We continue looking for answers to commonly asked questions in the Payson area.
COULD YOU TELL ME WHERE THE PREHISTORIC RUIN ON HILLCREST DRIVE GOT ITS NAME, RISSER RUINS?
The name “Risser Ranch Village” was applied to the ruin because they are located on part of the cattle grazing permit held by Payson’s first resident physician, Dr. Christian Risser.
In the days before the 15th century, when the Ancient People populated the Rim country in large numbers, one of their pueblos was built along today’s Hillcrest Drive in Payson. It was one of four primary regional villages the others being named Shoofly Village, Mayfield Canyon and Round Valley.
Each was situated on high ground, overlooking valley agricultural fields fed by semi-permanent streams.
Unconnected compounds or smaller clusters of houses also surrounded each village. Although Shoofly was abandoned by 1250 A.D., the others were occupied for another 100 years. There was apparently great mobility among these populations, but Risser Ranch Village had about 500 people living in it at any one time.
The ruins of this village extended all along Hillcrest to the end of its peninsula, until the subdivision of Alpine Heights was formed.
Then the lots along that road, affording beautiful views both east and west, were developed for modern housing.
As lot after lot was built upon, the ancient stone houses, along with artifacts and human burials, were carted off in dump trucks. The one remaining lot was purchased several years ago by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, under the leadership of its director Sharesse Von Strauss. It has been saved for archeological exploration and as a future outdoor museum that can educate us all about these fascinating Ancient Ones.
I HAVE PROPERTY IN RODEO ESTATES. HOW DID IT GET THAT NAME?
The rodeo used to be performed there. From 1927 to 1952 the August Doin’s, the name for Payson’s rodeo, was held at the foot of the hill and along the south side of today’s Payson Golf Course. This was known as “Wilbanks’ field.” I would like help in knowing which of the Wilbanks family owned it.
It was called “The Fair Grounds” locally during those years. A small grandstand was built for viewing, and in 1928 the women established a competition and displayed their goods under the stand. It featured products from their sewing, baking, canning, jellies, garden produce and the like. After a few years, the event was moved to Pine to become the Northern Gila County Fair each summer.
After the property was subdivided, it seemed natural to call it Rodeo Estates.
Incidentally, before moving there, the rodeo had been held on Main Street and some years in various pastures. Then from 1953 to 1967 it was held in the field now occupied by the Bashas’ shopping mall. From 1967 until 2000 the rodeo grounds were established in Rumsey Park.
WHY IS THE MOVIE THEATER AND ITS ADJOINING STORES CALLED SAWMILL CROSSING? WAS THERE A SAWMILL THERE?
There sure was. Going way back, this is part of the land owned by the Piepers and later the Hathaways.
In fact, descendants of early settlers say they were told that was where the first rodeo was held in 1884, and for some years following. In 1951, the Owens family bought the land from the Hathaways, and moved their sawmill to it from the Diamond Point area.
In 1958, that mill was sold to Kaibab Industries, owned by the Whiting family.
The mill closed down in 1993. The Whiting family developed the property for the commercial center it is today. Thus the name Sawmill Crossing.
Paysonites who were here during the days of the lumber mill recall the upside down cone that was the chip burner. It had become a sort of logo for Payson. Its sweet smoke greeted everyone coming into town, and at night it glowed with a rosy hue. The whistle that has been reinstalled at Sawmill Crossing is a touch of nostalgia. It sounds every day at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m., as it once did to signal working times at the sawmill.
DRIVING NORTH ON McLANE FROM MAIN STREET, I SEE A BUILDING MARKED PAYSON’S OLD JAIL. WHAT IS THAT ALL ABOUT?
That property at 703 S. McLane is still owned by Gila County and is leased by the county to the Payson Sheriff’s Posse for $1 a year.
The current lease is due to expire December 31, 2004, but is renewable.
It is used exclusively for “the storage of items related to the operation and existence of the Sheriff’s Posse.”
For awhile this was Payson’s first jailhouse, before the town was incorporated and still under county government.
Before this, the only way to put people in jail in Payson was to handcuff them to a tree or the bumper of a car. That had to be done especially around rodeo time when some cowboys would get out of hand. There was a line of cottonwood trees by Grady Harrison’s garage where McLane comes in from the south, and Grady had chains linked between them for that purpose.
Also used was the big Emory oak in front of the Womans Club (later Payson’s library, now the archeological museum). The great oak was known as “the chainin’ tree.” A bench around it made it a bit easier for drunks to lounge while incarcerated. They were usually released after they sobered up, but felons waiting indictment were held in this manner until the sheriff could transport them to Globe.
The old jailhouse was built in 1935, replacing the chaining trees.
In the early 1980s, the abandoned jail building was leased by the newly formed Northern Gila County Historical Society to be Payson’s first museum. The innovative group of history buffs had already secured the Grizzly Adams cabin, used in the local filming of that television series. The cabin had been donated by Sunn Classics Pictures, moved log by log by the society from Forest Service land and reconstructed next to the old jail.
The jail became a storage facility for museum artifacts until the new, modern museum was built at the site of the original Payson Ranger Station.
The Grizzly Adams cabin deteriorated and was removed in recent years. When the Historical Society no longer needed the location, the posse took over the lease.