Friday, January 22, 2010

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.

see also: featuring historical documentation compiled by Jack Becker (1942-2007)


  1. The Rodeo-Chediski Fire was in 2002, not 2001.

  2. My mistake. Thanks for the correction. I should have known better since I visited the dome during the fire--the year my son graduated from High School.

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