ABC Arizona Communities
Eagar: “The Home of the Dome”
Was a Late Bloomer.
Shortly after the creation of Arizona Territory Hispanic families from New Mexico moved to what is now southern Apache County to sell grain and hay to the military at Fort Apache and Fort Defiance. Freighter William R. Milligan built a small non-military fort in 1871 on the Little Colorado River in a valley once inhabited by a mysteriously vanished indigenous tribe. Hispanics settled nearby and named the place Valle Redondo (Round Valley), though it was also known as Milligan Valley to Anglos. At the same time, Mormon families from Utah were colonizing the Little Colorado downstream. William J. Flake, one of the LDS founders of Snowflake, purchased ranch land in Round Valley in the spring of 1879 and by Christmas turned it over to a few families from Utah, including Will, Joel and John, the Eagar Brothers.
Their church was organized into wards to serve individual communities. As the new town of Springerville quickly fell into a violent battle between outlaws and law and order, industrious Mormons retreated to the southwest end of the valley, first splitting the Round Valley Ward into Omer and Amity in 1882, then coming together at a new location as the Union Ward two miles south of Springerville. There, in 1888 the Eagar brothers established a town site that would soon go by the name of Eagarville and finally just Eagar.
Of course, Eagar homes like that of the William W. Eagar family shown here in 1891 ate mostly locally grown grains, vegetables, meat and dairy products from fields irrigated by several ditches from the Little Colorado River and tributaries, Nutrioso Creek and Water Canyon. Water Canyon, at the highest point at the southern rim of Round Valley actually sheltered many of the first settlers in 1879 and 1880. At least 15 men and boys in this photo are threshing wheat hauled in from the fields by wagon teams and carefully piling the straw in stacks to protect it from wind and rain. The grain would then be taken to the local grist mill to have the bran removed and the whole wheat ground into flour.
Around the turn of the century the community was a peaceful collection of farmsteads with a population of 300 on a flat irrigated plateau, with a post office (established 1898) and store near the junction of roads from New Mexico, St. Johns and Fort Apache. About a mile west, brothers Fred and Bert Colter established the headquarters of a large cattle ranch with its own post office carrying their name and school (the former Amity School). In the mountains farther west, Edwin M. Whiting set up a sawmill after 1901 that would eventually expand to Eagar. But for decades to come, life in the southwest part of the valley would remain rural and inwardly focused while Springerville developed a thriving business district on a major transcontinental highway just two miles away.
The Arizona Co-Operative Mercantile Institution store in Eagar was about half the size of the ACMI in Springerville. Still, like most general stores it provided nearly everything a shopper needed. It had a hardware department that sold gasoline for automobiles, a common practice before filling stations built on every corner. The usual practice was for the hardware clerk to turn a hand crank that would pump gas up through the floor from a tank in the basement and into a motorist’s 2-5 gallon can. The store also housed the Eagar post office.
Interior of the Eagar ACMI. The photo is cracked, faded and poorly reproduced in the Bi-Centennial history of Round Valley, but it identifies Joe Udall at the cash register with County Supervisor Joseph Udall leaning on the counter and next in line, Mark Haws, William F. LeSueur, manager of the Springerville ACMI, and Mike Hale. There’s a display ad for Post Toasties cereal on the glass shoe case at right. Electricity didn’t come to Round Valley until 1927, so the deep store front illuminated only by large windows at the front is rather dark. Nevertheless, the cooperative venture was an enlightened solution to the problem of farmers with only produce to trade for needed manufactured goods. Short on cash, some of the ACMI stores issued tokens so a farmer could return later to shop. Other stores sold on credit. And unlike some co-ops they were open to all residents.
Between world wars Eagar slowly progressed. A large dance hall and ice cream parlor constructed about 1916, called The Grape Vine Hall after its window decoration, was purchased in the 1920s by the church, renamed Arvazona and continued to host dancing and social gatherings. After the ACMI store burned and the cooperative chain was dissolved in favor of private for-profit business, Eagar farmer John C. Hall established the Modern Store in 1935 on the same site. The LDS church placed importance upon education, art and music, if relatively conventional. So it was to be expected that Eagar would develop it’s school system and become the site of a high school serving the entire valley and outlying areas. In 1942, Eagar mothers led a campaign to replace unhealthy well water with clean spring water piped to homes. By 1948, Ed Slade opened the first furniture store in Apache County, the same year Eagar incorporated with a town council government. Arizona’s population was booming after World War II and tourists were now visiting the forests of the White Mountains from Springerville to Show Low to Heber.
This quiet view of Eagar in 1934 appears to be Main Street looking south. Most streets were lined with trees. W.B. Eagar’s Sinclair service on the left advertises “cold drinks,” while there is a Texaco station farther down the street on the right with a grocery next door. This is an Arizona Dept. of Transportation photo held by the State Library and Archives.
Round Valley High School was organized in 1921 as a free public tax supported institution after LDS church leaders abolished the system of Stake Academies. This building was constructed in 1924 and occupied in 1925 after students had been attending classes in the Eagar chapel building. The school building was demolished around the end of the 70s, replaced by a large structure with an imposing profile.
