San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
Founded to process ore taken from silver mines in Tombstone, Millville and Charleston boomed for less than ten years.
Millville lies directly across the river from Charleston and was the mill site where the stamps of both Gird mills went "day and night unless shut down for necessary repairs." At its peak Millville produced $1,380,336.97 in bullion in one year (April 1881-1882).
Charleston, the townsite for Millville where most of the mill workers and other 400+ residents lived, was founded in 1879. It prospered through the 1880's both as a residence for the mill workers and as a center for the lucrative trade with Sonora. Despite an exaggerated reputation, fostered in part by Eastern newspapers as a boisterous and "shoot-em-up" town where "gun-smoke drifted over the land," Charleston never lost a single shipment of bullion or payroll to bandits.
During its heyday, Charleston boasted a school, a church, post office, meat market, livery stables, restaurants, merchandise stores (with stock valued from $50,000-$100,000), hotels, and of course, saloons.
Once described as "tougher and livelier than Tombstone," Charleston and Millville were truly ghost towns by 1889. Abandoned when the Tombstone mines flooded in 1886 and when much of the trade with Mexico was diverted to Nogales, Charleston was occupied for a while by a Mexican population living in tents who dismantled the sidewalks, awnings, roofs, doors, and partitions for firewood.
The preservation of what was left of Charleston's melting adobe buildings was dealt a devastating blow in 1943 when the U.S. Army selected it as a "practice location" where recruits could practice street fighting with live ammunition. Through the ensuing years relic collectors have made their own inroads toward destroying Southeastern Arizona's history.
Few ruins remain today of either Millville or Charleston. You can still see the stone embankments for the two mills and some of the remains of Charleston among the mesquite.
Please respect our predecessors by leaving the site undisturbed so that future generations can enjoy what little is left.
To reach Charleston, park in the parking lot just east of the San Pedro along Charleston Road. Follow the river north for about 1 mile. The site is located on the west side of the river on a very steep cut-bank.
There are no marked trails into the site and it is very thick with mesquite. Use extreme caution if crossing the river and look out for rattlesnakes!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication