be open to this day. I have so many fond memories of Willcox and The Desert Rose Cafe. Mostly of the employees and kids, (now adults) who worked for us for so many years. I have kept in touch with most of the via Facebook and it is so nice to see that they as well have very fond memories of the Desert Rose.
      In your defense Mr. Sullivan, as heartbreaking as it is to see the once thriving businesses in such an abandoned state, It was nice to see the town in someone else's eyes. Obviously you can't please everybody in writing your stories but in my option you can pass the torch of "the big dumb ass" to the guy who bought my restaurant. Lol

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  28. I am sorry that you got offended, but calling him names isn't cool! I have driven thru Wilcox many times and I to saw all the vacant and run down looking buildings. Instead of calling people names, you should look at this as an opportunity to get your town back on the map. It sounds like the wine industry is an awesome thing that is up and coming. It's because of this article that I told my husband we need to revisit Wilcox this weekend, and I'm just a town away! Love this article and thank you for taking the time to write it, share it and comment back to us!

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    1. Thank you. And thanks for understanding that this article was not written with any malicious intent. I'm glad you enjoyed the article and it made you decide to visit Willcox again :)

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  29. I was born in Willcox in 1927, and lived there until the war began in 1941. My father worked at the Chevrolet dealership when it was flourishing. We left Willcox in 1941 due to the closing of the dealership due to the war. I was married there in 1952 at the First Methodist Church by Jim Morford. This is very sad for me to see, I am 88 years old and hope to live to see it revitalized! Thank you for sharing your pictures.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Phyllis! I love reading about memories of this town during better times. I hope it is revitalized soon.

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    2. 5 of the buildings that you photographed are being readied to tear down. Ones new business is supposed to be built in the spot where the Hacienda was. All of the teardowns are part of a government grant so that we can start repairing our town that we love.

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    3. That is excellent news! Thank you for the update!

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  30. Jim, Willcox is not a ghost town, but it does have an older part of town. You also missed a jem of historical "were" in that old part of Willcox-- Just across the tracks from Railroad Ave-- Take SR 186 eastbound to 3rd Ave. Turn North (left). There's a dirt road that leads to the old Willcox Cemetery (where 3rd ave bends turns west). Much of the place has been taken back by nature. It's so gorgeous with the tall grasses and native plants taking back the land.... and if you're a history buff-- in the southeast corner of the cemetery you'll find the Earp brother who brought a knife to a gun fight.

    I see you've traveled to some of the better-known locations in southeastern Arizona, but missed the whole ghost town loop out near Tombstone with Fairbank, Greer/Turquoise, the bloody cabin, and a few other ghost towns from the mining days. If you're ever headed back to southeast Arizona, I'd be happy to recommend a few places. It'd be up to you to decide if they're worthy of a visit.

    I'm more interested in the history of places, and strange things. I keep a paranormal blog (not just ghosts, but oddities)-- but I'm not so diligent at writing in the blog these days as I am at visiting places and researching stories. =)

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    1. I had no idea about the cemetery. Thanks for letting me know. I'll be sure to check it out next time I'm in the area. I'd love to visit the other ghost towns you mention too. I'll let you know when I'm out that way again. Thanks for the info!

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  31. I grew up in Willcox. My Mom still lives there too. My Grandfather was the founder of Farmers pump and owned it till he passed long ago. My grandmother became the towns "relocation" specialist though. I have a lot of fond and interesting memories of Willcox. I started my first business there, delivered newspapers for the range news and even learned to fix video games and pinball's in the Rec Center. The city council and large land owners kept the town samll and on life support till it was mostly too late. Perhaps things can change though. A fun note btw.. the Willcox airport has a lot of history from WWII. It was a training base and Bomber transfer point till the early 50's. The Willcox playa outside of town still has the target rings dug into the earth today.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your memories of Willcox. It sounds like it was a nice place to grow up. I didn't know about the airport. I'll have to look for the target rings next time I'm in the area.

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  32. Looking at buying property in willcox near one of the vineyards... any input?

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  33. I lived in Willcox from 1957 untill 1962, in those days there was a new school, a new car dealer, a root beer stand . There was a great big stock yard on the west end of town. I have a lot of good memories from that town, I really hate to see it go down like it has . I live in Georgia now and was going to try to visit, and Dos Cabezas too, I guess I won't now.

