Fanning Out to Florence



We finally ventured out of the RV Resort and went east 30 miles to Florence. We knew there was some interesting history there but didn’t realize just how much there was to discover.


We began at McFarlane State Historic Park. This building is the longest standing courthouse in the state of Arizona. It was replaced as the courthouse in 1891 and subsequently served as a county hospital, public health office and county historical society office.


The building is named for Ernest McFarland who is the only known American to serve their state in all three branches of government. He was a United States Senator, Governor and Arizona Supreme Court Justice. As Senate Majority Leader he led the effort to intern United States citizens of Japanese ancestry. He is also considered to be the “Father of the GI Bill.” Surely, he has a mixed legacy.


We learned about the Florence Prisoner of War Camp which held Italian and German prisoners during World War II. Camp Florence was Arizona’s largest prison camp holding 13,000 men over its 4 year operation. It was one of 666 prison camps around the country.

Many prisoners were placed in temporary agriculture camps in rural America creating a “work force” to replace the one that was depleted because most able-bodied men joined the war effort.


The second Pinal County Courthouse was built in 1891 with a belief that there was future prosperity in mining and agriculture. Over the years there were four additions to the original building and a multi-phase renovation project from 2003-2011.

This courthouse was the site of trials or hearings for three notorious Arizona women, Pearl Heart, Eva Dugan and Winnie Ruth Judd.  Pearl Heart was charged with committing one of the last recorded stage coach robberies in the US in 1899.    Pearl  was initially acquitted but an angry judge ordered a second trial and she was then convicted.

Eva Dugan was convicted of murder in the 1930s and sentenced to be hanged. Her hanging resulted in her decapitation and influenced the State of Arizona to replace hanging with the gas chamber.

Medical secretary Winnie Ruth Judd was found guilty of murdering and dismembering two of her friends believing they were interested in her lover. She traveled with their body parts in trunks and luggage from Phoenix to Los Angeles.   The crime was notoriously named the “Trunk Murders.”

Florence has a long and interesting history of crime and justice.  It is also the site of the Arizona State Prison which  replaced the Yuma Territorial Prison in 1908.


At the Pinal County Historical Museum we saw more exhibits about prisoners and executions. The Florence prison was, and still is, the site for executions in Arizona.

Pictures of prisoners are surrounded by the very ropes that were used for their hangings.


The Hernandez brothers sat in these chairs and died in the gas chamber in 1934. They were the first to die using the gas chamber in Arizona.


There is even a display showing those executed and their last meal choices.   There were 141 people (140 men and 1 woman) executed in Arizona from 1865 to present.  I don’t know if all were represented in this display but there were pictures for most, if not all.

Fortunately there is much more to this museum than death and morbidity!  There are a huge variety of displays that could take days to fully peruse! I’d be happy to spend more time there on another day.


Above is a display of furniture made using saguaro and chollo cactus in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is now illegal to remove or damage cactus on public lands but there once was a thriving furniture business!

We enjoyed our day out of the resort and hope to do another excursion soon. There is even more to see in Florence if we head back that way!

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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6 Responses to Fanning Out to Florence

  1. Teri says:

    I find the saguaro’s fascinating! Each one is different. Did you know they have to be at least 75 years before they grow their first arm?

    • Serene says:

      It is crazy some of the shapes they get into! Not exactly the old Hollywood look but more interesting. Randy really likes saguaro. I favor ocotillo which aren’t really even cacti.

  2. Elizabeth Wiebe says:

    Be sure to visit the Greek Monastery about 7 miles south of Florence just off Hwy 79.

  3. Mark McClelland says:

    You’ve got to admire a side-by-side gas chamber chair. Brothers to the end, right?

    It looks like hamburgers and steak were the go-to last meals. But you’ve got to love the guy who went with the Subway meatball sub!! Interesting place.

    • Serene says:

      When I was doing research to see when the Hernandez brothers were executed I found that AZ has executed 3 sets of brothers (at least), the latest two were German citizens executed in 1999 amid international outrage. I don’t remember it.

      I noticed the Subway meatball sub choice as well….I think mine would be cheese enchiladas.

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