Arizona Cultural Resources: Historic Florence Hotel

Mark Hackbarth, RPA

Founded in 1866, the Town of Florence is located between Phoenix and Tucson in Pinal County, Arizona. As part of the Town’s recent construction of Padilla Park, Logan Simpson’s cultural resources consultants recently documented the foundation of a hotel building believed to be the original 1875 Florence Hotel.

The current Padilla Park spans what would have been Block 78 and portions of Block 79 of the Florence Townsite, and is adjacent to the 1895 two-story brick Silver King Hotel Plaza. Logan Simpson’s archival research for the project revealed that the two adjoining blocks had distinctly different trajectories of development. In 1867, Block 78—representing the western half of Padilla Park project area—appears to have had two or more business structures and a residence; however, by 1915, the block was vacant and was never re-developed. Block 79 was the location of the Florence Hotel and was at the heart of the 1867 townsite, which remained a vibrant part of Florence as the business district developed along Main Street.
The relationship between the “Florence Hotel” and the hotel today known as the Silver King Hotel Plaza has long been poorly understood. In 1876, William Long is credited with building the “Silver King Hotel” in Florence. Indeed, the year 1875 corresponds with the mining bonanza at the Silver King Mine; however archival proof of the Silver King Hotel’s operation is not present until the year 1881, when a newspaper advertisement boasts that the “Silver King Hotel” and the “Lewis House” are the “only hotels in Florence.”

Conversely, the name “Florence Hotel” appears in an 1875 Arizona Citizen newspaper article, and two years later was described as being located in the “business part of the city in close proximity to the Telegraph, Stage and Post Office,” which were historically adjacent to Block 79. In July 1878, the hotel owner of the “old Florence Hotel” was C. Bilicke, who also operated the Cosmopolitan Hotel. A newspaper article states that ownership of the two hotels gave Bilicke a monopoly of hotels in Florence. This evidence indicates for the period of 1875–1878 there are at least two hotels in Florence likely operating on Block 79, one of which was the Florence Hotel.

Between 1878 and 1881, Logan Simpson’s historian could find no references in written documents to any hotels operating in Florence. An absence of three years from written records could suggest the existing Florence Hotel was renamed or no longer in operation. Either way, the ambiguous and conflicting names of hotels in Florence could be resolved if the 1875 Florence Hotel was an entirely different building than the one William Long owned and called the Silver King Hotel.

arizona cultural resources padilla park

Construction workers discovered historic bottles in an archaeological context during the initial grading of a park for the Town of Florence. Construction work was suspended while Logan Simpson’s cultural resources consultants completed a site evaluation and data recovery excavations.

One clue to support the hypothesis that the earliest Florence Hotel and the subsequent Silver King Hotel are two different buildings is the discovery of adobe wall and rock foundations under what is now Padilla Park. These foundations do not correspond to the location of any structure depicted on historic Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, the earliest of which dates to 1890.

Logan Simpson’s cultural resources consultants propose that the adobe and rock foundations must predate both configurations of the Silver King Hotel depicted on the 1890 and 1898 Sanborn maps. Ceramic artifacts recovered near the adobe and rock foundations are dated 1878–1890 and 1879–1904, respectively, and support a pre-1890 date for the foundations. If the supposition of an earlier hotel is correct, the archaeological evidence provides new information that is not available from the written records. Furthermore, archaeological deposits preserved beneath the park’s surface may yield additional information through future investigation.

What do you think about our findings on the Florence Hotel? Share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn. For more info on Arizona cultural resources, contact one of our experts at Logan Simpson.