Museums: Your Gateway To Rim Country's Past

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Payson, Pine, Strawberry and the other communities in the Rim country are steeped in the legend and lore of the Old West.

A growing number of museums and other historic attractions are preserving that heritage for those who visit and live here.

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Local archaeologist Penny Minturn points out reproductions of actual petroglyphs found on the undercuts of rocks in the Flowing Springs area. This glyph, on display at the Museum of Rim Country Archaeology, appears to be a ring of turtles and probably meant, "This is my territory. Do not enter."

The Rim Country Museum at Green Valley Park and the Museum of Rim Country Archaeology at the Payson Womans Club on Main Street are both operated by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, a non-profit corporation founded in 1986.

Rim Country Museum

Surrounded by lakes and rolling hills, this three-building, two-story facility includes the first forest ranger station in Payson and a replica of the historic Herron Hotel, which burned in 1918.

The museum houses public exhibits ranging from the ancient people who once inhabited the area to a working model of an old sawmill. It also has a large gift shop.

The museum is currently featuring (through April 30) a special exhibit called "Women of the Rim -- the Spirit of Tenacity."

"In reading about these women, one word came to the fore -- ‘tenacity,'" NGCHS Director Sharesse Von Strauss said. "Through births, deaths, famines, droughts, raids and other aspects of life on the Rim, they remained and left a deep imprint in establishing this community."

The exhibit also reflects how the West impacted fashion.

"Women would wear a front skirt over their pants so they could still be ‘proper' and ride," Von Strauss said. "You could wear just a skirt and ride sidesaddle, but you couldn't do that and ride astride without being considered totally obscene in the 1890s."

And while it was, for the most part, a rough-and-tumble existence, the exhibit features a collection of the few feminine luxury items they managed to bring with them. Included is a curling iron, a crimping iron, hat pins, a stereoscope for entertainment, and even a perfume bottle.

"She liked to smell good, even if she had been around cattle and horses," Von Strauss said.

The exhibit also features the photographs and stories of nine exceptional women through four periods in Payson's history. They include Edith Peace, Beryl Goodfellow, Ola Young, Cece Gibson and Ola Franklin Wilbanks Lazear.

Admission to the Rim Country Museum is $3 for adults, $2.50 for seniors 55 and over, $2 for students 12-17, and free for children 11 and under. The museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Main Street Walking Tour

Another recent addition to the offerings of the Northern Gila County Historical Society is a Main Street Walking Tour that features vivid descriptions of historic sites written by town historian Stan Brown.

The walking tour, which has become a regular Main Street attraction, incorporates a site-by-site guidebook written by Brown that participants carry with them as they progress from the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce office at the Beeline down Main Street to Green Valley Park. The guidebooks can be picked up at the chamber office or the Rim Country Museum, and the self-guided tour can be taken at any time of the day.

"Most towns of historic significance have walking tours, and for years I have suggested to the (Northern Gila County) Historical Society that we develop a walking tour of Main Street," Brown said. "At last it has come to fruition."

For many years, Main Street was the social center for much of the Rim country, according to Brown. Once a dusty thoroughfare, it featured mercantile stores, saloons, hotels, boarding houses, livery stables, a blacksmith shop and a sawmill.

Far from a stodgy tour of musty old buildings, Brown says those who take the tour will find it most entertaining.

Museum of Rim Country Archaeology

The Rim country's newest museum, commonly referred to as MRCA, opened last year to rave reviews.

Located at the Payson Womans Club in the space previously occupied by the old library, MRCA houses artifacts primarily from two prehistoric sites, Risser Ranch Ruins and Q Ranch. It features educational displays and such artifacts as ceramics and pottery, beads, arrowheads, stone tools, and even bird bones.

"There was a turkey pen close to the Risser site, so that's how the bird bones fit in," Von Strauss said.

The "Ancient Ones" who once lived here occupied about 1,000 sites around the Rim country. They were unique among their contemporaries -- including the Sinagua, Anasazi, Mogollon, Salado and Hohokam -- for a physical characteristic that none of the other prehistoric peoples of North America had, a protrusion on the back of their skulls called an occipital bun.

A special ceremonial room off the main exhibit room features a reconstruction of an underground kiva where a shaman or priest would conduct religious ceremonies.

Another exhibit incorporates reproductions of actual petroglyphs found on the undercuts of rocks in the Flowing Springs area. One large glyph appears to be a ring of turtles, a sign, local archaeologist Penny Minturn says, that probably meant, "This is my territory. Do not enter."

The idea was to make MRCA much more than a stodgy museum full of tools and pots, according to Von Strauss. Most archaeology museums, she says, are sterile and dry.

MRCA is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $2 for adults, $1.50 for seniors and $1 for students.

Pine-Strawberry Museum

Located in a former Mormon church in Pine, the Pine-Strawberry Museum offers a look at the area in the 19th century, including a video presentation on the lives and times of early western pioneers.

Other displays include Native American artifacts from pre-history to the early 20th century, including Tonto Apache Indian dolls and cradle boards.

"The museum is divided into rooms," said Mary Hunt, who sits on the board of the Pine-Strawberry Historical and Archaeological Society and is a museum volunteer. "We have a bedroom, a dining room and a living room. Then we have a room we call ‘A Woman's Work Was Never Done' that's built around the household chores -- all the old equipment that they used to use."

The museum also has an archaeology room with artifacts from around the Strawberry-Pine-Rim area, and a main room that houses the old church organ, enlarged photos from the past and "a little bit of everything," Hunt said.

In the summer, the Pine-Strawberry Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The museum's winter hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There is no admission charge.

Strawberry Schoolhouse

The Strawberry Schoolhouse is a treasured landmark -- the oldest schoolhouse in Arizona still standing on its original site.

With its paneled wainscoting and wallpaper, the restored schoolhouse stands today as testament to the early settlers' thirst for knowledge.

Highlights include the school's old organ, the teacher's desk and student desks, and a piece of the original blackboard.

The Strawberry Schoolhouse is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday in the summer. It is closed in the winter except by appointment.

The schoolhouse is owned by the Arizona State Historical Society, but is operated by the Pine-Strawberry Historical and Archaeological Society.

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