With a population around 1,200 in 1951, Eagar was completing a new chapel building and enjoyed a small business district with the furniture store, one auto repair garage, a couple filling stations, two general stores, one with a soda fountain the other offering a meat market, and a single “club,” the V.F.W. Hovell-Norton Post 8987. Living at the edge of the forest, Eagar’s economy had always profited from logging. Milligan used water power to grind wheat and saw timber. Records show two sawmills in Eagar in 1912. In the mid-1930s, the Whiting brothers built a large sawmill below the mouth of Water Canyon. That mill operated for many years before it was acquired by Southwest Forest Industries, sold again, and finally closed in 1999.
Beginning with a store in St. Johns, the Whiting Brothers built a commercial empire that by 1951 included 14 sawmills, six lumber yards, four garages, 28 gasoline stations, a grocery store, furniture store, two theaters and cattle ranch. Over the next two decades they would acquire a chain of motels and nearly double the number of service stations. The Whiting garages were Ford dealerships, explaining why every truck pictured is a Ford, the newest from the 1951 model year. This widely reproduced photo usually lacks identification of location, but Cameron Udall (Images of America – St. Johns,2008) captioned it “taken at the Whiting Brothers sawmill in Eagar” and provided names for some of the men pictured.
Tucson Electric Power located a large coal-fired electric generating station 20 miles north of Springerville in 1980, recently expanding the original two units to four. Fifty years after its post-war growing spurt began, with a population of 4,033, Eagar had bloomed to more than twice the size of Springerville. After a long period as a bedroom community to Springerville, in this century Eagar has its own thriving commercial district and a well-equipped high school with an indoor football field, under the fifth largest geodesic dome in the world.
”Only High School Domed Football Stadium in the United States” boasts this postcard image of the architect’s drawing published by Norm & Russell Mead of Mesa. Originally called the “Round Valley Ensphere” but commonly called “the dome,” it was largely funded by property taxes levied on Springerville Generating Station power plant. President George W. Bush visited in 2002 when it provided shelter for evacuees from Show Low during the Rodeo-Chediski fire. It seats 5,000 spectators in front of a full-size football field surrounded by seven basketball, volleyball, or tennis courts.
http://www.roundvalleyaz.com/index.html featuring historical documentation compiled by Jack Becker (1942-2007)
Friday, January 22, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Douglas: “The Smelter City” Cleaned Up To Become “The Premier Southwestern Border Community.”
After 20 years smelting ore at Bisbee, the Phelps Dodge Copper Queen mine realized that Mule Pass Gulch “is not a desirable location for a smelter. The ground is rough, the water bad, and it is difficult of access for transportation.” (Douglas Chamber of Commerce booklet, 1908, Univ. of Ariz. Institutional Repository.) A site for a new and larger smelter right on the border with Mexico was selected in the wide flat prairie of the Sulphur Springs Valley that had long been used by cattle ranchers. Nearby, private developers with an inside tip bought up range land and laid out city streets in 1901, selling lots to smelter workers and businesses cheaper than the going rate in the Salt River Valley. The town was named Douglas, after Phelps Dodge President Dr. James Stewart Douglas (1837-1918).
In this view of G Avenue looking south about 1907 the street cars are at 10th Street. Douglas was one of only five cities in Arizona to enjoy electric street railway transportation (Bisbee, Phoenix, Prescott and Tucson were the others). G Avenue and 10th Street was the center of the commercial district. The building on the right is the Copper Queen company store or Phelps Dodge Mercantile, with First National Bank across 10th Street. On the east side of G Avenue is a corner drug store, Douglas Drug Company in the Meguire Building.
Phelps Dodge created the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad to haul ore from Bisbee and connect Douglas with El Paso. The Arizona & Southeastern railroad connected Douglas with copper mines at Nacozari, Sonora and Deming, New Mexico. Construction of a new Copper Queen Smelter began in 1900 and an enlarged operation was complete by 1904, after which the Bisbee smelter was closed. Meanwhile in 1903, Bisbee’s Calumet & Arizona company built its own smelter next to the new Copper Queen works. The valley filled with smoke and pockets filled with money.
Two blocks east of the above view, adjacent to “church square,” was this upper middle-class residential section as it appeared in the 1910s. The camera is looking south down E Avenue just east of the old library. Douglas was laid out in a classic grid pattern with numbered streets running east and west, crossed by avenues named by letters A through J. Lots were large with front sidewalks separated from the street and service alleys in back.
Contrasted with a residential street in Douglas, this is the Hispanic community of Pirtleville in the 1910s. Homes are smaller, and lack trees, lawn, paved sidewalks, curbs and separation from the street. Hispanic workers at the smelters were paid less than whites. One hundred years later, substandard housing is still a problem in the community.
