Mining in the Tombstone area began in 1878 and the town was founded the next year. In those early days, wagons with 20 horses or mules were used to get ore to the mills in Charleston, about eight miles away. All the food and merchandise needed by the miners, along with the materials needed to operate the mines, were brought in by wagons from Benson, where the nearest rail line was located. Also, a lot of people were traveling to Tombstone every day and they would come by stagecoach from Benson. A railroad was needed, but it would take more than two decades to realize that goal.
The first railroad into Tombstone was planned by the Arizona and Mexico Railroad and Telegraph Company in 1880. That route was to go from Benson to Charleston, then to Tombstone past the Lucky Cuss and Sulphuret mines and terminate near the Silver Belt mine. Unfortunately, that railroad never got beyond the initial planning phase. In 1881 Santa Fe railroad constructed a line from Benson to Contention, on the San Pedro river, and regular runs started in 1882. That line eventually extended to Fairbank where it turned west to Nogales and then into Mexico. In 1882, work began on a Tombstone branch that was planned to start at Fairbank and continue through Tombstone on to Deming, New Mexico, but that work stopped without explanation; though it could be because mining hit a few rough snags and the future of Tombstone was somewhat uncertain.
In 1888 the Arizona and South Eastern Railroad Company began building a line from Fairbank to Bisbee for the copper mines, but they selected a route along the San Pedro river that excluded Tombstone. Eventually, that railroad would run all the way from Benson to El Paso and become the El Paso and South Western (EP&SW). The EP&SW started a line from Fairbank to Tombstone on March 9, 1903, and on April 12, 1903, the first train rolled into Tombstone.
The 1903 rail line started in Fairbank and followed Walnut Gulch, a tributary of the San Pedro River, east for six miles, then climbed out of the ravine before circling Comstock Hill and entering town near the current post office. After passing behind the courthouse, it reached the depot along Toughnut Street. The rails then ran on into the mining area south and east of town, circling the Grand Central and Contention mines, along with spurs to several other mines. Since Tombstone was never a “travel through” destination, the trains had to turn around and return, no doubt using the wye near the Grand Central mine.
Southern Pacific leased the EP&SW in 1924 and then purchased it outright in 1955. Ore was shipped out of Tombstone for nearly all those years, but those shipments declined when the mines began to close; and with the removal of the county seat to Bisbee, passenger service also died. On Sept 14, 1959, Southern Pacific filed for abandonment with the federal government. The last train ran on August 13, 1960 and the tracks were later removed for use elsewhere.
After the railroad left town, the former depot was donated by Southern Pacific to the City of Tombstone and city leadership turned it into the first permanent location for our library. While Tombstone has had a library since 1885, with George Parsons as the first librarian, it was moved from place to place depending on the available facility. There were even periods when no location was available, so the library was closed. After the library was placed in the old depot, the city had a contest and invited local school children to name the building; the winning entry was The Reading Station, which our library is called to this day. In 1971 an old caboose and boxcar were delivered by truck to Tombstone and placed on short rails behind the old depot building as a reminder of the rail service.
Guests visiting Tombstone can see part of the original right-of-way near the corner of Toughnut and 4th streets where there are a few old railroad cars on short rails behind the library building. The original rail grade can also be spotted behind the Lookout Lodge and Tombstone Grand Hotel at the edge of town.
The Goodenough Trolley Tour starts at the library, the old depot, and I tell about that building. Throughout the tour, we pass the old right-of-way several times though I generally do not point those locations out unless one of my guests requests it.
Myrick, David, The Railroads of Southern Arizona: An Approach to Tombstone, The Journal of Arizona History, Vol 8, No 3 (Autumn 1967), pp 155-170. Found at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41695428. Downloaded on Dec 31, 2019.
Tombstone’s Historic Locations booklet.
The map is based on the mining sign erected by the City of Tombstone near the entrance to the Goodenough Mine property. That data was verified with a topographical map of the Arizona Benson Quadrangle, published by the US Geological Service, George Otis Smith, Director, 1914.