Bisbee was booming in 1902, the year it became an incorporated city.
To keep up with that boom, it needed more water — a perennial tale in the arid West — to supplement that which was being pulled from the Mule Gulch aquifer.
In a story that would be repeated so many times in the decades before and afterward, it got its need filled through a venture with Copper Queen Consolidate Mining Co. On June 21, the first day of summer, water was pumped from the well fields of Naco — still in use today — to a tank above the Spray shaft, on Queen Hill.
It was, as the Bisbee Daily Review touted in the lead column of its next issue, “a day of rejoicing.” For the brand-new city it meant not just more to drink, and the guarantee of continued mining, but the assurance of better fire protection.
“Yesterday forenoon at 11:30 o’clock water began to pour into the large tank above the Spray shaft in a steady stream,” the paper reported.
“It marks a new era in the water supply of Bisbee, and is expected to in a measure relieve the present scarcity of water. For years Bisbee has had to depend entirely upon a local supply of water that has but seldom been equal to the demands of a growing city.”
The new city council granted a franchise to the Bisbee West Copper Mining and Townsite Improvement Co. to bring water into the city.
The water came from wells at Naco owned by the Copper Queen, which had installed a pump capable of raising 1 million gallons of water over a 24-hour period. It also laid an eight-mile pipeline to bring the water from Naco to the hillside south of the Bisbee city limits.
Testing the system
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Two days earlier, the company had made the first test of the system, but had to shut down because of a break in the pipe near Don Luis. The following day repairs were made and the pumps were restarted the following morning. By afternoon, “water was flowing from the end of the pipe at an estimated rate of 4500 gallons an hour.
“It fell into a tank 110 feet in circumference and 14 feet deep, which will hold 100,000 gallons of water. The tank is about 1100 feet above the well at Naco where the pipe starts.”
There were naysayers in town (of course), who said the company wouldn’t be able to lift the water from the well to the tank, but the paper pointed out that a sister company at Morenci had been, for several years, pumping water from the San Francisco River through an eight-mile pipeline to the town, a lift of 1500 feet.
The Copper Queen had been working on the water project for three months, and had been “pushing the work as fast as possible.”
It first determined that there was a large supply of water at the source, today known as Green Bush Draw, northwest of the town of Naco and west of the golf course. It installed a pump with a capacity of 1 million gallons and then laid the pipeline.
The company made connections with every boiler in the smelting works (wrapped around the hill where the Queen Mine Tour is today), with the roundhouse of the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad, (at the time still the Arizona & Southeastern) (in today’s big parking lot), with Bisbee Improvement Co.’s ice plant (across from Lowell School, in the cemetery inseet) with the Bisbee Water Co.’s system and with the fire tanks.
“The water turned over to these is expected to relieve the city of the scarcity of water, and also provide ample water in case a serious fire breaks out in the principal parts of the city.” (The great fire of 1908 would prove that just having a source of water wasn’t enough.)
Bisbee Water Co. received 50,000 gallons of water a day, which would be distributed through its existing mains. E.B. Mason, president of the utility, said that “the outlook for relief from lack of water in the future is very bright,” the Review reported.
The test which was reported on did not see the pump running at full capacity, but “in a few days [it] is expected to handle about 300,000 gallons of water in 24 hours.
Fire at Czar
Within a few days, the supply of water from Naco paid for itself. On June 24, a fire of “unknown origin” began around the hill at shops near the Czar mine and turned into the “most disastrous fire” in the mining company’s history.
The total loss was pegged at $12,000 and included the miners’ change room and contents, rope houses and contents, about 200 feet of car track and several hundred feet of mine timbers.
After the alarm was turned in, the chemical engine responded, but “was unable to make any headway against the flames,” the Review reported. “Water was brought in a long hose from the reserve tanks maintained by the company, but the pressure was not great enough to reach the top of the building.
“An order was given to make connections with the Spray tank, and a telephone order sent there to pump directly into the tanks.” [Not exactly sure what that means.] But, the paper added, “this is all that saved a large amount of the company’s property, and as some say, possibly the city of Bisbee.
“As soon as the water began to come, progress was made against the flames.”
Walter Douglas appreciative
Among those fighting the fire was Copper Queen Superintendent Walter Douglas, “who helped to hold the nozzle of the hose, and went with the others into the dangerous places.”
Once the fire was put out, “Douglas expressed deep gratitude . . . for the generous manner in which the citizens had responded to protect the company’s property. In return, he has decided not to charge the city for the work he is doing on the reserve tanks and water pipes, which are to give the city better fire protection.”
“The Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Co. takes this means of thanking the local fire department, the citizens of Bisbee and its own employes for the splended service rendered at the recent fire at the Czar shaft,” Douglas had published in the paper.