A person traveling to the headwaters of the East Verde River for hiking, fishing or picnicking encounters a sign pointing to the Washington Park Trailhead. This is as far as you can go north with an automobile along the river, and is the jumping off place for hiking the Devin Trail to the top of the Rim or visiting the old Railroad Tunnel.
Where did this name "Washington Park" come from?
According to the Kehl Ridge quadrangle map (United States Department of Interior, Geological Survey) Washington Park is the name of a cluster of summer homes on Mail Creek, west over the ridge from the East Verde River. That name is sometimes used by those who do not live there to include the homes on the upper East Verde. However, that community is named "Rim Trail."
For example, Ira Murphy in chapter 9 of his Centennial Series refers to John Belluzzi's "homestead ... located in what is now Washington Park." The Belluzzi family very definitely lived on the Rim Trail and so named their ranch.
Looking down from on top of the Rim at one of the overlooks on Forest Road 300, one can see the green field and the buildings of the Washington Park Ranch. Presumably the name was given by one of the early settlers. According to the Internet it is a common name, including communities, zoos, local parks and subdivisions all over America. Because the Mogollon Rim is the edge of the Colorado Plateau with a sharp escarpment rising 2,000 feet above the forests below, it is the source of many springs that flow from its base and cut their little canyons down toward the rivers. Each canyon under the Rim has its meadowland where early settlers established homesteads. Living springs flow at Washington Park Ranch to create Mail Creek, and it meanders a mile through the forest to join the East Verde River.
A study of the 1900 federal census helps locate the families that settled those canyons. The census-taker moved from east to west. The Goswicks were on Ellison Creek. The Elwood Pyle family was on Bonita Creek. James N. Powers and his family arrived in 1899 and settled on Dude Creek following a "dude" named Frank McClintock, for whom the creek was named. The Powers children attended the Rim Rock School along with the Belluzzis.
Down in Whispering Pines, the Hendershots had settled on the old Meadows homestead, and William McLachlan was homesteading the ranch later owned by Stan Roper. Roper subdivided it as Verde Glen.
Up on Rim Trail, the Belluzzis and Merrits held forth, and Peter and Sarah Bray settled Bray Creek. Frank and Mary Herron were on upper Webber Creek while Paul Vogel with William Craig had their fruit farm downstream on Webber. As one follows the geography, notably absent in 1900 are Washington Park and Chase Creek. At least, there is no record of residents according to the census.
Ten years later, the census of 1910 reveals some changes. James Noah Powers and his wife Sarrah (sic) had left Dude Creek and gone to Roosevelt to work on the dam when construction began in 1906. However by 1910, they had returned to the Rim country and settled on Chase Creek, the site of today's Shadow Rim Girl Scout Camp. By this time, Washington Park had been settled by Robert and Mary Jackson. We do not know if it was they who gave the place that name, or someone later.
Over on Webber Creek, the Herrons would "prove up" on their ranch in 1914 (today's Geronimo Boy Scout Camp), while Vogel and Craig had gotten homestead papers for their Spade Ranch in 1913. Noah Powers (as James N. Powers was called) received final homestead rights to the Chase Creek Ranch in 1915. It would not be until 1923 that the Washington Park Ranch was patented by Fred Favor. He must have bought the rights from the Jacksons.
The next owner was a gentleman from Phoenix named Herrin (not to be confused with the Payson Herron family), and he tried to rename it the HP Ranch, for "Herrin Park." That did not take hold, and the traditional name of Washington Park remained in use.
The next owner was Fred McGee. McGee had come to the Rim country from California, where he ran pack trains over the Sierra Madre for the Forest Service. He bought the WP Ranch and farmed it, but in 1938 he surrendered ownership to Dr. Joseph Greer in lieu of an unpaid medical bill. Dr. Greer allowed McGee to stay on at the ranch as caretaker.
Fred M. McGee died Aug. 8, 1962, at the age of 78.
Ralph Fisher, a Payson resident who for years wrote outdoor articles for the Roundup and other sporting magazines, told about a visit to the WP Ranch.
"I well remember one morning, as I visited the late Fred McGee at Washington Park Ranch, Frank Colcord and another hunter-trapper rode into the ranch after shooting as huge black bear out of a tall pine tree between the Doctor Pease Ranch on Chase Creek and Washington Park."
Dr. Joseph Madison Greer was a philanthropist from the Phoenix area, actively engaged in many charitable and civic activities. He was known as "the flying doctor" because he often flew to remote parts of Arizona to attend patients, and specialized in treating crippled children. He and Mrs. Greer befriended a family named Yanez in Benson, and in the 1920s took two of the teenage Yanez girls to raise as foster daughters. Matilda was enabled to go to Flagstaff teachers college where she became a nurse, and worked along side Dr. Greer for the rest of his career. She served in World War II as a nurse during the liberation of the Philippines. The other girl, Jesus, called Suse, was trained as a secretary and for more than 40 years, managed Dr. Greer's medical practice and business affairs.
When the Greers acquired the HP Ranch, the main house, barns and some cabins, and a wooden aqueduct were already on the site.
With the fresh spring water flowing there, they converted the fields to an apple orchard. They also enlarged the main house, but each summer Mrs. Greer would occupy a cabin at the far end of the ranch where she could pursue her aspirations to be a writer. She died in August 1957. Dr. Greer died in 1969 and willed the ranch to his two surrogate daughters, the Yanez sisters.
Today, the Knoell family owns part of the old WP Ranch, and the remainder has become a retreat center known as the Mountain Ridge Cabins. They are rented in the summertime to families for reunions and to church groups on retreat. What a noble destiny for a historic Rim country ranch.