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Copper Queen Library: A Timeless Beacon of History and Culture

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

The Fascinating Journey of Copper Queen Library


brick and concrete building outside with a blue sky
Copper Queen Library

The Genesis and Rebirths of the Library

The Copper Queen Library in Bisbee, Arizona, is far more than a mere collection of books and archives; it serves as a living testament to the enduring spirit and rich history of the community it resides in. Established in the late 19th century, specifically in 1882, the library was originally constructed using wood, reflecting the architectural norms of the time. Tragically, it fell victim to the devastating Bisbee fire of 1888, which reduced it to ashes along with much of the town.


Yet, the story didn't end there. Demonstrating remarkable resilience, the people of Bisbee rallied together to rebuild their beloved library. In 1894, the Copper Queen Library was resurrected, this time constructed with robust brick and mortar to withstand future calamities. This reconstruction was not just a physical act but a symbolic one, epitomizing the community's commitment to education, culture, and collective memory.


The library experienced another significant transformation in 1907. Amidst the ruins and the gradual rebuilding of downtown Old Bisbee, the Copper Queen Library stood as a beacon of hope and continuity. It wasn't just a place to borrow books; it became a community hub where people gathered for public meetings, educational programs, and cultural events. Over the years, it has continued to evolve, incorporating modern amenities and technologies, yet it has never lost its original charm or its role as a cornerstone of the community.


Today, the Copper Queen Library is not just a historical monument but a dynamic institution that adapts to the needs and aspirations of the people of Bisbee. It stands as a vivid reminder of the town's past struggles, achievements, and unwavering spirit. In a world where digital platforms are rapidly replacing traditional libraries, the Copper Queen Library remains a cherished space where the past and present coalesce, serving as an enduring symbol of Bisbee's unique character and resilience.


black and white image of a large wooden building
1st Copper Queen Library

Awards and Accolades: A Testament to Excellence

The Copper Queen Library has garnered significant recognition and praise, most notably being honored as the Best Small Library in America by the esteemed Library Journal. This prestigious accolade is not merely a feather in the cap for the library, but a resounding affirmation of its groundbreaking initiatives, diverse range of programs, and unwavering commitment to public service. Far from being just a repository of books and media, the Copper Queen Library has evolved into a vital community hub that enriches lives and fosters a culture of lifelong learning.


The library's innovative programs span across various age groups and interests, from early literacy workshops for toddlers to technology training for seniors. These programs are thoughtfully designed to meet the unique needs of the community it serves, thereby making a tangible impact on people's lives. Moreover, the library has become a sanctuary for those seeking knowledge, a safe space for dialogue and discussion, and a launchpad for community projects and civic engagement.


In an era where digital platforms are often the go-to sources for information, the Copper Queen Library stands as a testament to the enduring relevance and importance of physical libraries. Its success is a collective achievement, made possible by the dedicated staff, volunteers, and community members who believe in the transformative power of a well-resourced and well-managed library.


So, when we say that the Copper Queen Library is a 'community treasure,' we are acknowledging its role as a cornerstone of the community—a place that not only houses information but also empowers individuals to be better citizens. It's a living, breathing entity that adapts, grows, and continually sets new standards in what a small library can achieve.



black and white image of a large brick building
2nd Copper Queen Library

Reverend J.G. Pritchard: The First Librarian

Reverend J.G. Pritchard was not merely the first salaried librarian of the Copper Queen Library; he was a linchpin in the social and cultural fabric of Bisbee, Arizona. Born in England and initially serving as a Presbyterian minister, Reverend Pritchard arrived in Bisbee with a vision that extended far beyond the pulpit. His influence was instrumental in transforming the library into a sanctuary for knowledge, culture, and community engagement.


In the early 1900s, Bisbee was a burgeoning mining town, teeming with individuals of diverse nationalities who had come in search of fortune. While the town had its share of roughnecks and lawlessness, there were those who yearned for a sense of community and culture. Recognizing this need, Reverend Pritchard took on the role of librarian while also serving as the chaplain for the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company. His dual responsibilities uniquely positioned him to be a catalyst for positive change.