At first, Douglas was a rowdy town like Bisbee, but many residents were determined to make it “clean, modern and healthful,” as it would soon boast in 1908. The Arizona Rangers moved their headquarters there from Bisbee in 1902 to join with the Cochise County Sheriff in a war on crime and vice. Peace officers would also be available to break union strikes. A lot of effort was put into making Douglas a prosperous and comfortable community and that work paid off for generations to come. By the 1920s, there were eight miles of paved streets, 150 miles of drinking water lines, 27 miles of sewer lines, electricity, piped gas, and telephones, three city parks, 10 schools and seven churches.
And, unlike other Arizona mining towns, job prospects were diversified early on, with a gypsum block factory and a brewery much larger than the one at Bisbee. When the last smelter closed in January 1987, Douglas turned to clothing manufacturing. Several Maquilladores set up production with cheap labor in Agua Prieta, Sonora just across the border. After a slight decrease in population, Douglas added more than 5,000 residents in about 15 years.
Here is G Avenue looking south again at the intersection of 11th Street about 1960. The 5-story Gadsden Hotel is at right, with the Phelps Dodge store to the south. Across G Avenue is the Western Auto store. The Gadsden was built in 1907 but burned February 7, 1928 with extensive damage to exterior walls. It was rebuilt by the following year. Amazingly, interior marble survived and the interior now looks much as it has since 1907.
Typical of Arizona mining communities, before 1950 many Hispanic workers and their families lived in a separate town a mile to the northwest called Pirtleville. While Douglas incorporated in 1905, today Pirtleville is still unincorporated and without the infrastructure that city government provides. Raul Castro, Arizona’s first Hispanic governor, grew up in Pirtleville and graduated from Douglas High School.
Relations with Mexico have gone through periods of peace and conflict in southern Arizona. For decades there was no fence along the border with casual access available to both sides. Smelter slag piles extended across the border and when Douglas residents built an international airport in 1928 the runway extended into Mexico. But during the revolutionary period in Mexico from 1910 to 1920 a large number of US troops were stationed at Douglas to protect the border and invade Mexico as the need arose. When quiet returned, Douglas became a tourist destination. Upscale couples could reach Douglas via American Airlines after 1929 and escape both cold weather and prohibition by soaking up the “Douglas sunshine and Agua Prieta moonshine.” A transcontinental highway, first called the Bankhead or Bankhead-Borderland Highway and later Highway 80 went from Bisbee through Douglas and on to New Mexico.
Named for an army corporal killed guarding the border at Douglas, the camp was constructed in 1911 a few miles north of town when revolution flared in Mexico. In 1915, Pancho Villa tried to capture Agua Prieta, then raided Columbus, New Mexico the following year. The US Army pursued him into Mexico from Camp Jones. When soldiers had to leave to enter the World War in Europe, National Guard forces continued to man the post, as many as 25,000 in 1917.
Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing arrives by car at Camp Harry J. Jones, probably in 1916 when he commanded a punitive raid into Mexico against Pancho Villa. Troops at Douglas were among the first to use automobiles, trucks and airplanes. An army biplane out of Douglas flew what some claim to be the first US military bomber mission.
The collapse of copper prices and economic depression led to population declines from 1919 to 1923 and 1931 to 1938. Phelps Dodge purchased Calumet and Arizona in 1931 and abandoned the Copper Queen Smelter. By the beginning of World War II miners were back to work and the remaining smelter was in full production. Douglas profited from the war effort. In 1941, the military built Douglas Army Air Field eight miles north of town for advanced bomber pilot training. Among the 5,500 servicemen stationed there was a group of African American WACs, including Anna M. Clarke who led a protest that resulted in desegregating the base theater. Now the former military airfield is a county facility, Bisbee-Douglas International Airport. A state prison was built in 1987 where barracks, service buildings and theater used to be. The other airport on the east side of Douglas is a municipal facility with runways now entirely inside the US.
The Phelps Dodge smelter at Douglas is pictured about 1938. A string of railroad ore cars is seen behind the automobiles. At left is a small motorized locomotive with a slag pot that probably needed repair. Electric locomotives running under an overhead catenary took slag pots to the dump.
After the Copper Queen smelter was abandoned in 1931, Phelps Dodge continued to operate the enlarged Calumet & Arizona smelter, seen here about 1943. When both smelters were operating, with ore coming by rail from Ajo, Bisbee and Nacozari, Douglas produced half of the copper in the state. Before 1917, payroll amounted to $500,000 a month. Then, economic depressions in the early 1920s and the early 1930s hit the industry hard. During World War II and the postwar economic expansion copper was needed and workers had good jobs. But industrial globalization beginning in the 1980s brought an end to copper production at Douglas. The smelter closed in 1987 and smoke stacks were finally demolished January 13, 1991.
Border Air Museum, located at 3200 E. 10th Street, Douglas, AZ
Slaughter Ranch Museum, 6153 Geronimo Trail, Douglas, AZ 85607 (mailing address) “Texas John” Slaughter’s (1842-1922) historic ranch and museum is located in the San Bernardino National Wildlife Preserve 15 miles east of Douglas.