Pinal County was formed in 1875 when the state legislature carved it out of neighboring Maricopa and Pima counties. At the time, there were already settled towns and cities in the area. Florence was one of the first towns established in the county and is the county seat today.
Pinal County flourished thanks to the mining industry. Many of the towns and cities in the county were built during the prosperous years of gold mining. These desert stopovers sprung up to provide rest and recreation to travelers, prospectors and immigrants looking for gold and the chance for a new life.
Others were built as company towns by the mining companies. You can see the legacy of this history in the names of the trails, rivers and cities of the county. After the mines closed, these communities continued to attract visitors by offering the ability to enjoy Arizona’s abundant scenic beauty, outdoor activities and year-round warm climate.
Pinal County has always been an oasis in the desert, fed by clear creeks and rivers and shaded by the mountains.
History of Florence, Arizona
Florence was founded in 1866. It is one of the oldest non-native settlements in the state. Its current population is around 10,000.
The Hohokam people were the original inhabitants of the region where Florence now sits. The Hohokam built canals and farming communities, but they disappeared mysteriously in the 1400s. Until the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, the land was owned by Mexico.
In 1866, Levi Ruggles, a civil war veteran from Ohio, was sent to Arizona as an official, federally-appointed Indian Agent for the territory of Arizona. While he was there, he decided to settle permanently in the area. He bought over 100 acres of land and applied for permission to form a town. The governor granted him permission and Ruggles began building the city that he named Florence.
In 1869, Florence had a post office and mail began to be delivered by Pony Express from the Blue River station 25 miles away. Ruggles also built his family home and opened a general store.
Many Firsts in Florence
In 1878, Ruggles built the first courthouse in Florence. This adobe structure has been named to the National Register of Historic Places. It is no longer used as a courthouse but has been used as a hospital, nursing home and museum. Today it is the McFarland Historical State Park and houses the Florence Visitor Center.
In 1870, Fred Adams built the town of Adamsville and quickly added a new store, flour mill, post office, bank and stores. A flood from the nearby Gila river in the 1900s led to the closing of Adamsville and its residents moved to Florence, adding to its population.
In 1875, prospectors discovered silver in the nearby mountains, leading to a rush in population as more prospectors flooded the town to work the now-famous Silver King Mine. That mining history has given names to the area’s best-known hiking trails and passages, such as Prospector’s View Trail, Treasure Loop Trail and Dutchman’s Trail.
One of the most famous shootouts of the Old West occurred in Florence, when former Sheriff Peter Gabriel and his former best friend Joe Pye had a falling-out that erupted in violence one day in 1888. Pye was killed and his tombstone still stands in Florence.
The Father of Florence
Levi Ruggles, who is sometimes nicknamed “the father of Florence,” went on to serve in many official capacities in Florence, including justice of the peace and school board trustee. He died in 1889.
Today, much of Ruggles’ legacy can still be seen in Florence. You can visit the original adobe courthouse and the ruins of his first family home. Above all, Ruggles’ dreams for Florence to become a vibrant and flourishing city have come true.
Things to See in Florence
Florence retains much of the small-city charm it had when it was first founded and built. The town was the location for the movie Murphy’s Romance, which starred Sally Field and James Garner. The film highlighted its old-fashioned charm and beautiful mountain views. Florence is a small but vibrant city with a rich history, a friendly community and many local places to dine or shop.
Casa Grande ruins. Not far from Florence are the Casa Grande ruins, a network of buildings and canals that date to the 1400s. The people who built the original settlement left no written records and little is known about the people who built them and how they were used. Since their discovery, the ruins have drawn archaeologists and historians who are fascinated by the mystery of these ruins.
Tom Mix Memorial. The great silent film star Tom Mix died in a car accident just outside of Florence. He was driving 80 mph and was killed instantly. Today a memorial marks the site of the accident on Route 79.
Superstition Wilderness Area. Visit this unspoiled tract of land that takes you through the original prospectors’ trails and see Arizona the way the first settlers did.
Self-guided History Tour. Visit all of Florence’s historic landmarks with a self-guided tour. You can get information about this and other activities at the Florence Visitor Center, located at McFarland State Historic Park.