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    1. You should still go back and visit. It's a neat little town. I've heard there have been some changes since the time of my visit. I'd like to go back and see what it looks like now.

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  34. i worked for the southern Pacific RR ,and my father lived in Bowie az. Willcox was the hopping joint to go to . Country western music was the rage . Famous female singer from willcox , darn her name escapes me now , would come back to town after she made it big . performed at a bar on the edge of town , speakers were set up outside due to the overflow crowd . hopping place back in the day . Before Carter's closed , railroaders whose trains had to take the siding at willcox would phone in an order and they would deliver our meals to the engine or caboose . We always provided a healthy tip . I am 70 now , those memories can never be forgotten . God Bless Willcox . thanks for the flashback .

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your memories of Willcox! I wish I could have experienced Willcox during those amazing times. When I read your comment, I felt like I could almost picture it. I think the singer you're referring to is Tanya Tucker. It must have been amazing to go to one of her shows, or even to hang out with friends outside the venue.

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  35. Sad to see so many parts of town have become so dilapidated. Looks like the set from "The Last Picture Show." As many have said, when I-10 opened, the downtown started to fade.
    Grew up there and graduated from HS in 1980. Willcox did have its moments but maybe the wine industry will bring back people to settle there.

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    1. I hope it does! I'd love to see Willcox transform into a thriving destination town.

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  36. In ~1981 I spent a summer in Willcox with a research team from Penn State under Dr. Dave Pearson that had been renting two "suites" in Sue's Hacienda Motel for years. Turns out some of the range land outside of town is a good model for ecological studies. We used the two bedrooms for dorms, one kitchen for cooking and the other kitchen as a laboratory. As one of 5 college guys it was a great summer. Hot mornings getting data, afternoons doing analysis and then talking about science in the eves. About once a month we could afford to go to Rix Tavern for a you-grill-um steak and a beer. On weekends, Dave would take us birding in Ramsey canyon, Agua Prieta, Chiricahua, etc. Every 5 new birds he showed us we owed him a hot fudge sundae.

    We had a cassette recorder and only one home-made tape: side A was Springsteen's Greetings from Asbury Park and B side was The Wild, The Innocent... We listened to that same tape 2-3 times every afternoon while peering into our dissecting scopes to count ants and beetles.

    Dec 2016 I went back to find Sue's torn down and the A&W turned into a taco place. But Rix was still going with the same tables we used 35 years ago. I bought a steak and started to grill it myself on the burners (updated since '81). I chatted with two life-long residents who were kind enough to give me lots of info about the town and details to jog my memory.

    Willcox looks pretty rough now. A lot of American towns are gone to foreign manufacturing, Wal-Mart, Amazon, and home video. But for me it is a town where I spent a golden summer.

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    1. It sounds like you had a really memorable time in Willcox. I once worked in a research lab and loved it. I never got to do field studies though.

      Thank you so much for sharing your memories! I intend to visit Willcox again one of these days, and when I do, I'll be sure to grab a steak at Rix.

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    2. I'm going to Wilcox next month, My niece Noreen Moffett lives there she is a border patrol agent





      I am from B.C. Canada


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    3. Wow, Wilcox seems to be a wine mica of the west now ! Great !!!! I was talking to a friend who is starting his own winery in Arizona! and remembered Wilcox. When I was there the first winery was not open yet. I found this town when exiting I-10 to a hotel, when my brakes went out on my 32 ft. U-Haul trailer with a car on a trailer behind me, All I had was a hand brake and moving at 60MPH, I was moving my wife from California to New Orleans.....at the bottom of the ramp the truck jumped the curb ran a sign down when I looked to rearview mirror I could see the car trailer on two wheels .... I made the turn alive !!! and rolled up into the Rex Allen Hotel....and set the parking brake that I had bent ..... After that I told my wife lets go get a few drinks !!! We off loaded the car and found that small bar by the railroad station ! When I walked in the small two pole tables and a bar ! there at the end of the bar was one cowboy ( I called the Marlboro man )...a real ladies man...along with two other locals... being a cowboy in earlier younger and poorer days out of Cayenne wyo. I asked the bar keep to pour those fellows a round on me and ordered a drink for myself and my wife,.. I will never forget going to the restroom and on my return that working cowboy had my wife cornered !!! No worry let me watch this ...all of a sudden they all started laughing ...I approached them and the cowboy said I have to shake your hand, I pulled my skinning knife from my pocket and stuck it into the bar and shuck his hand ! He said I like you both laughing loudly .. I asked what was so funny and the cowboy asked my wife how I could have left her all alone at the bar, and her reply was the there nothing that me and my 357 would not straighten out !!!!

