McFarland State Historic Park, Florence, AZ

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Louise Speaks:  A busy day today.  We have 3 stops before we camp for the night.  Our fist stop is the McFarland State Historic Park in Florence.  The building itself was the first Pinal County Courthouse.  The main entrance was the sheriffs office and the gift shop was the jail.  It still has a barred window.  As you walk through separate rooms you can see that these were offices.   Finally you reach the old court room which was a pretty good size for it’s time.  We were very fortunate today that the volunteer working had quite a bit of history to share with us and gave us a tour of the building…along with much history.

The historic park consists of a preserved courthouse and other buildings dating to the Arizona Territory period.  The original structure was built in 1878 with the addition of the jail in 1882 and the courthouse in 1891.  The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  McFarland Park commemorates Ernest McFarland  (1894-1984), who is the only known American to have served his state in three of the highest branches of government.   McFarland successively was a US Senator, the Governor of Arizona and Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.

McFarland acquired the building when the State Parks Board was first made aware that the old courthouse in Florence was for sale.  The meeting on May 31, 1973 disclosed the information and had to decide to tear it down or fix it.  A preliminary investigation was made to determine what the costs might be to restore the structure.  McFarland spoke of the historical significance of the first courthouse in Florence and fought to keep it standing.  As a result, McFarland purchased the Courthouse for $8,000, and  offered to donate the structure to the Board.  He also pledged to give his personal collection, an endowment of $27,000, and to deposit $40,000 of Mountain States Telephone Bonds in the State Park Fund.  The monies were to be used for the restoration and preservation of the courthouse.  McFarland State Historic Park was opened and dedicated in his honor on October 10, 1979.   The park was later closed because of Arizona State Parks budget cuts.  But, thanks to generous donations McFarland Park reopened once again in  February 2011 after more repairs and renovations. This state park does not charge any admission to tour the building or the museum.  It is funded strictly by donations.

The museum itself has many exhibits that tell how the west was won.  In the entrance is a huge mirror with a bullet hole in it.  Turns out this was the result of a gun fight between two ex lawmen.  This gun fight is said to be even more famous than the one at the OK Corral, …it just wasn’t made into a movie.  The old treasures office and vault are still visible as are some of the medical instruments on display when the courthouse was used as a hospital.

This was a very interesting and informative stop.  Our guide had so much information and answered so many questions.  We supported the gift shop by buying  many souvenirs including some baked goods.  Turns out all the items we purchased including the bread and cookies were made by the prisoners at the State Prison just up the street in Florence.  The whole stop was interesting and the stories just added to the fun.  For a free stop with so much to see and do, you just have to make a short detour and visit this State Park.  Not only is it free, it is a true part of Arizona history and gets a B rating.  Don’t forget to visit historic Florence and see the second courthouse with it’s towering clock tower.  And if inclined, go by the prison as well…you can literally drive by the courtyard and watch the inmates play basketball.


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