Florence is filled with buildings and homes that were originally built in the 1800s, some of which are still in use. Florence’s historic district is listed in its entirety in the National Register of Historic Places. The district has over 140 well-preserved buildings from the 1800s and early 1900s.
Pinal County Historical Society and Museum. This museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing a wide variety of county and statewide artifacts, books, photographs and documents. The museum has an extensive Native American collection and a huge collection of prison artifacts. In addition, you can visit a blacksmith shop, a preserved 1928 cabin and antique fire engines. This museum is a great place to learn more about Pinal County.
Florence Police Department
Florence has its own police department, headed by police chief Daniel Hughes. The department offers a free activity called the Florence Police Citizen Academy. Participants selected to take part in this program get the chance to experience first-hand what it’s like to be police officer or detective.
Available only to residents of Florence who are 18 or older and can pass a background check, the program runs for five weeks and immerses participants in police operations, communications and 911 dispatchers’ work, crime scene investigations, use of police dogs and more.
These nearby cities also have their own police departments:
• Eloy City
• Apache Junction
Pinal County Courthouse
The Pinal County courthouse was built in 1891. Its actual official name is the Second Pinal County Courthouse, as it replaced an earlier building that was built by Levi Ruggles. The courthouse has become such a famous landmark that the “second” designation is often dropped. It’s now known officially as “the” courthouse of Pinal County.
The courthouse is a three-story brick structure that sits at the corner of Pinal and 12th streets in Florence, the county seat. James M. Creighton, a well-known Arizona architect, designed the building. It is considered a classic and outstanding example of Late Victorian Revival style. This is a style characterized by ornate detailing, trellises, pointed spires and bay windows.
A Neglected Treasure
Sadly, the courthouse started falling into ruin late in the 1960s and 70s. The state government built a modern, replacement courthouse in 1961 rather than approve funding to maintain the historic courthouse.
The courthouse continued to fall into ruin until the government shut it down in 2005. The historic courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and named an “endangered” historical building in 2007.
Despite these efforts, plans to revive the courthouse did not come to fruition until 2011. In that year, the county government passed a bill authorizing reconstruction of the courthouse.
Restored to Its Former Glory
Today the courthouse has been restored to its original beauty, with added structural supports to ensure that it continues to stand for many years to come. It is where the county supervisors meet and where many agencies of the county government have offices.
The courthouse features a clock tower but it has never had an actual, working clock. Instead, the builders painted a picture of a clock on the front of the tower. It is set to 11:44. The courthouse is on the list of must-see places for visitors to Pinal County.
Pinal County Sheriff’s Office
The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) is the main policing and law enforcement unit in the county. The PCSO runs the county jail and works with numerous state and federal law enforcement agencies including the ATF, FBI and ICE.
Sheriff Mark Lamb
In Arizona, the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer for each county. Sheriffs are elected to four-year terms.
Sheriff Mark Lamb was elected in 2017 after a long and outstanding record as a police officer. Lamb began his career with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, where he was named Rookie of the Year and later Officer of the year. During his time there, Lamb also worked on numerous federal, state and tribal investigations involving assaults, homicides, drive-by shootings, drug and alcohol cases and gang-related crimes. He was named a detective and later awarded Detective of the Year by the community.
Lamb joined the PCSO as a deputy and was assigned to a multi-agency (Salt River PD, Mesa PD, DPS, ATF, US Marshal Service and the FBI) RICO case that dismantled a large, violent gang. For his work on this case, Lamb was given the Award of Excellence from the Arizona Gang Investigators Association.
Lamb was elected Sheriff of Pinal County in 2017.
The PCSO follows a community policing philosophy that involves the local community in police efforts. In addition, the PCSO has instituted numerous community initiatives to help foster awareness and safety among the county’s residents.
Block Watch. It’s estimated that nationwide, over 10 million crimes go unreported. This program trains community residents in how to detect whether illegal activities are going on in their neighborhood. It trains in the best, safest ways to notify law enforcement about what they’ve observed.
Eddie the Eagle. Eddie is a mascot who visits county children’s events to teach children about gun safety. A police officer accompanies Eddie to talk to children about the dangers of guns. The county also provides lock boxes to parents who want to keep their firearms locked away from their children.