      Can't remember his name but I took to him ! A "True" great western guy, but he had a cough which sounded serious .... come to find out he owned one of the largest ranches in that area, and he had a brochure stated his ranch was where John Wayne had made most his best pictures ....And his first hand was from Louisiana also.... we talked and drank most the day away and being new Years eve their advice was to not be at that bar come sundown, turning into a place of fights, etc. For me that was normal..coming from the west long ago...but I took the advice and went to our hotel for a quit night...We went to the museum in town ...it was great ..filled with old pictures and stories of the founders of Wilcox ..A must see. That Barbeque from that railroad car was out of this world. ((( More signs on I-10 ))).. 4 days later my U-Haul was fixed and off we went, That wine business will be the savior of Wilcox....add signs to I-10 and good luck to all in Wilcox You have an interesting town ..Thanks for the memories

      Peter Carew, New Orleans La.

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    4. What a great story! Thank you for sharing it.

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  37. Willcox is considered the "gateway" to the Chiricahua National Monument. Locals refer to the area as the "Wonderland of Rocks," and it truly is a wonderland of rocks. A must see place. Wonderful hiking trails, campground, etc. You will drive through the ghost town of Dos Cabezas. In December, a group of local artisans open up a historic resident from the boom days of this mining town. They only open for three days. Their gallery is called The Dos Cabezas Mountain Gallery. The historic house alone is worth seeing, but the crafts these folks create are topnotch and would do justice to any upscale shop in Scottsdale or Sedona.

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    1. I would love to see Dos Cabezas and the Dos Cabezas Mountain Gallery. Sounds really neat. I haven't been to the Chiricahua National Monument, but I'll have to check it out. I love camping and hiking.

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  38. I know nothing about the place, nor have I ever been. I found this article while searching for information on growing pistachio trees in Wilcox. Just spent 15 minutes reading the comment section...fascinating! Residents, former residents, older generations reflecting on their childhood, travelers, researchers. I even saw one response by Mariah that recognized an old friend. Refreshing to see so many people proud and interested in their town! Nice work Jim.

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    1. Thank you so much, Joseph! I love that you found the site completely by accident. The comment section is my favorite part of the article. It is the main reason I post these. I see abandoned places and I get so curious about the people who used to spend their time there. When people fill up the comment section with their memories, it really helps keep the places alive.

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  39. Thank you for the article Jim! We need to remember, yes. It is very important. Yet those wonderful memories must be the impulse we need to restore, renew and rebuild. We can't wait for others to do "something!" We can only do what we can do. And that is to take care of our little piece. A puzzle is made of a whole bunch of pieces. Our job is to care for our piece. Pride of ownership. Clean and kept yards, cars, businesses. Appealing gardens, seasonal decorations, great personal relations, a smile, friendly personality, kindness... customer service. All this will make visitors to Willcox appreciate us all the more. We are a wonderful city. We have a wonderful history, lovely people, great scenery, beautiful climate and deep faith. We can do this. There is a great future for Willcox. I have to do my part on my little piece. Thanks for helping us out Jim... you are always welcome.

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    1. I love your positive outlook! I always try to "think globally, act locally." One person can't always change the world, but many people doing small things to improve their immediate surroundings really adds up. I hope more people will adopt your attitude. It makes a bright future inevitable.

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  40. Willcox is thriving!Yes, there are some dilapidated buildings,but some of those pictured here have already been demolished.I left Willcox for about seven years and have returned to find several new businesses on Rec Allen Dr.
    Also there are so many new homes outside of town especially along Ft.Grant Rd.
    My family and I moved here from Guadalupe, CA when I was 9yrs old and we hated it.I went to elementary,middle, and high school here.There are so many beautiful ppl here that now I am proud to call Willcox my hometown. All my best memories reside in this town-from celebrating my sister's birthday on 4th of July and getting drenched by the monsoon to working@ Eurofresh during their student summer job program.

