Lone Pine Hotel A Main Street Tradition

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The words "porch sittin'" remind me of the few times I had the pleasure of doing just that with Dallas Wilbanks on the covered porch of the Lone Pine Hotel.

Dallas died in 1997, and with him, he took his many tales, yarns and somewhat colorful stories of cowboying and cattle drives under the Mogollon Rim.

There is a new breed of Wilbanks now on the front porch of the oldest run establishment in Payson. Grandson, Terry, has taken over as manager, carpenter, cook, dishwasher and porch sitter at the Lone Pine.

The art of telling a whopper has been passed on through the Wilbanks generations. The only exception is the story line. While Dallas' tales revolved around swinging a lasso, Terry casts a line as he runs the hotel by day and fishes by night.

Nevertheless, if the walls of the Lone Pine could talk, you would hear the whispers of some of the most prominent movers and shakers in Payson.

There would be the voices of James and Mary Boardman as they began their labors in 1898 to construct a home, post office and general store.

Or perhaps the laughter of Billy and Clara Hilligas would ring from the walls, as Billy talked of his many business adventures. He purchased the home in 1908 and added rooms to the east in 1915, when it became the Pine Hotel. The name was appropriate to its location, as the hotel is situated at the intersection of Main and McLane which was once known as Pine Road, the direct route from Payson to Pine.

Ownership of the hotel passed through the hands of others over the years until 1956, when it was purchased by Dallas and Anna Wilbanks from Lottie Belluzzi for $6,500.

Dallas and Anna were a pair to draw to. Dallas being the leather-tough cow puncher and Anna the young woman from New York.

The two met in Phoenix at a dance hall. Dallas had just completed a cattle drive to the stockyards and Anna was on vacation with friends from New York.

Dallas was known for his dancing and must have swept Anna off her feet the first night as she abandoned her traveling companions and accepted an invitation from Dallas to join her at the Flying W ranch in Young.

Following the purchase of the hotel which was now known as the Lone Pine, due to the sole stately pine tree in the front yard Anna went to work fixing it up. Where gunny sacks once hung as wallpaper, Anna put in insulation and wallboard.

Anna ruled the roost while Dallas continued to work on the various ranches surrounding Payson. Anna also served as a bartender in the evenings for Polly Brown at the Elks Bar, and then would come home and iron the hotel's bedding in the wee hours of the morning.

The hotel was fully occupied; during this time the only other hotel in town, the Ox Bow Inn, was closed. Rooms rented for $2 a night.

Anna passed away in 1982. The room rate had escalated to $5 a night, or $15 a week depending on your stay. Anna's age at the time of her death has been disputed.

By her account she would have been 77. However, her sister claims she was 81.

Grandson Duke recalls a conversation he had with his grandfather in 1992, trying to persuade him into raising the rent from $35 a week to $45. The suggestion was initially met with, "No one's gonna pay that much."

"That was a lot of money to him," said Duke, who elaborated on the fact that his grandfather hoarded his money from his grandmother, who in turn, hid hers in the same manner.

Dallas continued to live and operate the hotel until his death in 1997. He was 93 years old and had spent 89 of those years in the Rim country. Dallas' son, Larry, died six months later, leaving the hotel in the hands of Larry's wife, Peggy, and sons Terry and Duke.

Duke and Peggy shared the duties until Terry arrived from Montana to take over management in 1998.

The hotel had seen a lot of years of neglect, so Duke, Peggy and Terry set forth to slowly fix it up.

"Grandpa would not spend money," Duke said, as he pointed to a hole in the kitchen ceiling that was patched with duct tape.

Terry has six rooms for rent, with few vacancies. The weekly rate is $100. If available, you can rent a room for the night. There are no government rates, senior citizen or coupon specials at this hotel. A one-night stay will run $25 unless you have a fishing license, in which case Terry will give you the fisherman's $5 discount.

However, don't bother trying to thumb through the yellow pages in search of a listing for the hotel. You won't find it.

"It's the only hotel in town without a phone," Terry said.

The view from the front porch has changed over the years. Gone is the Winchester Saloon (Elks Bar) which was a stones throw from the front door. It was destroyed in a fire a few years back.

"Porch sittin" is still a favorite pastime at the hotel. New traditions have begun to replace the old. The family has allowed small weddings and class reunions to be held at this now-historic site. However, the biggest event of the year is the old-fashioned 4th of July celebration which has turned into an event to honor the old-timers.

The annual event began in 1999 with a gathering of over 75 people, and grew to 250 in 2001.

The Wilbanks have found a way to share their memories with those who appreciate the old ways of the West under the Mogollon Rim.

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