Back When History Was Being Made



One of Payson's most legendary and historic properties is currently the subject of some controversy, so it seems timely to review its significance.

The small lot is located at the corner of Main Street and what was originally called The Pine Road. As much traffic as there was in 1898 certainly came by here, and J. W. Boardman knew it would be ideal for a mercantile store.

J.W., and his wife Mary, had come from San Diego and opened a store in Rye, where Mary was its first postmistress (November 1884-August 1887). By 1898 the Boardman's had decided Payson was where the action would be, and had purchased this lot, building a house just to the west. That house, later expanded by the Hilligass family, was to become the Pine Hotel. In that year, J.W. began building Payson's first rock store.

The red sandstone blocks were quarried by Joe and Tom Ezell (father and son) who hauled them from south of town by horse and wagon for 50 cents a load.

The Ezells began the building, but left for Texas before it was finished, and a Mr. Clause completed the building in 1904. He was a gentleman traveling on foot through Payson on his way to the mines in Jerome. Austin Lockwood did the carpentry work on the inside. This building was the location of many of Payson's "firsts."

It would hold the area's first bank, its first commercial telephone, the town's official timepiece, and be owned by a succession of Payson's foremost pioneer families. It also contained the Payson post office from 1899 to 1915, thus being the center for locals to gather and share the news.

In 1908 Boardman sold the property to William H. Hilligass, who promptly replaced James W. Boardman as postmaster.

It was the Hilligass family that extended the Boardman home next door to become a boarding house, while they built a new house just to the west.

These historic buildings still stand adjacent to the proposed History Park. It was a partnership of Castle and Hubert who bought the store from Hilligass. These businessmen doubled the size of the store, using rock from the same quarry and expanding to the west. The established the "Payson Commercial and Trust Company, Bankers and Merchants." It was the first bank for the Payson area.

This enterprise on that busy corner of the road north functioned well until the Great Depression.The banking business collapsed in 1932. The mercantile business was then purchased by Mart McDonald and Roy Lockwood. After operating it for awhile, the business was again sold to James R. Chilson, who was the owner when disaster struck.

It was the summer of 1938, and the August Doin's were in full swing out in Wilbanks' pasture on a Sunday evening. In fact, the prize money for the rodeo winners had been stored in the vault at the store.

Delsie Dee Journigan was operating her hamburger stand beside the store when her gasoline stove blew up, sending fire into the rafters of the commercial building. The smoke was seen from the rodeo ground, and all activity stopped as the men raced to town to attack the fire.

However, the store was gutted, and the money for the rodeo participants was locked in the bank vault, which was too hot to handle for several days. However, that was the last of Payson Commercial.

The ruins remained on the corner until Fred Q. Joy purchased the old store's red rock blocks. He had Calvin Peace take them down and move them to the corner of Main and Bootleg Alley (when the Old Globe Road,or McLane, enters from the south).

Harden Ezell, grandson of the man who quarried the rock in the 1890s, set them in their new location.

Joy planned to add a building to this facade, but had a stroke and was unable to complete his project. The lone wall of stone stood for sometime before the present building was added to it.

The historic property on the Old Pine Road changed hands over the years, and in the early 1970s Wayne and Betty Jean Tussing purchased it.

The Tussings saw a need for a grocery distributorship in the Payson area, because the local roads made it difficult for large distributors from the Valley to service small stores.

The Tussings placed three refrigerator boxcars on the property and used them as a warehouse for their grocery distributorship.

The cars predated modern refrigeration, and were solidly insulated with thick walls and walnut paneling.

This business was passed on to other parties, but by 1981 professional truckers were coming to the Rim country and a local distributorship was no longer needed. The boxcars were then rented for storage facilities, the Julia Randall School being one to use them.

The property soon fell into disuse, and the boxcars became an eyesore. It was the vision of town Councilor Dick Wolfe to clear the property and turn it into a History Park, where visitors and local citizens could come to learn about the heritage and traditions of Payson.

The town council caught the vision and purchased the property. Wolfe negotiated the removal of the boxcars at no cost to the town, and they have found a new location in the forest near Heber.

It would seem extremely important for the town of Payson to retain this property as a history park. The noble and informative history of how our town developed over the past 120 years needs to be preserved, and the establishment of this park in such a significant location is an excellent way to do just that.

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