Fairbank: Railroad Hub to Ghost Town

Guest blogger Ron Stewart, Vice President of the Friends of the San Pedro River, supplied this short history of Fairbank. Photos courtesy of Ron Stewart, Steve Ogle, and Jim Peterson.

A train whistle in the night is an unforgettable sound. The railroad’s romance is fading, but you can still feel its allure in Fairbank, Arizona.

Railroad near Fairbank. Photo (c) Steve Ogle.

Railroad near Fairbank (c) Steve Ogle

In 1877 silver was discovered in the desert east of Fort Huachuca – this became the town of Tombstone.  Just 4 years later, about 10,000 people were living there. They were well paid for the era and had little to do with their money.

Fairbank was born in 1881 when local ranchers, aspiring entrepreneurs, William Hall and Harry McKinney, filed a claim to land about 8 miles west of Tombstone. It was adjacent to a bend in the railroad tracks, which was the closest point to Tombstone by rail from 1882 to 1903. Hall and McKinney started selling lots, probably from a small wood frame house still standing in Fairbank. 

Fairbank flourishes
A train depot opened in 1882.  Miners, entertainers, and gamblers rushed in, riding a stagecoach the rest of the way to Tombstone. Goods flowed in and out of Fairbank. Manufactured items of all kinds—liquor, beer and food bound for Tombstone—came through Fairbank.  Out flowed cattle and milled silver and copper. The cattle pens still stand just south of town.

The Fairbank Mercantile is as majestic today as when it was established in 1882. The Mercantile’s sales registers show the delivery of mining equipment and luxury goods of all kinds. Fresh oysters came from the Gulf of California, and Chinese residents received condiments and other food items from China.

Four different railroads operated in Fairbank: the Arizona and New Mexico, the Arizona and Southeast, the El Paso and Southwestern and the Southern Pacific. The town had 3 train depots serving these 4 railroads at various times.  

Fairbank’s Journey to Ghost Town
As the automobile gained in popularity, Fairbank faded.  Railroad employees tasked with maintaining the trains and repairing tracks lost their jobs. The last depot closed in 1966 and was torn down for its lumber.

The town hung on for another 7 years. The last business was the Mercantile, eking out a living as a gas station and country store.  The elderly Heney sisters, whose family bought the Mercantile in its heyday in 1905, left in 1973 to live with relatives. At that time Fairbank officially became a ghost town. 

Today, the trains are gone but if you listen closely at night in Fairbank, you might hear the echo of a steam whistle.

The remains of a trestle near Fairbank. Photo courtesy of Jim Peterson.

Visiting Fairbank
Would you like to visit? The volunteer organization Friends of the San Pedro River operates a visitor center, which is located in Fairbank’s former schoolhouse. Stop in, sit in one of the student’s chairs, and imagine what it was like during the days of railroads and the mining boom. 

Today the Schoolhouse is Fairbank's Visitor Center. Photo (c) Ron Stewart, Friends of the San Pedro River.

Fairbank Schoolhouse (c) Ron Stewart Friends of the San Pedro River

Fairbank Historic Townsite
Hwy 82 east of the San Pedro River
Hours: Fri, Sat, Sun: 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Phone: 520-457-3062

E-mail: [email protected]

For more information on Fairbank’s history, visit http://www.sanpedroriver.org/fairbank.shtml. For other ghost towns in Cochise County, please visit Cochise County's ghost town page.

Railroad bridge. Photo courtesy of Steve Ogle.

Railroad bridge (c) Steve Ogle

The Little Boquillas cattle pens are still standing just south of town. Photo (c) Ron Stewart, Friends of the San Pedro River.

Exterior of the Schoolhouse. Photo (c) Ron Stewart, Friends of the San Pedro River.

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