The significant discussion about whether Payson should promote further growth needs to be seen against the backdrop of history. The early settlers and later residents of Payson were avid developers and promoters of local population growth. In the last article we looked at John Hise, August Pieper, Arizona Charlie Meadows and Zane Grey.
Two early day civic clubs sprung up to promote the interests of Payson and the betterment of the community. The first was the Payson Womans Club. It seems that no one in town had the accurate time, and this was a problem in knowing when to catch the stage, when to get the mail or when to show up for the dance. A local doctor, hired by the mines, had the idea to install a sundial on Main Street that could become the town's official timepiece. To raise funds for this project the Payson Womans Club was established in 1921. However, before the funds could be raised, daily mail delivery from Globe was instituted. The mail carrier brought the correct time on his pocket watch, set that morning by Western Union in Globe. That was used to set the big clock in Boardman's store, and Payson was given an "official" time.
With an organization now in place, and funds in the bank, the Payson Womans Club determined to provide the town with its first public library, and began by shelving the books in the schoolhouse. Later they rented space in the Presbyterian Church parsonage, and in time they had raised enough money to purchase a lot along Main Street. It had a building on it owned by Frenchy Chroquette, a bootlegger who sold candy and baked goods at the front door and dispensed Payson Dew from the rear. This caused the ladies to take not a few jokes after they took occupancy, but now the library had a home of its own. Later their fund-raising activities and the cooperation of the community enabled them to build the substantial club building on Main Street, that up until the end of 2001 remained the town's library.
A second civic organization that sought to promote the growth of Payson was the Northern Gila County Chamber of Commerce. The year was 1937 when local citizens and businessmen learned that the state was planning a major north-south highway from the Valley of the Sun to Flagstaff, by way of what would one day become I-17. The group formed the Chamber of Commerce and began lobbying for the highway to come over the Mazatzals, through Payson and on to Winslow. The idea would be to improve the old Bush Highway and make Payson more accessible to tourists. The group worked for more than ten years on the project, and finally in 1953 the new road was started. The result was increased traffic to Payson, and it became evident a paved road into the Rim Country was a necessity. That was accomplished by the summer of 1958, when the first pavement came through the town.
As they say, the rest is history. (For a complete history of the Beeline highway and its predecessors over the Mazatzal Mountains, see the book by Stan Brown on "The History of the Beeline" available at the Rim Country Museum.)
It was a wealthy lady from the east coast who brought even more progressive thinking to Payson's development. Nathalie Smith had traveled to Arizona as a child and fallen in love with the state. She had vowed she would marry a cowboy, and when she finally made it here she did just that. Nan was 37 and Lewis Pyle was 70 when they were married in 1952. His family was one of the early ranch families in the Rim Country, and Lew had been among the earliest of the Forest Rangers on the newly developing National Forest system. They lived in the family home on Main Street, and in the 1960s Nan Pyle discovered she had been made rich by an inheritance. Immediately she applied her vast energy and good will to promoting and improving the town of Payson she had come to love so well.
It was her vision that the long-established cattle business, having kept the local economy going since the 1880s, was shrinking and some new form of industry had to be brought in or the town would die. Of course tourism was a growing industry, but she felt culture could also draw people and their money to Payson.
Having attended art and sculpture schools in the East she now put her special interest in art to practical use. She built the buildings at 803 W. Main in Payson, and developed the Payson Art Center. Students from the various universities and colleges in Arizona came here to study many art forms under the tutelage of teachers from those same schools. In addition to training young artists, Nan's stated purpose for the Art Center was "to bring progress and economy to the town, so we would not have to depend entirely on tourist trade."
The products of the artists as well as beadwork and basketry from the Tonto Apache tribe were sold in an outlet store on Main Street.
Nan Pyle also developed the Small Fry Kindergarten, a forerunner of Head Start, which she gave lock, stock and barrel to the public schools when the government's Head Start program was begun.
She became librarian for the Woman's Club library project, and gave at least a dozen books to the library each month. Working through the Payson Womans Club, Nan Pyle plunged herself into fund-raising for a medical clinic here in Payson, and became a prime mover in bringing that improvement to the town.
She managed the clinic, and after her husband Lew died she gave $100,000 to turn the clinic into the Lewis R. Pyle Memorial Hospital.
Once Nan Pyle said, "Financial assistance is not the beginning of the end. You have to donate yourself too." She said it well.
There has been a long line of splendor in Payson's leadership that stretches over 220 years, from the time eager pioneers first settled in this valley.