For many years, Main Street was the social center for much of the Rim country, town historian Stan Brown said. 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 Theatre 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 family restaurant, and a historic cowboy saloon.
Here are just some of Main Street's highlights:
Main Street Walking Tour
While you can do Main Street on your own, another option is a Main Street Walking Tour that features vivid descriptions of historic sites written by Brown.
The walking tour, which has become a regular Main Street attraction, incorporates Brown's site-by-site guidebook 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 day.
Far from a stodgy tour of musty old buildings, Brown says those who take the tour will find it most entertaining.
Main Street/APS Electric Light Parade
This year, the town's award-winning parade will be combined with its holiday party for young people Saturday, Dec. 6. The children's event will begin at 3:30 p.m. at Julia Randall Elementary School's historic Rock Building, followed at 6 p.m. by the lighting of the official town Christmas tree at Green Valley Park. Then, Santa will lead the electric light parade, which this year will go in the opposite direction -- beginning at the park and ending at Sawmill Crossing.
"Santa will ride in a bright red convertible," parade organizer Marilyn Wolfe said.
"We hope to have Jim Paxon as grand marshal."
Anchored by a multiplex movie theater, Sawmill Crossing occupies 14 acres south of Main Street and west of the Beeline Highway, on the very site where the Kaibab sawmill was located. Chili's Restaurant and Club USA Health & Fitness are recent additions to this popular Main Street shopping and dining complex.
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 complete the park's family atmosphere.
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 peoples 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 over, $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 old 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.
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
Co-owners Madeline Manchio and Melanie McCarthy, who met when they both worked at Fargo's Steakhouse, have successfully transitioned Mad Dawg's and Mel's from a hot dog and sandwich joint to a full-service restaurant.
In addition to hot dogs and sandwiches, the menu also includes steaks, chops and pastas, and all dinners come with Mad Dawg's and Mel's popular salad and bread bar.
Mother Hubbard's Consignment Furnishings
Payson's newest furniture store, Mother Hubbard's Consignment Furnishings occupies a 1,300-square-foot portion of the historic Journigan home where Mad Dog's and Mel's is located. Owners Joanne Colceri and her son, Jim Colceri have combined her experiences as a kitchen designer and his as a furniture maker.
"There's a need up here to offer some nice things rather than just old things," Colceri said. "We'll also carry some new things."
Colceri also offers some art on consignment, and encourages local artists to display their wares on weekends on the front lawn of the Journigan house.
Ox Bow Saloon
The Ox Bow Inn and Saloon has long been a landmark on Main Street.
A gala grand opening for the Oxbow Lodge was held May 2, 1954, with a free poolside barbecue.
New 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 do-your-own steak and burger restaurant and eventually, dinner theater.
Body Elegance Day Spa
Body Elegance Day Spa is located in the historic Wilbanks house at 500 W. Main Street. The facility has been completely restored to offer clientele an elegant but relaxing Victorian atmosphere.
A staff of six at Body Elegance Day Spa includes two nail technicians, three massage therapists, and a hair stylist. In addition to spa pedicures, they offer manicures, gel overlays, full body massages, hot rock massages, haircuts and hair coloring.
This recent addition to Main Street literally helps you organize your life -- at least your life as depicted in photos. Homespun Memories is at 401 W. Main Street. Scrapbooking has become a national phenomenon in recent years.
"It's a way to preserve your memories," Connie Smith said. "It's not only a way to organize and theme your photos, but to also preserve them."
If you've never done scrapbooking before, Homespun Memories will guide you through the process and provide all the help you need.
Mountain Air Gifts
Another new business on Main Street, Mountain Air is owned by Steve Christensen.
"We have a variety of things, but the tone or connotation is the woodsey, cabiney, lodgey sort of thing," said Christensen, who also owns Tonto Rim Silk Screening. "We have things for your home, decorative things, and then we're also doing Payson things like T-shirts and caps."
Mountain Air is located next door to the Ox Bow Saloon at 605 W. Main Street in the building that previously housed Printing by George.