Charming B & B in Former Schoolhouse
It may be hard to believe, but Bisbee, Arizona—current population: 6,000—was once the biggest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. A mining boomtown, Bisbee saw its population swell to 20,000 at the turn of the 20th century. During those salad days, a two-story grammar school was erected about 1 mile from downtown to accommodate the growing number of children in the area. The school was converted into apartments in the 1930s and became a bed and breakfast in the '80s. Today, owners John and Paula welcome overnight guests to the nearly 100-year-old building, aptly rechristened the School House Inn.
Reminders of the past are all around, from the school's original blueprints hanging in the stairwell to the mammoth, century-old oak tree that towers over the rooftop. On the bottom floor, the building's original steam furnace still stands—though it's been turned off for decades.
Thanks in part to its charming, grammar-school theme, the inn has won the prestigious Fodor's Choice award five times in the past six years. The spacious guest rooms feature 12-foot ceilings, and a lack of phones and TVs means that peace and quiet reign throughout the place. Each room's décor is based on an elementary school subject, such as Arithmetic, Music, and Quantum Physics. Before heading into the Reading room, you can borrow a novel from the bookshelf standing in the foyer. Each morning, the innkeepers prepare a homemade breakfast, after which you can venture to nearby Garfield Park to play basketball or volleyball.
Bisbee, Arizona: Preserved Wild West Town with Funky Flair
Bisbee began as a mining camp tucked away in the Mule Mountains, which are right near the Mexican border. With the discovery of copper and precious metals toward the end of the 19th century, the town eventually grew into a full-fledged boomtown somewhat notorious for the numerous saloons and brothels lining a district known as Brewery Gulch. But Bisbee was also the cultural center of the southwest—home to an opera house and the state's first community library.
To survive after the large-scale mines closed in the 1970s, Bisbee evolved into an artists' colony, attracting free spirits drawn to its unique history, warm temperatures, and lax enforcement of coloring-within-the-lines statutes. In recent years, the town has settled into its niche as a hybrid blend of old and new, where 19th-century storefronts house contemporary art galleries, eclectic boutiques, and cafés.
Take a stroll along the narrow, winding streets of Old Bisbee, which resembles a frontier outpost crossed with a European village. Stop in and explore the exhibits at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, once the headquarters of the Copper Queen mining company and now an affiliate museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Of course, no trip to Bisbee would be complete without a visit to the mine that started it all. Head over to Queen Mine Tours, don a hard hat, and ride a mine train deep underground on a guided tour.
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