Back When -- The Stewarts Charmed Main Street



When the old triangle rang out up and down Payson's Main Street, folks knew it was time for one of Margaret Stewart's delicious meals.

It sounded faithfully at noon, and had become the town's timepiece.

In later years the whistle at the sawmill would take on that function.

On Sundays there was always chicken and dumplings, and teacher Julia Randall remembered, "She never missed a Sunday sending up (dinner) to my mother and dad..." Miss Randall's father George A. Randall was bedfast after a stroke. He had been the Justice of the Peace during the years Sam Stewart was constable and the Randalls were among the Stewarts' close neighbors.

Samuel K. Stewart and his wife, Margaret, came from Texas to Globe in about 1890. In Globe, Stewart went to work in the mines. By the summer of 1894 they had moved to Payson, and laid claim to a homestead that ran north from Main Street along today's Colcord Road to Bonita, and east along the north side of Main all the way to today's Payson Regional Medical Center.

They farmed the land and became active in the life of the Payson community.

Sam had an eye on the saloon and dance hall owned by J. W. and Catherine Wentworth at the corner of Main and the old Globe Road (McLane). It was called Tammany Hall, named for the infamous New York political meeting hall. So, when the Wentworths left Payson for Globe in 1904 the Stewarts considered what a good boarding house the hall could become. They proceeded to build their restaurant just to the west (603 W. Main). When Main Street's 20-room Herron Hotel burned down in November of 1918 the Stewarts converted Tammany Hall to a boarding house. The restaurant now fed their boarders as well as the public.

Sam Stewart "proved up" on his land claim, and received patents for two sections in 1913 and 1915 respectively.

In the meantime Sam had been active in the town, and by 1915 had built a red sandstone house at today's address of 500 W. Main. This is the historic building recently taken over by Shelley and Scott Wayland where a small engine repair shop will occupy the old stone garage and Shelley is converting the Stewart's home into a day spa with a Victorian look.

The census age reveals that in 1910 they were the farthest east on Main Street, followed by their closest neighbors, the Carpenters, August and Wilhelmina Pieper, the Belluzzis, George, Rose and Julia Randall, Bill Colcord and family, and the Guy Barkdoll family.

The Stewart children were Ruth, Norma (in school records variously called Nona, Nonie and Naomi), Thomas, Harley, Murial (in school records called Mamie) and William (in school records called Willie). Guy, born in 1901 or 1902 appears in school records until 1907, but not in the 1910 census. Ruth Stewart married merchant Ed Bonacker, whose store was in the old McDonald building west of the restaurant. In the rear of the property they had the first slaughterhouse in Payson, and supplied the Stewart restaurant with its meat.

In 1910 when Jack Lane was shooting up Main Street, Sam went with Bill Colcord down to the 10-to-1 Saloon to intervene where Lane was threatening Judge Randall with a gun. Colcord shot Lane dead on his horse, and Sam served as a member of the jury for the inquest.

In the fall of 1914 he was elected constable but resigned four years later to help develop the boarding house. During those years he had his hands full when cowboys would come to town on weekends.

Theresa Boardman had both good and bad to say about Sam Stewart's tenure as constable.

"Whenever you wanted him he was in bed," she said. "To me he was like old Jackson sitting under the tree. [Author's note- that reference is not clear.]

"Sam was pretty good through the day Bill Willbanks tore the town up. Boy oh boy, that was bad. You know Bill had that bullet in his head from when he was down in Texas, and they never did get all that out. Every once in awhile he'd get on a drunk, and boy! Wild? Talk about a wild man! Here comes Bill Willbanks, he's drunk, everybody run for cover." She went on to tell about the time he tore up the 16-to-1 Saloon, and "Sam Stewart was more scared than anybody else ..."

Margaret's family-style meals were celebrated far and wide. It was "all you can eat" for 50 cents, and the Bonacker-house steaks were a specialty at breakfast. On Saturday nights the weekly dance would adjourn from the nearby dance hall to partake of the midnight supper served by the Stewarts. After the meal the dance would reconvene until dawn, and these times became an important part of the Rim country social life.

Margaret Stewart died in 1948 and Sam in 1953. They are buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery along with their son William who died in 1934.

Old Tammany Hall burned down while the Stewarts owned it. Years later Grady Harrison built a garage on the corner where Old Tammany Hall stood. The garage also housed the generators for Payson's first electric company.

That building is being refurbished today by owner Ray Doss.

The Stewart Restaurant still stands. Harry Connolly bought it in 1945 and opened a combination dry goods and grocery store. In 1955 Archie Damron took ownership of the building, operating the Red Barn Cafe where Margaret Stewart operated her famous restaurant.

After the cafe shut down in 1964 Archie ran a TV shop and the new cable company from the building.

The Damrons later moved to Arkansas.

The Stewart home is being refurbished today, but the restaurant languishes just east of the newly established Mountain Air gift shop.

When you are on Main Street some noon, see if you can't hear the old triangle calling you to one of Margaret's delicious meals.

But of course, that sound will be covered by the reinstated whistle at Sawmill Crossing. The olden days are coming back to Main Street.

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