There were a few raised eyebrows among skeptics last year when the old cowboy bar at Kohl's Ranch was torn down to make room for a two-unit residential time share on the site.
Despite a pledge by Phoenix-based ILX Resorts, owners of Kohl's Ranch, to preserve and incorporate "what we believe to be the historical elements of the bar" into the new units, many locals saw the demolition of a Rim country landmark as an excuse to make a buck at any cost.
Last Thursday, when ILX held a rope-cutting ceremony to christen Horton House, the name given to the new building, there was nothing but praise from the 200 or so invited guests. In a tour of the larger of the two units, architect Rex Hinshaw of Spragins & Hinshaw Architects, explained the painstaking process followed by those involved.
"We looked at the original building and did a complete evaluation, and we could not remodel it and bring it up to today's codes -- it was impossible to do," Hinshaw said. "So instead of tearing down, we dismantled it.
"We took a lot of time at the beginning to analyze and go through the process of seeing how we could maintain remnants of the historcal value of the building," he said.
Besides the services of Spragins & Hinshaw, ILX hired Stan Langham Construction, a local builder, as the primary contractor.
The most dramatic feature in the new structure is the old bar itself, carved with the initials and names of hundreds of locals who once bellied up to it for a brew.
"We've re-used the old bar and all the wainscotting and some of the trim you see inside here and several of the windows, and certain other features," Hinshaw said. "Like there's one of the posts that was holding up the porch (now) holding up the mantel here."
Decks at the rear of the two units offer a spectacular view of Tonto Creek.
"We saved almost all the trees that were on the site of the original building, and the orientation is the same," Hinshaw said. "So it still has a creek view."
In a recent Rim Review column, town historian Stan Brown explained that the old cowboy bar was originally the Tonto School and was located at the junction of Tonto and Horton Creeks.
"When the Tonto School closed, the Kohl family decided to build a hall for ... Saturday night dances, and included a saloon and cafe as well as a small grocery store," he wrote. "Lew Kohl made a deal with the local school board to purchase the Tonto School building for $40.
"Together with the help of his son, Glenn, and Richard Haught, they dismantled the school and used the lumber and logs to build the ‘Cowboy Barn,' as it came to be called by the ranchers."
Saturday night dances held here and at other old schools in the area would often last "through the night and were a primary source of entertainment for the ranch families," Brown wrote. "Between dances friends would go out on the long porch, overlooking Tonto Creek behind the building, and visit."
Most recently, part of the structure housed a convenience store, but even that had been closed. The remainder was being used primarily for storage.
The new Horton House is billed as Payson's most luxurious accommodation.
To learn more about Horton House, call Kohl's Ranch at (928) 478-411.