“This is like stepping back into the 1880s,” said Bob Brei, a Tucson dentist who was in Benson Friday for an auction that featured antiques and collectibles from Hotel Arnold. “I’m having a great time; it’s very entertaining. I’ve got my eye on an old angle lamp.”
Chris Hudson, a longtime antique collector from Sierra Vista and someone who describes himself as a “picker without the camera crew,” said, “This is a great collection. And where would you find such a diverse group of people under one roof? Everybody’s here for a different reason. Along with finding some really great antiques, it’s a fun social activity for Benson.”
It’s estimated more than 1,500 people filed through the old ALCO building in Benson on Friday and Saturday for the auction conducted by Bruce Tingle Auctioneering, with vehicles packing the parking lot.
“I’m seeing a lot of things I really like,” said Frances Flory, who lives in Indiana during the summer months, but is in Benson the rest of the year. “There are some very nice pieces of furniture that I may be bidding on and I love the old crockery.”
Hotel Arnold, built by a retired railroad engineer back in 1907, is now boarded up and empty. Located on the north side of the railroad tracks behind the city’s visitor center, the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the hotel is in disrepair and needs restoration, its contents had been sitting inside the building for years, until purchased by Mark Helling and his partners. The antiques were sold in auction on Friday and Saturday, featuring a vast selection of collectibles, ranging from glassware, linens, tools, artwork, photos, furniture, period clothing and children’s toys, to name some of the memorabilia that drew people to the event.
Kay and Jim Garrison, also winter visitors, are from Vermont and have been coming to Benson for 16 years. “This is beautiful, a great thing for Benson,” said Jim. “My wife is having a really good time looking at things and socializing with everyone.”
At one point bidding reached a fevered pitch over a milk glass double angle lamp from the late 1800s, which sold for $2,950 to someone from Sierra Vista.
Overall, Helling said he was pleased with the two-day auction and crowd’s response. “I’m very happy with the result,” he said during an interview on Sunday. “The auctioneer, Bruce Tingle and his staff did an excellent job, the Arizona Rangers did an excellent job and we just had a great bunch of people from all over Cochise County as well as Phoenix and Tucson. We even had people who were passing through from California stop by. People seemed to be having a good time and I got a lot of great comments.”
While it’s true that nearly everyone gave the auction rave reviews, for Jeanne Jennings, a lifelong Benson resident whose mother is from the area, the experience was bittersweet.
“I was inside the hotel years ago when it was still furnished with the items that are being auctioned here today,” she said. “I would have loved to see the hotel refurbished with all these things left inside. I’m planning to buy some of the glass collectibles, just so I can have a piece of the hotel’s history.”