A new nonprofit in Florence is working to ensure the great old things about the town are never forgotten.

The Historic Florence Foundation’s mission statement is to “educate the public with regard to the history of the Town of Florence, Arizona and the resources available in the Town.”

Executive Director Michael Baca was born and raised in Arizona and has a passion for the preservation of Florence’s historic downtown. He started Historic Florence Third Fridays to unite the town’s small businesses and provide a way for people to discover downtown.

Third Fridays continue to be a popular after-hours event with music, food and businesses staying open late on the third Friday of every month. The event is now overseen by the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Following the success of Third Fridays, Baca created the Historic Florence Foundation Inc. to focus on larger weekend events designed to share Florence’s history in an historically accurate, entertaining way.

The foundation hosted its first “Old West Days” on Dec. 19. The day highlighted Florence founder Levi Ruggles; there was a presentation by local historian Chris Reid; Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb made a special appearance; and The Arizona Ghostriders reenacted the town’s famous 1888 “Shootout at the Tunnel Saloon.”

The town proclaimed the day Tom Smith Day to honor an active preservationist and former vice mayor, who has since passed away. There was also music and a best posse contest. Many attendees came dressed in period clothing.

“The first Old West Days was a great success,” the foundation board members responded together by email, in response to questions from Pinal Ways. “More people attended than we anticipated, which is a wonderful thing. We love people’s response to embracing the 1800s theme by dressing in time-period clothing. People had a lot of fun with that.

“The people watching and interacting with the people who dressed up had fun, and most of the ones who dressed up joined in on the Best Posse Contest. We are always coming up with creative ideas for future events for both setup and more contests for people to be involved with.”

A follow-up event had been planned for February but was canceled amid the lingering pandemic.

The Historic Florence Foundation consists of Baca; his wife, Janell, who is secretary-treasurer; and fellow downtown businessman Keith Rea, director.

“We have been considering more board members, but that will be something in the not too distant future as we grow,” the board said. “We have several great volunteers that have helped with the first event that plan on being involved with events in the future.” PW


Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.