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Ajo — A Company Town

Enjoying our visit to Ajo (pronounced AH-ho) took some work. When we drove into town all we saw were dilapidated buildings, abandoned restaurants, faded broken signs, numerous black POW and MIA flags prominently displayed and businesses selling Mexican auto insurance. After educating ourselves regarding Ajo’s unique history as a company town, we realized that Ajo deserved more than just a passing glance. When an estimated 40 million tons of copper ore was discovered in 1914, General John C. Greenway, in the hopes of attracting labor to work in the mine, built a fully functional town using design principles that emphasized beautiful architecture and green open spaces. His idea worked. Families moved to this new planned community located in the middle of nowhere where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees.

After learning about Ajo’s historic beginnings, we were eager to track down the architectural remnants of the original town site. In the center of town is a small historic district where the original Spanish Colonial revival style plaza stands as a memorial to Greenways vision that a company mining town could be aesthetic. The plaza is a shady green oasis that provides a respite from the blinding Sonoran sun. Although there are many vacant storefronts in the surrounding arcade, the plaza still thrives as the center of activity with a new library and post office.

Directly across from the plaza are two spectacular churches that blaze against the blue sky like twin snow white bastions of faith…the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church with its graceful dome and the Federated Church.

You can click on the photo to see more detail.

Several blocks from the plaza is the historic Curley School erected in 1919 to educate the miner’s children. Its impressive façade is slated for rehab and the whole structure will be converted to an Arts Center. The school’s cotillion still rings on the hour (It was odd to hear Blue Skies reverberating throughout the town). Want to see one more piece of detail? Do ya? Huh? Then click here.

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