The small town of Ray, Arizona, located in the south central portion of Pinal County, was founded in 1870. By 1873, prospectors were engaged in silver mining and by 1880 high grade copper ore was being mined in Ray. The original founders were most likely a group of copper miners operating a small mine in this copper rich area. One of the miners, Mr. Bullinger, is said to have named the town Ray, after his daughter, Ray Bullinger. By 1909 The Arizona Hercules Copper Company had purchased the rights to the mine and constructed the town as a company town. The mining operation in Ray enjoyed a world wide reputation because of the innovative mining practices employed in the underground mine. As the mining operation grew, the mine changed ownership a number of times being purchased by Kennecott Copper Corporation in 1933. At that time the copper mine was operated only as an underground mine but stripping of the surface areas began in 1948 and in 1952 digging of what was to become a huge open pit mine was started. Underground mining operations ceased in 1955.
The original town of Ray consisted of one short main street with small businesses on both sides of the street. By 1909 the company had constructed a hospital and there are birth certificates from the hospital that date back to 1910. There was usually a doctor in Ray and the hospital employed at least 3 nurses and a cook according to Census Records. Records from the old hospital at Ray are now kept in a small health clinic in Kearny, Arizona. The elementary school (Lincoln Elementary) had grades 1 through 8 in eight classrooms. By 1954, another small building was constructed and a Kindergarten was added to the curriculum. Ray High School was a short walk uphill from the elementary school. There was a small cemetery, but that too was claimed by the open pit and the remains were moved and re interred at a new cemetery in Kearny. Ray didn't have a newspaper, but people in the small town subscribed to The Arizona Republic, a newspaper in Phoenix. Ray had four churches: an Episcopal church from around 1906 until 1929 or so (the original bell from which is in an Episcopal church in Coolidge, Arizona), a Baptist church near the high school, a Methodist church on "church hill" leading up to Boyd Heights and a small Mormon church in a little house in Boyd Heights.Catholics in the town attended the Catholic Church in the nearby small town on Sonora, Arizona.
Modern Day Ray, a Ghost Town
By 1958, Kennecott had made the decision to continue digging the open pit on the land that had occupied three small towns in that area; Ray, Sonora and Barcelona. They constructed a new town a few miles out of Ray and named it Kearny. Residents of the three small towns began moving into Kearny by 1959 and Ray became an officially named ghost town of Pinal County. There is now a view site on the road to Kearny that features the immense open pit mine but the town of Ray is no longer accessible by roads and almost all of the features of the town have been swallowed up by the open pit mine. From the overlook, a few scattered structures around the open pit mine are all that remains of the small town of Ray; accessible only by four wheelers or horseback. The open pit mine has been owned by Asarco since 1986 and produces 250,000 tons of raw material per day. The reserve life of the Ray Mine is estimated to be 2044, according to the Arsarca web site.
Ray was always dominated by the landscape. Rugged mountains surrounded the town. One mountain in particular, Teapot Mountain, stood tall and in full view from all vantage points and has not, thus far, been damaged by the mining operation. To the residents of Ray and Sonora, Teapot mountain spelled Home. The iron rich red crushed rock from the mine has long since filled in the many canyons and gullies of the area and has changed the environment. The outlaying areas of Ray contain unexcavated Indian ruins that speak to the long period of time that people have lived there.