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Benson is a city in Cochise County, Arizona, United States, 45 miles (72 km) east-southeast of Tucson. It was founded as a rail terminal for the area, and still serves as such. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 5,105.
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.
The 40,000-acre (160 km2) Jay Six cattle ranch is located just outside Benson. The ranch played host to political figures like the young brothers Joseph and Jack Kennedy, and to senior statesman Barry Goldwater. The Kennedy brothers (Joe age 21 and Jack age 19) were sent out to the ranch in the spring of 1936 so that the brothers could work as ranch hands, and so that Jack Kennedy could recuperate from a recent illness in the dry desert heat. It is reported that ranchman Jack Speiden worked both brothers "very hard".
Benson is located in western Cochise County at 31°57′10″N 110°18′24″W (31.95288, -110.30677).
According to the United States Census Bureau, Benson has a total area of 41.5 square miles (107.4 km2), of which 0.04 square miles (0.1 km2), or 0.12%, is water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 4,711 people, 2,084 households, and 1,346 families residing in the city. The population density was 131.9 people per square mile (50.9/km²). There were 2,822 housing units at an average density of 79.0 per square mile (30.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 89.32% White or European American, 1.29% Native American, 0.72% Black or African American, 0.47% Asian, 0.13% Pacific Islander, 5.69% from other races, and 2.38% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 19.85% of the population.
There were 2,084 households out of which 18.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.5% were married couples living together, 9.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.4% were non-families. 30.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.22 and the average family size was 2.72.
In the city, the population was 19.5% under the age of 18, 6.7% from 18 to 24, 18.0% from 25 to 44, 26.5% from 45 to 64, and 29.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 50 years. For every 100 females, there were 95.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.9 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,289, and the median income for a family was $36,364. Males had a median income of $34,013 versus $18,964 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,315. About 6.2% of families and 13.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.1% of those under age 18 and 9.9% of those age 65 or over.
Similar to other desert plains areas of Arizona, Benson receives little rainfall and is relatively hot. Some snow occasionally falls in the winter.
Benson Airport is located 5 miles (8 km) northwest of the city center.
Interstate 10 serves the city with four exits; the highway leads northwest 45 miles (72 km) to Tucson and northeast 35 miles (56 km) to Willcox. Arizona State Route 80 leads southeast 24 miles (39 km) to Tombstone, and Arizona State Route 90 leads south 32 miles (51 km) to Sierra Vista.
Amtrak provides passenger rail service at 105 E. 4th Street; freight railroads serving Benson are the Union Pacific Railroad and the San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad.
Benson Area Transit (BAT) is a bus service that covers Benson, St. David, Dragoon and Mescal. Benson is also served by Greyhound.
The World University is located in Benson.
The Benson Unified School District is a K-12 public school serving the Benson area, their mascot is the Benson Bobcats.
Cochise College has a branch located on Route 90.
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