In the late 1870’s, the settlement of Fairbank, Arizona was originally called Junction City. It began as lonely stagecoach stop on the way to Tombstone. Later it was known as Kendall, and finally became an official town in May 1883 and named Fairbank. Located on the banks of the San Pedro River, the town grew with the construction of the New Mexico and Arizona railroad.
Fairbank was the nearest train station to the boom town of Tombstone. It quickly became an important transportation and supply hub serving three rail lines. Fairbank was the depot for the shipment of both cattle and ore arriving from Tombstone. Soon the town of Fairbank had a store, a saloon, an elegant hotel with a restaurant and bar, post office, several businesses and a schoolhouse.
The post office was established in what is known as the Adobe Commercial Building which also housed a general store and a saloon. Fairbank continued to grow as a railroad town. Tombstone wasn’t even connected to the railway until 1903. Before then, the stagecoach line furnished the connection and transportation for travelers enduring the last ten miles to Tombstone.
Soon the bustling metropolis sported a Wells Fargo office, five saloons, four stores, three restaurants, mill, and a much needed jail. For those travelers just passing through town, the Montezuma Hotel was constructed in 1889. The hotel stood just south of the Adobe Commercial Building and was torn down when Highway 82 was built. All that’s left of the grand hotel are portions of the old foundation.
Like most Arizona territorial towns, Fairbank had its share of disasters and tragedies, too. In 1890 and 1894, the San Pedro River went on a rampage, flooding over its banks and resulting in narrow escapes from death and much property damage. An earthquake in 1887 altered the course of the river, knocked railroad tracks out of place, and devastated many of the makeshift structures of Fairbank. However, the town was determined to rebuild and continued to survive.
In February 1900, a group of lawmen gone bad—the Stiles-Alvord gang, along with three other outlaws attempted to rob the Wells Fargo boxcar filled with gold and silver while it stopped for water in Fairbank. Jeff Milton, an ex Texas Ranger and respected Arizona lawman, was in charge of guarding the safe that day. A shoot out ensued with Milton killing one of the bandits, one fled to Mexico, and the three other would be robbers were captured.
Sadly three young boys were consumed by a fire in one of the buildings in 1897. As Fairbank grew the need for a new school house grew as well. The new 1920 Fairbank School was built with another addition added on in the 1930’s. The school was finally closed in 1944 and students were transferred to Tombstone.
The Fairbank post office was finally closed in the 1970’s, but the General Store continued to serve land owners in the area for a number of years.
Today the town of Fairbank is the Bureau of Land Management regional headquarters and is part of the San Pedro River Riparian Area. The area is rich in natural history with remains of Pima Indian Villages and petroglyphs. Although Fairbank’s main street is deserted today, many of its buildings still stand. The Adobe Commercial building, as well as a small house, is protected behind a chain link fence indicating that the site is “temporarily closed.” There are still a number of buildings to explore, including the old gypsum block school house, which has been restored and now serves as the site museum. There are also a couple of old homes, a stable, and outhouses.
You can hike to the old Fairbank Cemetery. The half mile walk from the town settlement offers a panoramic view of the valley once you reach the hilltop. The graves in the cemetery are marked by piles of rocks and stones. A few weathered wooden crosses still distinguish some of the grave sites. Only a few of the burial sites have iron fencing protecting the early settler’s final resting spot. Most of engraving or writing on the grave markers has faded into history. Continuing on the trail another mile or so, you can visit the ruins of the Grand Central Mill.
If you go: The ghost town of Fairbank is located ten miles west of Tombstone on the AZ 82, east of the San Pedro River on the north side of the road.