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    1. I've heard that Willcox has changed quite a bit since my visit several years ago. I'm glad I was able to document the neat old buildings before they were demolished. I captured only a small incomplete snapshot of Willcox during a particular point in time. I'd like to visit again and capture another snapshot of this beautiful town.

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  41. I graduated from Willcox High School in 1956, the first class from the new High School still where it is today. The town was a tourist stop back before Interstate Highways were built. It was also important for the Southern Pacific as a water stop during the days of steam. And cattle shipping by rail has gone away too. The agriculture of the Sulfur Springs Valley and Kansas Settlement are about all that is left. It is very sad to see, but a fact of life in our modern world.

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    1. It must have been a very different place back then. Thank you for sharing your memories of Willcox. I've been to a lot of neat towns that were once railroad water stops. I always find myself mesmerized and compelled to learn as much as I can about their history.

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  42. I randomly stopped at one of the places you posted about. I am still in Willcox and excited to explore more. I saw many great places in New Mexico as well. Thank you for this article!

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    1. Thank you! There are so many interesting places in the area to see. I need to plan another trip through New Mexico. I didn't get to spend nearly enough time exploring that beautiful state.

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  43. Jim; I just now finished looking at all your great Pics of downtown Willcox Az. which I got from a web address my wife sent me because this little town was a big part of my life as a Mountain Bell Employee as I have been in every one of the places you photographed and I have many many memories of the people that were there in the late 60's, 70's, 80's up until the late 90's. I was completely blown away at the condition of the town now as all your pictures were of places that were going strong up until the new millenium. I fixed the phones and installed new ones in everyone of them. I wished you would have gone around back of Milo's Liquors and taken a picture of the old Phone Co. building-if it was still there. I will be keeping these pics and have subscribed to your You Tube Site. Thanks so much for taking the time as there is a bunch of us who enjoy your work no matter how sad it may be to us.

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    1. Thank you so much! You must have known Willcox better than most people who lived there. I had no idea about the old Phone Co. building. I'll have to look for it next time I'm in the area. I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures.

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  44. I worked at A&W in 1977, for Ernie and Winifred Carter, with my brother, sister and some friends. Then Mickey's Restaurant - both in your photos. Most of my memories are already in the comments BUT my favorite is not. It's the Willcox wave. Everyone or almost everyone waved to you when they drove past, whether or not they knew you. People sometimes had their own signature wave like my high school algebra teacher Mr. Nelson. He made a lazy semicircle around the top of the steering wheel. Very chill, very cool, like the man himself. Page Bakarich was a WWII veteran, Marine, who taught agriculture and was the FFA leader - he was constantly humming or singing songs under his breat. The songs made a nice sound and he was really great - then I listened more closely and found out the words were from his Marine days and pretty racy. So many more good memories, a lot about school since I lived there for my high school years. Mr. Riggs was the best chemistry and physics teacher I could have had, had great stories about going to the U of A in Tucson. Plus Mr. Riggs worked a 'small' four section ranch near Dos Cabezas, about 2,500 acres. His family, the Riggs, were early settlers and had a lot of the land out that way. One of his relatives might have been the cowboy that the guy with the broken down UHaul met in the bar but that's hard to know because there are a whole bunch of big ranches that would qualify. I haven't been back in 30 years but I expect to visit soon, especially after reading this blog. Oh, one more gem - Mr. Bowman was the Aeronautics teacher plus Driver's Ed. He was a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel and over his years teaching gave several hundred professional pilots and aircraft mechanics the inspiration to enter that career - a few each year. He had hundreds of accurate aircraft models that he used to demonstrate his teaching points, mostly to illustrate characteristics of historical airplanes. He told us about the B-29 bomber whose wheels sunk into the pavement out at Willcox Airport, and had to be lifted by inflatable makeshift air bladders under the wings, which were sewn together from parachutes. And north of town in the Peloncillo range (Mount Graham was our name) there were some ancient Native American petroglyphs - symbols and images on the rocks. An archaeologist tells me they were mostly the result of vision quests, the traditional ceremony where a youth enters the adult world through an extended quest. One last thing then I'll shut up - Willcox is a preferred gateway for bird watchers and attracts hundreds, maybe more every year. The County has well over half the bird species out of the total living in North America. It's the northernmost range of tropical birds like the Elegant Trogon, has huge seasonal nesting and breeding flocks of Sandhill Cranes which is a super tall wading bird plus about 450 other species. Now I'm done. But everyone is right, it's the people who make Willcox a great place. As the son of one of those City Council members from back in the seventies, who was also involved in the Chamber of Commerce and the northern campus if Cochise County Community College I can tell you Willcox had and still has strong leadership which cares. The Chamber and visitor center is open extensive hours compared with the ones I see other, bigger places. Best of all you get a live person who picks up the Chamber phone when you call - pretty much unheard of now. Oh shoot, there's also Willcox Commercial Company, about to reopen Oct 5 2017 and open almost all of the 137 years since 1880. Geronimo shopped there. Adobe walls and cool creaky old wood floors. Okay signing off, Wayne Switzer.

