Superior began as a mining town with the Hub Mine claim in 1875 filed by W. Tuttle and the Irene Mine claim filed by P. Swain in 1876. These claims, together, became known as the Silver Queen Mine and by 1910 were owned by Colonel Boyce Thompson and renamed the Magma Copper Company. They had followed the opening, in 1875, of the famous, nearby, Silver King Mine founded by Mason, Long, Copeland and Regan that brought prospecting to the area.
Superior narrowly avoided becoming a ghost town when the Silver Queen and Silver King Mines were impacted by the change in the U.S. monetary standard in 1893 with the devaluation of silver from $1.50 to $.20 per ounce. This change from silver to gold killed many of the West’s silver mines. Fortunately, the miners looking for silver and gold also found copper, and with the founding of the Magma Copper Company, Superior continued to thrive. For 86 years, the Magma pulled copper and silver out of Superior’s mountains.
Superior grew as more businesses evolved to serve the townspeople and ranching families. Nearby water from Queen Creek, water piped up from nearby Florence and a commerce base created by the ranchers and merchants that served the miners, kept Superior alive. This growth encouraged community involvement and activities that bonded people to Superior. Clubs and associations were formed, friendships forged, and more businesses built, including the Magma Hotel. Superior’s tourism boomed when Boyce Thompson, who was a self-made millionaire and mining magnate, established the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in 1923 to exhibit and study plants from all over the world.
Superior is home to many resilient and self-reliant residents, many of whom are third generation descendants of the early settlers of the town. They are fiercely proud of their town, as are the newer arrivals. The artist community has brought the downtown area back to life, while revitalizing the historic buildings on Main Street and Magma Blvd with quaint new businesses. Hollywood has discovered this historic wild west town’s charm, as they have filmed a number of commercials and movies in the area including How The West Was Won, The Prophecy, U-Turn, The Fugitive and the PBS special Skin Walkers by Tony Hillerman.
Some predicted that in 1982 when the town’s largest mine shut down it would mean the end of Superior and it, too, would become another Arizona ghost town. The following decade proved them wrong. The town had developed a much loved sustainable community in their beautiful high desert setting. The Magma Mine reopened in the 1990’s as the Resolution Copper Company. A copper dome was found 7,000 feet underground that is projected to be the largest copper vein in the United States, fourth-largest undeveloped copper deposit in the world, and is expected to revitalize Superior with employment and businesses.
Historic pictures of Superior show that the area has grown over its 100+ year history, but still retains its small town cultural and historic charm. Visitors who travel to Superior can see reminders of the glory days of mining and ranching in the town while enjoying the local shops, food, arts, and town activities such as Apache Leap Days and the Historic Home Tours that make Superior a great day trip and a walk back in time.
To learn more about the history of Superior, visit the Bob Jones Museum or pick up a copy of the books When Silver was King by Jack San Felice and Superior and Queen Valley by Carol Schumacher and Danielle Tomerlin at local gift stores or from the authors through the QV Historical Society. To experience a mining themed Escape Room activity based on the history of the area, visit the Lost Dutchman Room at Escape Rooms Mesa owned by the Superior and Queen Valley book authors.