Sonora

Photos

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Description

Thousands of people once called Sonora, Arizona home. The thriving mining town boasted picnics, parties and parades. But Sonora does not appear on a modern day map. Although the town may be gone, it is not forgotten by former residents who share their memories of a community that still lives in their hearts.

Transcript

Narrator:
The town of Sonora, Arizona, exists only in the photos and the memories of those who once called it home.

Frankie Olmos:
My mother had a lot of pictures, and I started putting them all together.

Narrator:
Frankie Olmos grew up in Sonora in its heyday in the 1940s. At its peak, the population reached more than 5,000 people.

Frankie Olmos:
It was a lot of fun. I had a lot of friends. We'd go swimming. We'd go into the mountains and picnic. We'd go on bike rides.

Jessie Hill:
It seems like there was so much to do in that small community, and the only entertainment was radios. Very few people had televisions, I'm sure. I know we didn't.

Narrator:
Jesse Hill grew up in the mining town. It was one of three segregated communities established by the local mine around the turn of the 20th century. Ray for Anglos, Barcelona for Spaniards, and a Town Mexican Miners named Sonora after their home state.

Christine Marin:
And the attitude in that early period was that the workers were to be kept separate. They were going to be paid differently or separately, and they were going to live separate from each other.

Narrator:
In time, the town of Sonora took on an identity.

Christine Marin:
So when they came to Arizona, you can say that they reinvented their community, their town. So they brought this richness of family and cultural traditions and customs with them.

Narrator:
Sonorans celebrated traditional Mexican holidays such as Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day. They also held Fourth of July parades and over the years developed an annual fiesta the whole town took part in.

Frankie Olmos:
We loved those fiestas. They had all kinds of games for the children.

Jessie Hill:
We had people that came in from all over the state for those fiestas in that little town. How they managed to spend all that time there partying. But we prepared for that months ahead.

Narrator:
The American pastime of baseball became a way of life in Sonora. A semi-pro ball team was made up of miners from Ray and Sonora. They played teams from around the state and usually won.

Frankie Olmos:
Every Sunday we'd get dressed, and we knew we were going to a baseball game. The Ray Sonora Tigers were really good.

Narrator:
Sonora had become the quintessential American immigrant town, but what supported the community's livelihood also led to its demise, for mining no longer took place below ground but above, and large amounts of earth were moved to get to copper ore.

Frankie Olmos:
We more or less knew that the town was going down because the homes started cracking when they did their blasting. All the homes started cracking. So everybody on the outskirts of town had to start moving out because it was dangerous. That's when the church cracked, too.

Narrator:
The mining company demolished the old church in 1951 and paid for a new one to be built on the other side of town, complete with a crucifix and an altar imported from Italy. The company could not do the same for people's homes.

Jessie Hill:
We were one of the first families that had to move out of Sonora. In fact, I was in the 7th grade when we were told that the mine was closer to -- the open pit was closer to our home, and I cried, of course. I didn't want to move to Ray. And that's where we had to go.

Narrator:
By 1963, the remaining residents of Sonora were told they had two years to leave the town.

Jessie Hill:
No one was paid anything for their homes. We just upped and moved.

Narrator:
The town of Sonora was demolished in 1966.

Christine Marin:
The company didn't just demolish the town without any kind of feeling behind it. The company wasn't that cruel simply because the company recognized that these were important families and that they cared enough about their town to want to try and save it.

Narrator:
The mining company paid to have the town's church relocated with the blessing of the catholic priest.

Frankie Olmos:
He prayed the rosary in front of the church. I think it took them a week to bring it down, and he walked ahead of that church praying a rosary the whole way, and it's here in Kearny, and it's beautiful. We love our church here.

Narrator:
a new cemetery was built in Kearny, and the remains of graves from Ray and Sonora were dug up and buried here. The area where the town of Sonora was located became part of a large pit. The ground that held so much life became lifeless mine tailings.

Frankie Olmos:
But after it was all done, then we realized, we didn't have a place to go back to. This was it. It was a permanent thing. It was -- it was gone.

Jessie Hill:
I don't know, maybe if Sonora would have continued existing, I don't know if our outlook in life would have been as it has to succeed and strive for more. Or we would have still been back there with that guitar music and fiestas and raising our children as we were. For we made good lives for ourselves, and maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I don't know.

Narrator:
In 1999, Sonora was recognized with an historical marker that sits below a hill that once overlooked the town.

Frankie Almos:
There were no records of Sonora, Arizona, but now there is. They can look for it. There's an historical marker. I think it makes people feel a Little bit better. There's a sense of belonging. They can take their children up there and say, "this is where our town was at," and it makes you feel good.

Narrator:
A cross put up by Residents more than 50 years ago is the only reminder of what once was a place hundreds of families called home.

Jessie Hill:
It was a beautiful life. And it's something that I'll carry in my heart the rest of my life until I'm gone.