McFarland State Historic Park & Florence Visitor Center
McFarland State Historic Park is open on winter hours of 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Saturday; park is closed on Sunday. The Park and Visitor Center and is operated by the Florence Chamber of Commerce . The Visitor Center offers free information on local and regional attractions and is developing exhibits for the park.
Introductory Park Video
About the Park
On Feb. 12, 2011, McFarland State Historic Park re-opening as the Town of Florence Visitor Center. See Photos.
The history of the park's building provides visitors with a look into the past. The building represents a transition between Sonoran and Anglo-American architecture with its wood-shingled pitched roof surmounting traditional adobe brick walls. Like most buildings in Territorial Arizona, the original 1878 structure was constructed by hand using native materials. Soil from the area was used to make adobe bricks which were laid on a trench foundation filled with river rocks. All lumber for the floors and roof was hauled by wagon from northern Arizona.
The first jail was located in the courtyard at the rear of the building. It was a small adobe cubicle without windows. Burlap and canvas covered the entrance to keep the wind out in cold weather. Buried in the center of the jail was a huge boulder to which prisoners were chained. When a prisoner of importance was incarcerated, the jailer was obligated to bed down in front of the entrance. An 1882 addition to the building provided extra offices for the recorder and sheriff and a jail.
When a larger courthouse was built in 1891, the adobe structure became the county hospital. There, doctors provided up-to-date care for almost fifty years. The exterior was changed as a result, with plastering and wooden porches added. In 1938, the building became a welfare and public health center, and later, in 1963, the Pinal County Historical Society acquired and maintained the building as a museum until 1970. In 1974, former governor Ernest W. McFarland purchased the building and donated it to the Arizona State Parks Board for a historic park.
An archives building was completed in 1982 and now houses the McFarland papers. With the assistance of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the extensive collection was organized to file level and the U.S. Senate papers have been published.
The park offers guided walking tours of Florence's downtown historic district by appointment. School and educational groups are invited to visit and provided courtroom talks and guided walk through the building. For more information call (520) 868-5216.
More Than A Courthouse
In 1878, Florence, Arizona was known as “the garden city.” Located in the middle of the desert, its lush grass would spread outward from tall stands of cottonwood trees that lined the hard-packed streets. Farmers, ranchers and miners would join townspeople at the Pinal County Courthouse, the center of activity, to socialize and transact business. The courthouse occasionally served as a dance hall, where memoirs from Estella Kentfield Colton, circa 1887, reveal: “Every week there was a public dance at the courthouse. They danced in the courtroom. There was always a big attendance and ... men, women and children came just to look on and enjoy the music.”
The local “Vigilance Committee” stormed the sheriff's office in this building in 1888, dragged two men from their cells and hanged them in the corridor of the jail. Those two had been charged with holding up a stage and killing Johnny Collins, the guard. A coroner's jury later found that the two prisoners had met their deaths "at the hands of parties unknown." A short time later, the same "vigilance" group attempted to lynch four other prisoners under the same circumstances but were thwarted in their efforts when Michael Rice, the jailer, armed the prisoners, took them upstairs and faced down the mob from the windows above the street.
This adobe brick building, now McFarland State Historic Park, served many roles during the late 1800s and early 1900s, most notably as a jail house and a hospital. Indeed, it was the first Pinal County Courthouse. Built in 1877-78, it held the sheriff's office, the courtroom, the judge's chambers, and the jail on the first floor. The second story was used as a jury room and quarters for visiting lawmen.
Today, visitors tour the building where they can see and feel for themselves the history of Arizona and the people who helped shape it. While at the park, take a moment to visit the archives to see and read documents from all three branches of government in which “Mac” McFarland served.
Inside the park, be sure to visit Florence's WWII Prisoner of War Camp exhibit. This exhibit depicts the lives of the people who were stationed and imprisoned there. Photographs and artifacts from U.S. Servicemen and the Prisoners of War are displayed in this one-room exhibit. A video presentation shows the lives of these prisoners from their capture to their release.
Ernest W. McFarland, or “Mac”, contributed to Arizona history through an active public service career and many lasting projects. He is the only known American to have served his state in the highest branches of government (U.S. Senator of which he served as majority leader, Governor, and Arizona Supreme Court Justice).
The decades in which “Mac” served the government also witnessed unprecedented growth in Arizona and the Southwest. McFarland was in the forefront during a crucial time, assisting in the modernization of Arizona, the region and the country.
“Mac" McFarland was commonly referred to as the “Father of the G.I. Bill” because he wrote the home and business loan sections. Other major contributions include working on the Central Arizona Project and founding the Arizona State Parks system in 1957.
- Alamo Lake
- Buckskin Mountain
- Cattail Cove
- Lake Havasu
- River Island
- Yuma Quartermaster Depot
- Yuma Territorial Prison
- Dead Horse Ranch
- Fort Verde
- Red Rock
- Riordan Mansion
- Slide Rock
- Verde River Greenway
- Boyce Thompson Arboretum
- Fool Hollow Lake
- Lost Dutchman
- Lyman Lake
- Tonto Natural Bridge