The Town of Florence is located within central Pinal County, approximately 61 miles from the City of Phoenix and 70 miles from the City of Tucson. The Town of Florence is geographically situated upon a level plain, and is adjacent to the Gila River flood plain. The earliest inhabitants of the Florence region can be traced back to the Hohokam people approximately 1,200 years ago. These early natives resided within close proximity to the Gila River, and had developed extensive canals and agricultural lands which yielded various crops. For reasons unknown to archaeologists, regional habitation by the Hohokam people came to an abrupt end during the fifteenth century. Early accounts by Franciscan Missionaries during the 1700's indicate that the lands around Florence contained Apache, Papago, and Pima tribal settlements. During the early 1800's the Florence region was under Mexican jurisdiction until the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, which placed all lands south of the Gila River under the authority of the United States Government.
Many stories are told on how the Town of Florence got it's name: one is that in 1866 Colonel Levi Ruggles, an Indian Agent, staked and plotted the lands which are part of the present day community and named the town after his wife. A second story is the name of Florence was selected by territorial Governor Richard McCormick, who had named it in honor of his sister. Still there are some that will tell you the town was named after Florence, Italy.
According to early historical records a population census conducted in 1870 indicated that the Town of Florence had a total of 218 people residing within the community. On February 1, 1875, Pinal County was formed out of parts of Maricopa and Pima Counties, and the Town of Florence was established as the county seat. Florence began to grow in size during the 1870s due to the discovery of the Silver King Mine, which was located directly north of the town. The mine closed in 1889 and the area experienced an overall decline in population.
The Town of Florence officially incorporated in 1908, and in 1909 the territorial government moved the Arizona Prison from Yuma to Florence. During 1921 the Ashurst-Hayden Diversion Dam was completed upon the Gila River, which allowed for extensive irrigation of croplands. Several years later in 1925, the Coolidge Dam was constructed at San Carlos Lake and further solidified the importance of agricultural activity throughout the Florence region. In addition to a strong agricultural base, the Town of Florence's economy has continued to thrive as an administrative center for Pinal County.
In the middle of Florence is the county's second courthouse, completed in 1891, is still in use. The venerable structure represents a classic piece of architecture not seen much in Arizona any more. The town's clock stands frozen at 9 o'clock; in fact, it never ran from the beginning, as the funds for a working clock were diverted to construct what citizens felt was more necessary--a jail.
The Town of Florence contained a total population of 7,510 people in 1990 and continues to function as the primary administrative center of Pinal County. Aside from governmental and agricultural activities, the economy of Florence has begun to attract an increasing number of winter visitors, and several retirement communities have been constructed north of downtown.
The present elevation of the Town of Florence is approximately 1,493 feet above Mean Sea Level. The community is situated upon a elongated south-sloping plain that contains higher elevations throughout the northern section of the town, and lower elevations throughout the central business district and southern areas of the municipality. The dominant mountain that surround Florence include the Superstition Mountains (maximum peak elevation of 5,057 feet) to the northwest, Picketpost Mountain (4,375 feet) to the northeast, Picacho Peak (3,382 feet) to the south, Mount Lemmon (9,157 feet) and the Tortolita Mountains (4,696 feet) to the southeast. Also, Poston Butte, which is a 1,748 foot cone-shaped feature of local significance, is located immediately west of the Town of Florence. The Basin and Range Province is characterized by extremely dry desert lowlands with annual precipitation ranging from 4 to 12 inches.
The original courthouse is known as Ernest W. McFarland State Park, on the north end of Main Street, honors one of Arizona's most distinguished politicians. McFarland, whose hometown was Florence, is the only Arizonan to have served in the U.S. Senate (in the early 1950's he was Senate Majority Leader); as governor of the State (1955-1959); and a Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.
The Pinal County Historical Society maintains an excellent museum on south Main Street. The outdoor exhibits include farming and mining machinery, while inside there is an outstanding Indian exhibit, excellent barbed wire collection, purple glass collection, cactus furniture, and the prison exhibit are among the many other interesting items gathered from homes in Pinal County and beautifully exhibited here.
Florence has also been the setting for several movies. A few include: Murphy's Romance with Sally Field and James Garner; Stir Crazy with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor; Three Amigos with Chevy Chase and Steve Martin. Also included are: Mourning Song, Command 5, Escape from Bogan County, The Gifted One, Neon Empire, Riot, Trial of Billy Jack, Sheriff of Cochise County, Posse.