We have been descending the East Verde River, and listening to the many pioneer stories that took shape along its banks.
Today we come to Beaver Valley, just off the Houston Mesa Road north of Payson and near the "first crossing."
The first family to claim squatter's rights in Beaver Valley was that of John Francis Holder. They arrived on the East Verde in 1896, bringing with them several thousand Angora goats from which they raised mohair as a family business. John and Sarah Holder's family included several of John's children by a former marriage as well as their own growing brood. Before they left, they had nine living children and several who had died in infancy.
The Holder family claimed squatter's rights on three separate parcels of land between Beaver Valley and the East Verde Crossing on today's Highway 87. Included in the claims they bought was the Azbill place. (Later members of that family changed the name to Asbell, but public records of the day spell it Azbill.) Pat Cline, whose mother was born there, makes it clear the Azbill place was at today's Flowing Springs, down-river from Beaver Valley.
However, her mother, Sarah Mae Holder Haught, seems to confuse the Azbill place with Beaver Valley when, in "The Rim Country History," she writes, "I was born on the East Verde July 2, 1900, to John Francis and Sarah Ann Holder. At that time the place where I was born was known as the Asbell place. Later on it was called the Bert Belluzzi place, the Barfoot Place, and today is known as Beaver Valley."
Since Mae was born right at the time the family was moving down the river from Beaver Valley to Flowing Springs, it is understandable that the two places became confused in her understanding of the family history. It is also possible the Azbill's had claimed Beaver Valley before the Holders. But more about Flowing Springs and the Azbills next week.
The Holders built a home on the river at Beaver Valley, ranging their goat herds over the entire area.
Almost immediately John Holder established a post office called "Holder," and the records show it was in operation from September 5, 1896 to August 1897. However, Beaver Valley was too far off the mail trail even for the "pony express" delivery, and for the next several years the Holders got their mail in Payson. When they moved farther down the river in June 1900, John established another post office, called Angora.
The Holder's 12-year-old daughter Arminta died July 15, 1897, at Beaver Valley, and was buried near the house. The marker for her is still sacred ground today, having been left undisturbed through all the subsequent settlement that took place. Local lore reports that another baby who died in infancy is buried near Arminta, some saying it was a Holder infant. However Bud Jones, son of a later owner of the claim, reported it was a Belluzzi baby.
It was Bert Belluzzi, the son of early pioneer Bartolomeo Belluzzi, who with his wife Lottie (Hardt), took over the Holder's squatter's rights for Beaver Valley. When the Belluzzis moved in, the old Holder house was still standing but shortly burned down. Bert Belluzzi built a more substantial ranch house in the same location, as well as two smokehouses and a barn east of the ranch house. Their house stood until just last year when it was torn down for more development.
At this point more conflicting stories arise over the early pioneer homesteaders. In the recent History of the Pioneer Women of Gila County, Anna Mae Deming writes the biography of Alma Belluzzi Hardee, daughter of Bert and Lottie (Hardt) Belluzzi, in which she states that in 1911, Alma's "father bought the George Sidell Ranch, which is now Beaver Valley." As we shall see next week, the Flowing Springs ranch farther down the river was the homestead of George Sidell. Of course, it is possible that, as we suggested for the Azbills, Sidell also claimed the entire stretch of river including Beaver Valley. However, no public records or land abstracts support this idea.
The following sequence of events was discerned from Jack Sloan, who would later be the prime mover to develop the area into its present subdivision and who has contributed the land abstracts and deed copies to the Rim Country Museum. Also, Beaver Valley homeowner Joyce Lynch has published a collection of photos and historical notes on Beaver Valley that is very helpful.
After improving the land for five years, as the federal government required for land grants, Bert Belluzzi obtained a patent on the homestead, August 31, 1916. Then in 1922 he took a loan on the property from Payson Commercial and Trust Company. After defaulting on the loan in 1935, the homestead was sold at auction for the amount owed, $3,766. The following month C. A. "Bud" Jones bought the property for $2,000, and on November 7, 1944 sold it to Seth G. Bazzill for $5,500. Bazzill in turn sold it to his Bazzill Sheep and Cattle Company in 1946.
In her compilation, Joyce Lynch states, "Interviews with Mr. Bazzill's son Booth and other family members in Phoenix indicate that they knew this area very well... Booth recalls five beaver dams that had formed five large ponds." One wonders if that was the beginning of the modern name for the area.
By the 1950s, Beaver Valley had entered the era of Dr. Robert Barfoot. He purchased Beaver Valley from the Bazzill company for $10,000, and brought with him a huge vision. Barfoot planned to develop a resort that would be "used by other physicians only," according to sources quoted in Joyce Lynch's history. By the late 1950s three cottages had been built, a water system developed, the river channel cleared and flumes laid to deliver water to a pond and filtering tanks. In 1960, six more cabins were added and the old homestead was remodeled. A warehouse was constructed, a swimming pool, and track was being laid for a narrow gauge railroad. The next year Barfoot built a western-style storefront town, and the four-mile-long railroad was completed with a tunnel, as well as a depot, barn and four-plexes to rent. A trestle over the East Verde River sported what Barfoot claimed was "the highest and longest 16 inch gauge railway bridge in America." It was 20 feet high and 175 feet long.
By this time, the Beeline Highway had been paved over the mountains (1958), and Dr. Barfoot's vision had expanded to develop an even more elegant resort, which he advertised throughout the Valley as "Mountain City" or The Beaver Valley Resort. His many plans for additional buildings and amenities never materialized, however, and he declared bankruptcy before he died on July 10, 1970. He was spared the terrible flood on Labor Day 1970, when the railroad trestle was destroyed.
Barfoot had obtained a loan from Small Business Capital, LTD., to continue his project, but had defaulted and signed the property over to that company in February 1965. At this point, a partner in the Small Business Capital company, Jack Sloan, took over the development of Beaver Valley Estates into the subdivision it is today. The advertisements read, "We are selling an actual resort. ... For nearly 10 years this property was operated as an exclusive guest ranch and popular rim resort."
As they say, "the rest is history."