Superior is a town in transition; a yet to be completed work, a town struggling to grow into itself. Nestled at the base of the picturesque Apache Leap and surrounded by the eastern foothills of the Superstitions, Superior seems ideally suited to live up to to its inherent promise – a former mining town all grown up, stripped of its dark past – and now a great place to live, work and vacation.
At first glance the quaint main street, which hosts Superior’s two major festivals – the Apache Leap Mining Festival and the Prickly Pear Festival – appears festive and in the midst of a full blown renaissance. Travel back a cross street or two, though, and one begins to wonder at the scope of transformation required to revitalize this struggling town.
In 2013, I was drawn to Superior for its many abandoned structures and desolate appearance. I have watched the small town attempt a metamorphosis; its success is largely superficial. In an attempt to understand whether the transition is possible, I have come to know many of the fourth and fifth generation locals – their passion for their home town is admirable, and in many cases quite moving.
Most who call Superior home are tenacious souls. They are direct descendants of Superior’s first settlers. The great-grandson of Superior’s first Deputy Sherriff attends the local high school and aspires to attend Harvard and become a lawyer. The local Save a Lot grocery store is owned and operated by the grandsons of one of the earliest settlers to Superior and the proprietor of the first grocery store, which opened in 1918. The daughter of the Supervisor for the original Magma Mine, at 92, is the town’s oldest native, and delights in driving the curious visitor around “town” to point out an astounding amount of historic information.
This series of photographs reveals what the casual visitor to Main Street, Superior, will and will not see. Few detour to the back streets and alleyways where the sheer scope of the work needed to rebuild this town, in line with its aspirations, is evident. And even fewer will get to know those whose families have called Superior home since its settlement. These devoted towns folk face obvious and hidden obstacles; blight ridden neighborhoods; decaying buildings, many owned by a valley-based property hoarder who refuses to sell; and the need to be self-sustaining beyond mining.
Superior, through the tireless work of its passionate inhabitants, will continue to strive toward the promise of a bright future. Whether this is possible remains unanswerable. Superior, in 2016, is on the precipice of a tipping point, one that will require more than festivals and a coat of brightly colored paint to tip favorably.