With much local discussion about the town of Payson buying the “Pieper property,” currently called the Garcia property, for parks and flood control, it might be of interest to know about the family that originally owned that acreage. They were August and Wilhelmina Pieper.
The story begins with Mrs. Pieper’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Boske, who fled Germany’s tyrannical government in early 1880 and came to America.
A family story tells that John somehow developed a friendship with the Chiricahua warrior Geronimo, who gave him a notched stick for safe passage through the Apache territory.
The family made their way to Globe, Arizona Territory, where they established a brewery and a freighting business.
They then sent for their daughter Wilhelmina, whom they had left with her grandmother in Hamburg, Germany.
Wilhelmina sailed to New York and then traveled by train to Bowie, A.T., where her parents had come to meet her.
On the way back to Globe a party of Chiricahua renegades stopped their stage. Mr. Boske showed them his notched Indian stick, and they were immediately allowed to proceed unharmed.
Wilhelmina’s father sent for August Pieper, who had been a fellow worker in Germany, to come and join the business.
In 1887 August and Wilhelmina were married, and started their own ice and beer business.
A few years later, in 1891, the couple moved to Payson to develop their businesses apart from the rest of the family. With money they had saved, they bought out Henry Sidles, who wanted to leave Arizona for California.
Sidles had laid claim to the lots on either side of Main Street, east of the Globe Road, today’s McLane going south from Main.
The structures he had built included a poured mud house on the south side, and a saloon and dance hall on the north side of Main Street.
The couple began living in the mud house, and expanding their business interests.
They laid squatter’s claim to all the land east from the Globe Road to beyond today’s Highway 87, on both sides of Main Street and including the land along the American Gulch drainage. They also claimed the pastureland not previously claimed on the south side of Main west from the Globe Road.
After a few years, around 1893, the Piepers began building the house that came to be called “The Pieper Mansion” at 505 W. Main Street, and moved in when it was completed.
Over the years the mud house was rented out and intermittently used for storage. Across the street from their home they operated a merchandise store, a feed store, a dance hall and livery.
Together with their son Earnest Pieper, the family was Payson’s first land developers, selling a ranch to the Chilson family and many lots along Main Street to early pioneer families who built homes and businesses.
A quote from an article by Carroll Cox, in The Backbone, May 8, 1998, states that “the Piepers were generous hosts and their large house was a center of Payson social life. Their open-door geniality continued even into the Piepers’ later years, and after Wilhelmina was widowed in 1931.”
The widow Pieper maintained a boarding house with “cooking that can’t be beat,” calling it the “Home Away From Home.”
Not long after she was widowed, Wilhelmina moved away to live with children and the big house was rented to a family named Curtis. They operated a beer parlor in the living room, and were the envy of many as the owners of a grand automobile.
Before Wilhelmina Pieper died in 1954 she sold the house and adjoining acreage to the Steven Hathaway family, who had already purchased the Pieper properties south of Main Street. Steve and Cindy Hathaway established three little cabins east of the big house in the late 1930s and rented them.
In 1945 the Hathaways sold the Pieper Mansion and about 14 acres of the pasture to Bill Wilbanks and his wife Ola Jane Franklin.
Bill died in 1948 at the age of 67. Ola continued a rooming house in the old Pieper homestead, and operated the Hathaway cabins. In 1956, at the age of 60, she married a childhood sweetheart, Walter Lazear, who had been widowed for 25 years.
Walter’s ancestors were French Huguenots who fled religious persecution in France and wound up in Pine in 1881. Walter had married Marie Belluzzi in 1916, and they had three daughters. Marie died in 1931.
The Pieper Mansion then came to be known as the Lazear Place, and the tradition of hospitality in the old house continued. Ola surrounded the house with colorful gardens and the rich shade of cottonwood and willow trees offered a fine place for lawn parties.
It was a time before severe drought took its toll on the trees and grounds.
Ola and Walter were married only 13 years when Walter died in 1969. Ola continued to care for the gardens and trees until she died in 1985 at 89 years of age.
At her mother’s death, Jesse Wingfield came to live in the old home on Main Street. A granddaughter of Ola Wilbanks Lazear, Mrs. Dannie Garcia then came into ownership of the property.
The Piepers and the Lazears are buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.