Library History

1882 Humble Beginnings

Shortly after Mule Gulch was renamed Bisbee in 1880, principal members of the Copper Queen Mining Company arrived in town to find the swinging corpse of a fellow hanged the night before.  They  were so shocked by the sight, they decided immediately that the town needed more civilized diversions.  Thus, in 1882, the first Copper Queen Library, with a collection of 400 volumes was established in the east end of the Copper Queen Mercantile Store.

Humble Beginnings

1885 New Digs

​By 1885, the Copper Queen Library had its own building. A white two-story wood-framed structure housed the library and the post office on the lower floor. The second floor was used for lodge meetings, church services, dances, and other social gatherings. The sign above the door read: "Copper Queen Con. Mining Co. Library Reading Room".
1st Library Building
First Library

Photo courtesy of CQ Library


Reverend J.G. Pritchard
and his Cocker Spaniel

1887 First Librarian Hired

In 1887, Reverend J.G. Pritchard became the first paid librarian at the Copper Queen Library.  Pritchard emigrated from Wales in 1848 when he was twenty and settled in Granville, NY.  In 1873 he attended St. Francis College at Richmond, Quebec, and later enrolled in Morin College where he graduated from the theological department.  Soon after his arrival in Bisbee, he was appointed postmaster and assumed charge of mail matters until an increase in the business warranted a separation of the library and postal interests.  From the Portrait and Biographical Record of Arizona: "Unfettered by narrow creed, and guided by naught save a broad and illuminating spirit of humanitarianism, the association of Mr. Pritchard with Arizona is inseparably interwoven with the best moral, intellectual and social development of the is great mining center of the west."

1892 Fire Strikes Main Street & A New Library Rises

In 1888, a disastrous fire swept Bisbee's Main Street and destroyed much of the town, leaving the library and all its books in ashes.  However, 1892 saw the construction of a new brick building which was built in a similar Italianate style as the current Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum.  During this time, a rearrangement was made in the library to provide a game room for checkers.

2nd library exterior
2nd Library
2nd Library Interior

1907 The Current Copper Queen Library is Built

In 1906, books were removed from the brick building and it was demolished, making way for the current (and bigger) building, designed by local architect Frederick C. Hurst, which opened its doors in March of 1907.  The Renaissance Revival building’s second floor served as a reading and game room, and the third floor served as the library.  By 1908, the Bisbee Post Office had the greatest number rented locked boxes (3,200) of any postal department in the country (due mainly to its lack of home delivery); it also had an all-female staff, the only such post office in the nation.
Library Construction
Library Construction 2
1907 Library

1910 Book by Book

By 1910 the library had 6,550 volumes. Approximately 23,924 books circulated that year, 13 books were lost and paid for, 13 books were lost and not paid for, and the average daily attendance was 261 people. In 1913, the library was closed twice because of spinal meningitis and small pox in the community.
Pictured is the third floor of the library looking toward the Southwest Collection.


Floods and Fires
​In 1908, Bisbee experienced two disasters in quick succession.  In August, excessive rainwater running down the mountains caused a flood which damaged homes and local businesses, and in October 1908, a fire destroyed much of the town's commercial district.  The Library survived both disasters.
Flood 1
Flood 2
Library Flood 1908
Fire 1
Fire 2

1917 Bisbee


On July 12, 1917, 1,300 striking mine workers, their supporters, and citizen bystanders were deported by 2,000 members of a deputized posse. The action was orchestrated by Phelps Dodge who provided names of workers and others who were to be arrested to the Cochise County Sheriff, Harry C. Wheeler. These workers were rounded up around town, including outside of the library, and marched to the Warren Ballpark where they were held before being loaded onto cattle cars and deported 200 miles to Tres Hermanas in New Mexico. The 16-hour journey was through desert without food and with little water. Once unloaded, the deportees, without money or transportation, were warned against returning to Bisbee. For more information about the Bisbee Deportation, please visit the University of Arizona’s Web Exhibit which includes personal recollections, newspaper articles, court records government reports, journal articles and I.W.W publications.

1918 World War I

In her annual report, Librarian Vail noted that the library had collected about 450 books and a large number of magazines for soldiers.  She also stated that the patrons of the smoking and game room had given up their space for use by the Red Cross.  Also that year, the library was closed by quarantine for 76 days for the Spanish Flu. 

1919 5 Cent Shelf

In 1919, Librarian Vail reported on a new feature that was added -- the 5 Cent Shelf which "enabled the library to buy almost immediately any popular book.  Any time one of these books is borrowed the borrower must pay five cents until the book is paid for.  This is common practice in all modern libraries and is proving popular in this library.  We have added since spring over a hundred books without expense to the Company and it has given both pleasure and convenience to our patrons."

1932 Effects of the Great Depression

In her annual report of 1932, Librarian Mrs. A.L. Sinclair stated: "The inventory shows that there is considerable dead timber on the shelves, many books not having been in circulation for years; and many of the recent number in poor condition, pages missing, etc.  Owing to the times, many books are mended and placed in circulation, which in normal times would be discarded.  With a great number of unemployed seeking forgetfulness and pastime in reading, the demand on the library has been tremendous, as many as one hundred in the library, on two or three occasions at one time."
Great Depression

1936 Wild West

In 1936, Librarian Sinclair wrote: "The cooperation of Mayor Colford and officers in helping maintain order on the porches, and in the evenings when the main library is closed, has been of great help, as a disorderly crowd often gather on porches and outside stairs."
Wild West

1975 Closing of the Mine | Changing of the Guard

​By 1974, after almost a century of mining, ore reserves in Bisbee had been depleted and December brought the announcement of the impending closure of mining operations. Phelps Dodge curtailed open pit operations that year and ceased underground operations in 1975. Over the years, 8 billion pounds of copper, 102 million ounces of silver and 2.8 million ounces of gold along with millions of pounds of zinc, lead and manganese were mined out of the hills of Bisbee. In April of 1976, The Copper Queen Library was given to the City of Bisbee by the Phelps Dodge Corporation. In November of that same year, the Friends of the Copper Queen Library was established.
Mines Close

1997 Library Rehabilitation

After a hundred years of good, hard use, the Copper Queen Library underwent a major renovation project.  Floors were refinished and an elevator was installed to give easy access to the second and third floors.  The Library even made the news for its collection of bats that had made their home in the attic.  The Friends of the Copper Queen Library turned this inconvenience into an asset by selling bat guano by the pound, called Biblio-Doo.

2023 Still Going Strong

 Today, the Copper Queen Library continues to thrive and serve its patrons, and still houses Reverend Pritchard's historic collection of books in its Rare Books Room.  In 2018, the Library opened the Copper Queen Library Annex, offering library services and programs in the San Jose Neighborhood of Bisbee.  In 2019, the Library was awarded the EBSCO Excellence in Rural Library Service Award by the Public Library Association and was named The Best Small Library in America by the Library Journal.  And, in 2022, the Library was named a finalist for the National Medal by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  

Holiday Lights