Ajo….Pronounced “ah-ho” means “garlic” in Spanish, but historians believe the town got its name from a Tohono O’odham word meaning “place of colored clay.” Ajo is 10 miles North of Why AZ and today is mostly a retirement community and popular tourist attraction for attractions in the area.
We spent a couple days on and off in Ajo during our stay at the Coyote Howls campground in Why, AZ. I want to share a little history of the place and a few attractions that we visited. If you want to know more about Ajo, AZ or John Campbell Greenway you can visit these two internet sites:
Ajo got its start as a mining town. With new recovery methods for low-grade ore, Ajo boomed. In 1911 John Campbell Greenway, a rough rider, and star Yale athlete bought the New Cornelia mine from John Boddie. In 1921 Phelps Dodge, the nation’s largest copper company bought the mine. For decades, more than 1,000 men worked for Phelps Dodge in the open-pit mine. The mine closed in 1985 due to falling copper prices.
Ajo open-pit mine was once the United States’ 3rd largest producer of Copper. This mine survived a merger, the great depression and the fluctuation of copper prices and is actually a monument to American History and persistence. Today you can view the New Cornelia open-pit mine from a lookout. The mine is fenced but it has openings in the fence that you can view the mine and take pictures. The mine is 1 1/2 miles wide and 1,100 feet deep. Next to the lookout is a small museum where you can see artifacts and mementos from Ajo and the mine’s past. The couple who operate the museum was so friendly and nice and were eager to share the history. The man who is elderly now worked in the mine for 32 years.
This was the last piece of iron that was poured from the mine.
CROSS ON THE MOUNTAIN
Isabella Greenway, wife of John Campbell Greenway founded the Arizona Inn in Tucson and she became the first US Congresswoman. When her husband passed away she took a floral cross that the employees of the mine had made for her husband’s funeral and had it encased in concrete and carried to the top of the highest mountain in Ajo so she and the employees could view it from their homes.
The Plaza is a central location for the town of Ajo, it was created by John Campbell Greenway for a good place for his mine workers to raise their families. The plaza is a Spanish Colonial Style with high arches, white stucco surface, tile roofs, and decoration. Today it houses several shops, restaurants, post office, and visitor information center. On Saturday mornings, they have a farmers market with food, crafts, and entertainment.
Ajo Historical Society Museum
The museum is located in the old St Catherine’s Indian Mission. You will find here many artifacts, displays, photos and memorabilia from Ajo, the mine, and the people.