The city was founded in 1880 when the Southern Pacific Railroad came through. It was named after Judge William S. Benson, a friend of Charles Crocker, president of the Southern Pacific. The railroad, coming overland from California, chose the Benson site to cross the San Pedro River. Benson then served as a rail junction point to obtain ore and refined metal by wagon, in turn, shipping rail freight back to the mines at Tombstone, Fairbank, Contention City, and Bisbee. For example, the railhead in Benson was about 25 miles (40 km) from Tombstone and was the closest rail connection to it until 1882, when a feeder line was laid from Benson to Contention City.
The railhead in Benson was founded about a mile from a traditional crossing of the upper San Pedro River (known also as the Middle Crossing), used by the Southern Emigrant Trail and San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line. It was the site of the San Pedro Station of the Butterfield Overland Mail and a wagon depot, the San Pedro River Station, run since 1871 by William Ohnesorgen. In 1878 he had erected a toll bridge over which mining supplies were transported to the new mining camps such as Fairbank and Tombstone. Two years later this bridge marked the location of the railroad bridge that became the terminal site of Benson.
The city today is perhaps best known as the gateway to Kartchner Caverns State Park. It is also home to the acclaimed Singing Wind Bookshop, which specializes in books about the Southwest.
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Photo by Marine 69-71