In 1900, Reverend Pritchard was instrumental in organizing "The Presbyterian Church of Bisbee," which later became the Covenant Presbyterian Church. The church was constructed on land provided by the Copper Queen Mining Company, right next to the iconic Copper Queen Hotel. The church itself was a marvel of architecture, featuring stunning stained glass windows and a majestic pipe organ that stood 16 feet tall. These elements were not just decorative; they were symbolic of the cultural richness that Reverend Pritchard aimed to bring into the lives of Bisbee's residents.


As the librarian of the Copper Queen Library, Reverend Pritchard was more than a custodian of books; he was a steward of culture and education. Under his guidance, the library became a hub for intellectual discourse, community meetings, and even religious gatherings. It was a place where miners and businessmen, locals and newcomers, could come together to share ideas, seek knowledge, and build a stronger community.


Reverend Pritchard's influence didn't end with his tenure. The church and library continue to be active centers of community life in Bisbee, bearing testimony to a legacy that was built on the cornerstones of faith, education, and community service.



large brick buildings on a street and a blue sky
Copper Queen Library and the Western Bank

The Library as a Community Hub

The Copper Queen Library stands as a cornerstone of the Bisbee community, offering far more than just a collection of books and periodicals. Serving as a vibrant community center, it provides an extensive range of programs and services that cater to diverse interests and age groups. From early literacy initiatives aimed at young children to seed libraries that support local gardeners, the Copper Queen Library has evolved to meet the multifaceted needs of its patrons.


One of the library's standout features is its commitment to fostering early literacy. Through a variety of programs such as storytime sessions, reading clubs, and educational workshops, it provides young readers with the tools they need to develop a lifelong love for reading. Parents and caregivers are also given resources to support their children's educational journey, making it a family-friendly destination.


For those with a green thumb, the library's seed library is a treasure trove. It offers a variety of seeds for vegetables, herbs, and flowers, allowing community members to borrow seeds at the beginning of the planting season and return new seeds at the end. This initiative not only encourages sustainable gardening practices but also fosters a sense of community as gardeners share their harvests and gardening tips.


Beyond these specialized programs, the Copper Queen Library also offers computer and internet access, research assistance, and a range of multimedia resources. It serves as a venue for community meetings, art exhibitions, and even musical performances, making it a cultural hub as well as an educational resource.


The library's impact on the town of Bisbee is evident in its membership numbers. Approximately 3,000 residents hold library cards, a testament to its integral role in the community. Whether you're a student looking for academic resources, a parent seeking educational support for your child, or a community member interested in local history or gardening, the Copper Queen Library is a one-stop shop for a myriad of needs. It's not just a library; it's a community institution that enriches the lives of all who walk through its doors.



front of a large concrete and brick building against a gray sky
Copper Queen Library and Bisbee Post Office

The Copper Queen Library in Popular Culture

The library stands as an enduring symbol of inspiration and cultural significance, captivating the hearts and minds of artists, spectators, and history enthusiasts alike. As a testament to its artistic allure, even your tour guide from Big Jeep Tours has a personal connection to this iconic establishment. During their childhood, they would often find themselves sketching the intricate architectural details of the library in art class, captivated by its grandeur and historical significance.


But the library's influence extends beyond the realm of art; it is deeply intertwined with the social and political fabric of the community. Adjacent to the library is a lot that holds a poignant place in history—the Copper Queen Store lot. This seemingly unassuming space was the stage for a pivotal moment in labor history: the Bisbee deportation of 1917. During this event, striking miners were rounded up and herded in this very lot, marking a turning point in the labor movement and leaving an indelible imprint on the collective memory of the community.


Today, the area surrounding the library continues to be a hub of cultural activity, especially during the annual July 4th coaster races. Throngs of spectators gather near the library, their eyes filled with anticipation and excitement, as they watch racers speed toward the finish line. The event has become a beloved tradition, further cementing the library's status as a cultural landmark.


In essence, the library is not just a repository of books and knowledge; it is a living, breathing entity that encapsulates the artistic, historical, and cultural spirit of the community. Whether you're an artist sketching its timeless façade, a spectator cheering on racers, or a historian delving into its storied past, the library offers something for everyone, making it an irreplaceable cornerstone of the community.


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