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    1. Thanks for sharing all the great memories! I had no idea about the variety of bird species that pass through the area. The "Willcox wave" is one thing I love about friendly places like Willcox. On my road trip across the country I passed through a lot of communities where people wave at everyone. It's a nice, wholesome tradition that makes these places feel very welcoming.

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  45. PS Willcox is fortunate having a healthy, strong community hospital. Pun intended. There's a new agreement with a company having four doctors that ensures round the clock resident ER doctors plus outreach to the 'metropolitan area' communities like Bowie. Serves the whole area, really, as one of the few hospitals between Tucson AZ and El Paso TX. Over in Benson which you drove through, us a bookstore in a ranch house way out of town called the Singing Wind. It specializes in hard to find Western history and biography and has a very strong section on women pioneers, first person sources. Water wars, early experiences of school teachers imported to the wilder areas to teach, even as recent as the 50s. And the archeology is significant beginning with he Amerind Foundation between Benson and Willcox with local artifacts dating to the Clovis period thousands of years ago. It's an active research station and has a smaller mission as a museum. There was a famous dude ranch in the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties in Texas Canyon between Benson and Willcox, maybe earlier. It had a bunch of the Hollywood stars as regular visitors. Joseph Kennedy Senior sent his boys Joe Junior and Jack there as teenagers to toughen them up in the thirties. Last recommendation for now is to subscribe to the Arizona Range News which has been published in Willcox since the 1800s and claims the title of Cochise County's oldest newspaper still in print. It's about a dollar a week to have it mailed to you. I had a subscription when I was in college in Boston, to the great amusement of my classmates who would also read up on local happenings if only to make jokes. I enjoyed the jokes but I've never been ashamed of my upbringing in Willcox and Cochise County. I've been very lucky compared with most people, to have grown up there. Between the county spelling bee, 8th grade graduation and my high school science project I've had my name and photo in the Range News three times. Super cool features this year featuring The Willcox High graduating class - a color photo of each one, about 2x3. You just can't beat the Range News for best periodical if you are or ever were a Willcox resident. Jim, I thank you for capturing the buildings before they were torn down though I'm glad they were. Best of all for this discussion where I've seen a bunch of friends contribute. Sincerely, Wayne Switzer

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    1. Thanks, Wayne! I will definitely check out the Singing Wind next time I'm out that way. Growing up in a rural area is becoming a rare thing these days , which is a shame. Those of us who got to experience that kind of upbringing are fortunate. It builds a special kind of character.

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  46. Hello. myself and my husband currently live in West Bend, Wisconsin. We are actually flying into Tucson and then driving to Willcox, AZ to take a look at a home we may possibly purchase and move to. I've been trying to learn as much as I can about this area. I lived and loved Arizona in the past but I lived in the busy Phoenix/Glendale area. Originally we were thinking of looking into Prescott or Cottonwood, more north, then found a unique home we like in Willcox. My friends are all concerned I'm going to be bored in a Desert town, but truthfully, I am so ready to be more involved with Nature etc. I am hopeful if indeed we do move to Willcox that it will come back and flourish so we can share in some wonderful memories. I would want to be involved in any community group promoting the betterment. Thank you for your story and photos. It didn't scare us off!

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    1. I'm glad it didn't scare you off! Willcox is a charming town. I'm actually from Wisconsin too! I grew up in Racine and went to school in Madison. After college I moved out to LA. Arizona has so many beautiful places, as you probably know better than I do. I hope you find a place that you love.

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  47. the guy that reported u as suspicious was a fucking pussy

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