The lights of Christmas burn brightly again in Payson’s Swiss Village, calling our attention to what journalist Carroll Cox called in 1984, “the development that has drawn thousands of intrigued travelers to the Rim country area.” It was the event that caused Payson to turn the corner from “sleepy cow town” to modern city. But this really is the story of a man.
He was Barney Swartwood, and he called himself “the Kansas plough boy.” Born there in 1925 he served with the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, seeing action on Okinawa. He and his wife Marilyn began their business career in Elko, Nev., where they owned an ice cream shop. However, when the temperatures went below zero, ice cream was not any way to earn a living and in 1957 they moved to Scottsdale.
There Barney became involved in real estate. He was selling lots in the Payson Ranchos subdivision for an investment company, and his numerous trips up here with customers convinced him of the potential opportunity in the Rim country.
He entered a partnership with fellow developer Preston Dooley, created the First National Land Company, and launched his own 400-lot development called Mesa del Caballo. Watching the Phoenix metro area grow rapidly he said, “People have to have somewhere to go, so it was logical to figure they’d head for the nearest pine tree.”
He knew there would have to be exchanges with government land to expand the Payson boundaries, so he bought Howard Childers’ LF-NB ranch on the East Verde west of Payson. It was within the newly established Mazatzal Wilderness area, and the Forest Service wanted that old homestead.
The Swartwoods worked out a trade for 130 acres of government land just north of the Payson town site, and bought another 70 acres from another land company. They also picked up options on land owned by Dale Rumsey, and with all of this in place began the development of the Payson North subdivision.
Swartwood said, “Everything in this part of Arizona was western. I decided to do something different. Friends of mine had been traveling in Europe and sending brochures and the Swiss style just appealed to me…”
So “Switzerland in America” was conceived, a planned community of Swiss-style shops, homes, and mobile homes in the tall pines of Payson.
The emphasis was on conserving the ponderosa pines and building greenbelts along the back of each lot. That green belt with foot-paths amounted to about 80 acres, over 10 percent of the total development, and they were dedicated by the developer.
From the beginning, the demand was high for the reasonably priced lots. Buyers had the option of putting either manufactured or site-built homes on the property, but all were required to have a Swiss motif.
Even mobile homes had to be covered with permanent Swiss-style enclosures and all plans had to be approved by the developer. Payson North Unit One went on sale July 4, 1968. Several months later Unit Two was opened, providing a total of 200 lots on the west side of Highway 87. Soon the units on the east side of the highway were on the market. In 1971 Unit Three was ready, Unit Four went on sale in 1972, and Unit 5 in 1975.
The Swiss Bakery was the first operating shop in the Village complex, completed in the early 1970s. The Swiss Village Lodge on the east side of the highway was put up about the same time.
For those who wanted larger lots, Swartwood developed Western Manor, 26 one- acre lots for horse lovers just west of Payson North.
He went on from there, continuing as Payson’s premier developer. He opened Alpine Heights in 1979, the final phase of his Swiss-flavored developments.
In addition to all of this, he developed the Deer Creek subdivision, built the bowling alley and took over the 100-year-old Kohl’s Ranch for extensive renovation. His final venture was in partnership with furniture magnate Sam Levitz, developing Alpine Village in the 1980s.
But the real legacy of Barney Swartwood was his generosity and compassionate spirit that left its mark in the lives of countless people. During the creation of Payson North, Payson became incorporated as a town. The first elected officials were operating out of an old trailer off Main Street when Barney came to them with a gift. He presented the land that would become the town hall complex. “I’ve done well in Payson,” he said, “and I want to give something to the town.” However, he did not want attention drawn to his gift, and modestly tried to keep it out of the newspaper.
Jack Monschein, Payson’s first town manager, said of Swartwood, “He was a very low-profile person who was appreciative of everything and interested in a lot more than (his) pocket. He was one fine gentleman who loved this town ...”
Town water manager Buzz Walker was especially appreciative of Swartwood, for the developer added so much to the fledgling town’s water system, paying for the lines, drilling the wells and providing the large storage tanks as he went.
Payson’s first mayor, Ted Pettet, applauded Swartwood’s sense of cooperation. “He never argued. Whatever the town wanted him to do, he did.”
“He was the ultimate gentleman,” commented Buzz Walker, “the last of the breed where his word was his bond. He didn’t sign much, but his spoken word and a handshake was gold, and he taught me mine had better be too.”
Barney Swartwood died Jan. 18, 1998 after a long illness. He was 73.
Many testified to the uncounted families he had helped, slipping them money when they were in trouble, setting them up in business or finding them jobs. Some remembered how he could be found shoveling snow in front of the Swiss Village shops or washing the windows in his office.
He was a humble man who saw Payson through an era of transition from a village to a growing center for retirees and vacationing families. While he was not a public person and rarely became involved in politics, his son Craig served as Payson’s mayor from 1990 to 1994.
As the Christmas lights along the Swiss Village shops illuminate Highway 87, they also shine as a tribute to one of Payson’s finest citizens, Barney Swartwood.