McFarland State Historic Park - Atlas Obscura

McFarland State Historic Park

Florence's historic adobe county courthouse was turned into a historic site that honors one of Arizona's most prominent political leaders. 


More than most Arizona cities, Florence, Arizona is closely tied to the Old West. Many of the buildings in its historic downtown date back to Arizona’s days as a territory, and there may be no finer example than the old Pinal County Courthouse that is now known today as McFarland State Historic Park.

The building was designed by Levi Ruggles, known as the “Father of Florence, Arizona.” (Coincidentally, he was also the father of Florence Ruggles. He liked the name.) Like many territory buildings, the courthouse was made of adobe bricks sourced from nearby soil and lumber came by wagon from northern Arizona. The goal was to create a building grand enough to give Florence some heft as more than a frontier outpost. It was completed in 1878 at the cost of $2,700 and remained the city’s courthouse until a newer building opened in 1891.

After its days as a courthouse, the building was used as a jail and county hospital for nearly 40 years, and then later as a welfare center and boarding home. It fell vacant until a movement sprang up to turn it into a museum, led by one of the most significant figures in Arizona history, Ernest W. McFarland. After moving to Arizona, he got his political start in Pinal County, being elected county attorney and later judge. “Mac” McFarland had designs on higher office, though, and ran for the United States Senate as a Democrat. He won the race, becoming “Freshman Senator of the Baby State,” and would serve two terms in the Senate, eventually becoming Majority Leader until losing to Barry Goldwater in 1952. He would then run for Governor of Arizona, and win, and would eventually be named to the Arizona Supreme Court, making him the only figure known to serve his state in the highest office of all three branches of government.

Among many passions, Mac signed a bill to create a State Parks system in 1957. He had one site in mind. He bought the courthouse personally and donated it to Arizona State Parks along with personal effects. Today, the park has the dubious honor of being Arizona’s least visited state park. Those who do make it will learn about the story of Ernest McFarland, the courthouse, and the early history of Arizona. As Mac himself said at the 1979 dedication, “this old building…stands as an example of the ability and the character of those who built it. It is also a place to see where history was made in Arizona.”

Know Before You Go

The park is open year round and is host to programs and events. Visit the website for information about the park schedule and entrance fees.

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