Fatal Vision. This program allows people to experience what it’s like to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Participants wear special blurred-vision goggles while driving a golf cart in an enclosed area.
Home Alone Safe Alone. This program provides an emergency notification system for elderly people or disabled people who are living alone or otherwise at risk for injury. It gives the person a pendant wired to a home telephone system. At the push of a button, the device dials three neighbors and emergency services.
Sheriff’s Toy Drive. A donation and toy drive provides clothes, toys and gifts to children of low-income county families each year.
Pinal County Adult Detention Center
Also called the Pinal County Jail, the Detention Center houses inmates arrested for crimes in Pinal County as well as detainees held by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). It serves as the local jail. A separate facility houses juvenile offenders.
The facility houses over 1500 inmates. It is the third largest county jail in Arizona. Daily operations and oversight of the jail are managed by Captain Gilbert Hoyos and Captain Darren Rushing.
The Pinal County ADC is run by the Pinal County Sherriff’s Office (PCSO). Headed by Sherrif Mark Lamp, the PCSO consists of over 650 employees who offer policing patrols throughout the county. In addition, the PCSO has several specialized units such as the PCSO Search and Rescue Team and the PCSO Aviation Unit, which help locate lost or missing people. Other specialty units focus on drug and human trafficking, border patrol enforcement and narcotics enforcement.
Visiting Inmates at Pinal County Adult Detention Center
Pinal County encourages friends and family members to stay in touch with detainees at the center. To facilitate this, the county recently introduced a video-streaming service that allows inmates to have video visitations with family members anywhere in the U.S. or the world.
Visiting hours at the ADC are Monday through Thursday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. On Fridays, only video visitations are allowed. Visiting hours on Saturday are from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. There are no visiting hours on Sunday.
The public is limited to two 20-minute visits per week. Family members can visit once a day for 30 minutes. For family members who want more contact with their loved ones, the ADC recommends using video visitation through the iWebVisit service.
An exciting new technology from iWebVisit allows family members and friends to set up a “video visitation” with their incarcerated loved ones from their home, office or anywhere that has an internet connection. All that’s required is a desktop, laptop or even an Android phone with a webcam.
Currently in use in jails and detention centers throughout the country, iWebVisit is an affordable and easy-to-use system. The cost for video visits to the ADC have currently been reduced from $15 to $9 per 30-minute session.
To use it:
• Register for free on the service’s web site.
• Choose from the list of participating facilities.
• Enter the inmate’s name and inmate number.
• Schedule a visit. The facility notifies the inmate of the schedule visit time.
• Pay the fee. Once the fee is processed, the visit can begin.
Getting to Pinal County
Florence, Arizona is 62 miles from Phoenix. You can make the drive in about two hours.
Driving Directions from Florence to Phoenix:
• Depart N Main St toward E 1st St.
• Turn left onto E 1st St.
• Turn right onto N Pinal St.
• Turn right onto AZ-79 BL / AZ-287 / E Butte Ave.
• Turn left to stay on AZ-79 BL / AZ-287.
• Bear right onto AZ-79 S BL / AZ-287 W / S Main St, and then immediately bear right onto AZ-287 W / W AZ-287.
• Keep straight onto AZ-87 for 7 miles.
• Turn left onto AZ-387 for 6.9 miles.
• Turn left onto AZ-387 / AZ-187
• Take ramp right for I-10 West toward Phoenix.
• Stay on I-10 for 36 miles. At exit 148, take ramp right toward Jefferson St / Washington St.
• Turn left onto E Washington St.
• Road name changes to W Washington St. You will be in Phoenix.
Driving directions from Phoenix to Florence:
• Head south on North Main Street
• Make a slight right onto Florence-Coolidge Highway (AZ 287) and drive for about 8 miles.
• Continue onto AZ 87 for 7 miles.
• Turn left onto AZ 387.
• Take the ramp on the right towards I-10 West Phoenix.
• Merge left onto I-10 West.
• Stay on I-10 West for 36.8 miles.
• Take the ramp for Jefferson Street.
• Turn left onto East Washington Street.
• You will be in downtown Florence.