For many years, Main Street was the social center for much of the Rim country, according to town historian Stan Brown. Once a dusty thoroughfare, it featured mercantile stores, saloons, hotels, boarding houses, livery stables, a blacksmith shop and a sawmill.
Steeped in the legend and lore of the Old West, Payson's historic Main Street is fast becoming a tourist destination in its own right.
At one end is the Sawmill Crossing complex and at the other, award-winning Green Valley Park. Besides a host of shopping opportunities for antiques, gifts, scrapbooking supplies, books and other treasures, Main Street features two very special museums, a brand new gourmet hot dog joint, and a historic cowboy saloon.
Some of Main Street's highlights:
Rim Country Museum
Surrounded by lakes and rolling hills, this three-building, two-story facility at Green Valley Park includes the first forest ranger station in Payson and a replica of the historic Herron Hotel -- known as the Payson Hilton until it 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.
Admission to the Rim Country Museum is $3 for adults, $2.50 for seniors 55 and older, $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.
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 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," said Sharesse Von Strauss, director of the Northern Gila County Historical Society.
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 people 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.
Mad Dawg's and Mel's
A 1950s-themed diner and "garage emporium," Mad Dawg's and Mel's is located at 407 W. Main Street. It features hot dogs, brats, Italian sausages and lip-smacking hot wings in an atmosphere unlike any you've ever experienced.
"I've had the name Mad Dawg's in my head for years," co-owner Madeline Manchio said. "I've always wanted to do a really good quality, all-beef hot dog. I'm from the East Coast and coming from New York and the streets of Manhattan, that's always been a big staple of my diet."
The restaurant also offers a full salad bar and other menu items.
The eating area is located in the back, while the front part of the building is a reproduction of a vintage auto dealership garage complete with neon sings and antique gas pumps.
Ox Bow Saloon
Recently declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the Ox Bow Inn and Saloon has long been a landmark on Main Street. According to town historian Stan Brown, the Payson Hotel, the forerunner to the Ox Bow Inn, was built in 1932 by William and Estelee Wade. Logs for the structure, which originally had nine rooms upstairs and a kitchen, restaurant and bar downstairs, were cut and hauled from the Mogollon Rim.
Rooms were $2.50 a night and meals cost 50 cents.
At the end of World War II, the Wades retired from the hotel business and the new owners, Bob and Thelma Caldwell, expanded the facility to become the Ox Bow Inn. The name, according to Brown, comes from Ox Bow Hill, the gateway to Payson -- named when soldiers in the 1870s found an oxbow on the trail.
The Caldwells purchased Alf Randall's store to the west and remodeled it as the Ox Bow Saloon. A series of rooms were added to form a courtyard in the back, which opened onto a patio and swimming pool.
A gala grand opening for the Ox Bow Lodge was held May 2, 1954, with a free poolside barbecue.
Current Ox Bow owner Beverly Nethken has re-opened the saloon, and it's just as popular today as it was back when its patrons were thirsty cowboys kicking back after a grueling day on the ranch. Future plans include a restaurant and dinner theater.
For dinner and a movie, Sawmill Crossing is the place to be. It's located on the southwest corner of Main Street and the Beeline Highway --he site of the old Kaibab lumber mill.
The owner of the old mill --aibab Industries --eveled the defunct sawmill, and created Sawmill Crossing. The Sawmill complex features a six-screen movie theater, several restaurants, a flower shop, drug store, toy store, a bank, and a place to work off all those calories.
Main Street Walking Tour
While you can do Main Street on your own, another option is the 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.
Far from a stodgy tour of musty old buildings, Brown says those who take the tour will find it most entertaining.
Green Valley Park
The 45-acre park at the west end of Main Street features three lakes that use reclaimed water in the form of high-quality effluent from the Northern Gila County Sanitary District to replenish the groundwater supply. Part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department's urban fishing program, the three lakes are stocked with rainbow trout from October to May.
Picnic ramadas and a grassy amphitheater where town-sponsored concerts are held under the stars complete the park's family atmosphere. It is also home to the Rim Country Museum and offices of the Payson Parks and Recreation Department.
Main Street Program and PREDC
The Arizona Main Street Program, adopted in 1986 to revitalize downtowns in rural communities like Payson, provides communication and assistance to qualified cities and towns with populations under 50,000.
Payson is the newest of the 23 communities that have participated in the Arizona Main Street program since its inception.
Main Street programs often do more with less administrative costs. In fact, for every dollar invested in the administration of a Main Street program, $39 in project is completed. In Payson and the other Arizona Main Street communities, private investment plays a major role.
During the 2001-2002 fiscal year, private investment in Payson's Main Street reached $1.75 million. Taxpayers only spent $45,000 on Main Street during the same period.
Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation
The Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation is a nonprofit organization that works to enhance the economy of northern Gila County by promoting the attraction, retention and expansion of economic opportunities.
The PREDC is progressing in its mission to enhance the economy of the Payson/northern Gila County area. It is working to serve as a centralized channel for area economic development efforts and activities. Data and information is being collected and compiled and utilized in marketing and informational materials that are being distributed.
Payson's exceptional quality of life, desirable amenities, able work force and convenient location make the area a fantastic place to live and do business. PREDC works to help business locating in Arizona's Rim Country by providing the following:
- Assistance in locating a suitable location.
- Help finding employees.
- Information about the area.
- Any other support needed to make your move or expansion smoother.
Contact the PREDC at (928) 468-6659 to see how you can move your business to a higher level...and see life from a better point of view.