Christmas mine during it's heyday in the 1920s

The town of Christmas grew up around the mine of the same name. (Photo credit: Arizona Geological Survey)

GLOBE, AZ (3TV/CBS5) -- The spirit of Christmas lingers in central Arizona. That’s about all that’s left of the once-thriving mining town of Christmas -- just a wisp of a memory.

Christmas itself was a gift of sorts, provided by President Roosevelt in 1902; Although, it took about twenty years to come about.

The first mining claims in Gila County were discovered in the Dripping Springs mountains, south of Globe, near the Gila River.

These claims were discovered and staked in the late 1870s and early 1880s, but they were deemed invalid just a few years later, in 1884, because the claims lay within the boundaries of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.

Smelter at the Christmas mine

The Christmas mine smelter in operation in the 1930s. (Photo Credit: Arizona Geological Survey)

Denied access to the riches below, the locations held the interest of many an eager prospector in the area that wanted to get to the ore below the desert.

One such prospector, George Chittenden, began to push congress for the feds to make a change to the boundaries to open the mining claims up for the picking. He petitioned for modifications to the boundaries and, finally, his efforts paid off.

Mine founder George Chittenden

The man who staked the claim for the Christmas mine, George Chittenden (Photo Credit: Arizona Historical Society)

President Teddy Roosevelt signed an executive order on Dec. 22, 1902, making new boundaries for the reservation-- boundaries that left the sought-after claims outside reservation lines. But news made its way across the country slowly 100 years ago, it took a couple days to make it to Arizona.

Many prospectors who anticipated the opening of the claims, Chittenden among them, were just itching to be the first to plant their stake on the site where former discoveries offered so much hope. But Chittenden had a plan to get a jump on the rest of them.

Anticipating the Presidential signature, Chittenden arraigned for a series of relay riders to be posted between the telegraph office located in Casa Grande and the prospectors camped outside the reservation boundary, 75 miles east.

It took a couple days for word to arrive at the telegraph office in Arizona-- it came the day before Christmas. Chittenden’s riders took off with the news and raced to his camp just outside the old boundary line. Chittenden and his party moved in and staked claims on Christmas day saying, “We filled our stockings and named the place Christmas in honor of the day.”

The town of Christmas grew up around the mine and reached its heyday in the 1920s to 1930s. There was a general store, meat market, billiards hall, dairy, barbershop, school and a church. Unlike many boom towns that grew up around mines, absent in Christmas were saloons, brothels and gambling halls. Christmas town folk tended to be a law abiding group.

The Christmas post office opened in 1905 and, for the next 30 years, would receive holiday mail from around the nation from people who wanted their postage sent with a Christmas postmark. It was a pretty popular thing to do, when the post office closed in 1935, holiday mail continued to come to the closed office for the next 20 years.

From 1902 and 1943 Christmas mine produced over 50 million pounds of copper, limited amounts of gold and silver, and minerals. In the 1960s an open pit mining operation took over the site. Now the mine is owned by Freeport Mcmoran.

The remnants of Christmas is located south of Globe along State Route 77. The mine is closed to the public.

Read more about Arizona's history in the What's in a Name stories featured here.



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Content Producer

Eric is an assignment editor and content producer with AZ Family-3TV & CBS 5 News. Read more about Eric in his bio.

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