Pinal County Historical Museum fascinates visitors

One of the many examples of early transportation at Florence's Pinal County Historical Museum

Celebrate Arizona’s Centennial with a visit to the fascinating Pinal County Historical Museum in Florence. And I use the term, “fascinating” because at the museum, it could cover any one or more related words to captivate our interest: extensive, macabre, unique, bizarre, ornate, tragic, comprehensive, amazing, weird or unbelievable.

Impressive display of saguaro cactus wood furniture at the museum

Arizonans have long associated Florence with the Arizona State Prison, but the Pinal County seat has a lot more to offer visitors: Poston Butte, McFarland State Historic Park, a walking tour of interesting historic homes and commericial buildings, plus some decent Mexican food restaurants. Nevertheless, it makes sense that the Pinal County Historical Society maintains an extensive archive of rosters and items from the prison at its museum.

Mason & Hamlin pump organ is one of the musical instruments exhibited

Words such as macabre and bizarre are appropriate but loose synonyms for “fascinating” to describe the museum because of the prison’s collection. Visitors can view a two-seater gas chamber chair, nooses used for hanging with corresponding mug shots of those executed prisoners, and various other devices and artifacts used at the Arizona State Prison at Florence.

Feeding chair, stroller, play table and potty chair all in one! Fascinating?

Unique and amazing are words that could describe other exhibits including chairs, tables, lamp stands and magazine racks made either from cholla and saguaro cactus wood. These two words might also describe the huge regional collection of documents, letters, magazines and photographs from 100 years or more of Arizona history.

Ornate could be an adjective for any number of pieces in the museum such as the 1880’s carriage or the antique clothing of the same era. The wagons, saddles, rifle displays and barbed wire exhibits could be interpreted to be rather both extensive as well as amazing.

Two seater gas chamber chair -- very bizarre

Seeing items from the incarceration era of Winnie Ruth Judd, the “Trunk Murderess” of the 1930s, and reading the articles about Arizona’s most notorious female inmate, prompts these words to come into mind: weird and unbelievable.

We utter the words, tragic and bizarre with a sad head shake when we read about the life and terrible fate of Tom Mix, one of Hollywood’s 1930s cowboy movie stars. His life was cut short in 1940 following an automobile accident along state route 79. Memorabilia related to his life is on display at the museum.

But our list of “fascinating-encompassing” descriptors doesn’t stop there. In the rear yard of the museum building is an outdoor display of farm implements and machinery, a blacksmith shop, pioneer cabin and fire engines. The museum also houses a large collection of Indian pottery and blankets, as well as “old west” general store merchandise. Yep — comprehensive.

Lavish looking 1880s Brougham horse carriage

Pinal County Historical Society offers speaker’s programs monthly. Two are coming up: one on Feb. 11, a pictorial history of Arizona by Jim Turner and another on March 11, a program about Arizona’s Japanese-American Internment, given by Karen Leong. Both are at 2 p.m. My advice: tour the museum at 11 a.m. when it opens, enjoy a homestyle Mexican lunch at L & B Inn across the street before the program.

Readers: What are your favorite small towns of Arizona? Do you have any personal travel plans to commemorate Arizona’s Centennial?