More than 200 Rim country residents and Zane Grey fans turned out on a sunny Saturday morning to witness the first step in the rebuilding of the famous western novelist's cabin at Green Valley Park.
They heard a succession of notables share their thoughts at the groundbreaking ceremony, marking the beginning of the construction of the popular tourist attraction destroyed in 1990 by the Dude Fire. Zane Grey Cabin Foundation president and former town councilor Dick Wolfe, who served as master of ceremonies, pointed out that the cabin replica will be a valuable addition to the town for more than one reason.
"It's not only the historical value we're looking at, but the economic value also," Wolfe said. "Despite the fact that it was down at the end of a dirt road quite a ways from here, it drew 20,000 visitors a year 14 years ago. Imagine the impact that's going to have on our little community when it's built here."
Wolfe then introduced a succession of speakers, including Payson Mayor Barbara Brewer, who recalled a visit to the original cabin near Kohl's Ranch where Grey penned his novels longhand while sitting in a Morris chair.
"I remember 20 years ago when I was out at Zane Grey's cabin how much I enjoyed the quietness, beauty and serenity surrounding that cabin," Brewer said. "Now, for many years to come, visitors can enjoy learning, as I did, about the writings and life of Zane Grey."
State historian Marshall Trimble recalled a similar experience.
"Just a year before the fire, we were camped in a little valley down below the cabin and I took a walk out there that night about sundown and looked out over the Rim, and I remember thinking, no wonder this inspired that great writer," Trimble said.
"When he came here, he was interviewing and visiting with people who actually settled the area," said Beth Counsellor, one of the original cabin's caretakers. "The old-timers were here to spin stories for him and explain, because they knew firsthand what the old adage meant -- that ‘Arizona ain't for amateurs.' This was a wild and wooly place, and Zane Grey learned that right from the people who experienced it.
"So he took their -- I guess I can tactfully call them quasi-historical -- accounts of what happened and added a love story, and added character, and added a background, and came up with these wonderful, kind of historical documentaries about this area where we live. Zane Grey opened Arizona, not only to the whole country but to the whole world, and Payson is the gateway to that world, and the Zane Grey cabin is going to reopen that to future generations."
The famous novelist, who penned more than 60 westerns, spent each fall at the cabin during the 1920s. He set 24 of his books in Arizona and half of those in the Rim country.
So far, enough money has been raised to complete the foundation and floor of the cabin.
"We'll do the rest as the money and materials become available, and we think it'll be pretty quick," Wolfe said.
The foundation is hoping to complete the project in the spring of 2005, and donations of labor, materials and money are needed to make that happen, said Bill Furman, a Zane Grey fan and management consultant who has volunteered to coordinate the cabin project.
Furman is optimistic the project can be completed on time.
Foundation honorary chairpersons are Trimble, former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford, and longtime Valley news anchor Bill Close, who was also in attendance at the groundbreaking.
To join the foundation or learn more about ways to contribute to construction of the cabin, contact the foundation by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 3188, Payson, AZ 85547; or by phone at (928) 474-6115.