Rim country visitors are in for a surprise when they visit Main Street this summer.
Deming Pioneer Park -- located at the northwest corner of Main Street and McLane -- was dedicated April 3, and is now open to the public. The park, named in honor of longtime Payson resident and weather recorder Anna Mae Deming and her late husband James, is located on the site once occupied by J.W. Boardman's Mercantile Store.
Built in 1898, Boardman's was the first non-wood building in Payson, the town's first bank and post office and was home to the town's official clock. The 5,434-square-foot park is framed by a facade re-creation of Boardman's store (which was part stone and part wood) with display cases progressively depicting the history of the area.
The park also includes a cast-iron official town clock, a 100-seat amphitheater for history and other presentations, garden areas featuring native flora and benches, and, eventually, a western sculpture.
At the park's dedication, Deming called the honor "the highlight of her life."
For many years, Main Street was the social center for Payson and much of the rest of the Rim country. Besides Boardman's, the dusty thoroughfare featured 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 Theater 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 museums, a full-service restaurant housed in a historic old house, and a legendary 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 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 Archeology
The Rim country's newest museum, commonly referred to as MRCA, opened two years ago.
Located at the Payson Womans Club in the space previously occupied by the old public 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 and stone tools.
The "Ancient Ones" who once lived here occupied some 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 peoples 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 archeologist Penny Minturn says, that probably meant, "This is my territory. Do not enter."
MRCA is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $2.50 for adults, $2 for seniors and $1 for students.
Mad Dawg's and Mel's
Mad Dawg's and Mel's, the 1950s-themed diner located in the historic Journigan home, will celebrate its first anniversary in June. By moving across Main Street from the Payson Auto Classics building, co-owners Madeline Manchio and Melanie McCarthy picked up a lot more seating capacity and parking.
The Journigan home was built in 1925 -- an era when horse races and the Payson Rodeo were held on Main Street, and Manchio and McCarthy are convinced the area will once again become the social center of the community as well as a major tourist attraction.
The duo, who met when they both worked at Fargo's Steakhouse, have transitioned Mad Dawg's and Mel's from a hot dog and sandwich joint to a full-service restaurant.
"We've dropped breakfast, expanded our lunch menu and created a nice dinner menu that's affordable for the demographics of Payson," McCarthy said. The new dinner menu includes seafood, prime rib, steaks, chops and pastas, with an all-you-can-eat fish fry on Fridays.
"But we still do the hot dogs and sandwiches that people have come to love," added Manchio "-- the barbecue pork sandwich, the steak and chicken Philly sandwiches, and Melanie's meatloaf sandwiches."
Live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights features a wide variety of music, ranging from jazz to folk to rock. And you can even bring your dog to dinner if you're dining on the patio.
"We'll provide a bowl of water and a dog biscuit on the house," Manchio said.
Ox Bow Saloon
Now officially on the National Register of Historic Places, the Ox Bow Inn and Saloon has long been a landmark on Main Street. The Payson Hotel, the forerunner to the Oxbow 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.
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. The upstairs, referred to as the Red Parlor or the "Bardelo," has also been re-opened (complete with black lights, glowsticks and a DJ) and is becoming a popular hangout for the younger (21-31) crowd.
Future plans include a cook-your-own entree restaurant which owner Beverly Nethken hopes to have open in time for Spring Rodeo.
Main Street Walking Tour
While you can do Main Street on your own, another option is a Main Street Walking Tour. This tour features vivid descriptions of historic sites written by former 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 utilize reclaimed water in the form of high quality effluent from the Northern Gila County Sanitary District to replenish the ground water supply. Part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department's urban fishing program, the three lakes receive plants of 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 Parks and Recreation Department.
Zane Grey Cabin (under construction)
Another attraction coming soon to Green Valley Park and Main Street is a full-scale replica of Zane Grey's cabin, a popular tourist attraction destroyed in 1990 by the Dude Fire.
The Zane Grey Cabin Foundation is raising money for the project and hopes to break ground early this summer.
"We have a complete set of blueprints and design specifications and will build the replica of Grey's 1922 cabin next to the Rim Country Museum," Payson town councilor and foundation president Dick Wolfe said. "It's going to be an exact replica of that cabin on the grassy knoll just to the east of the Rim Country Museum, and it will house genuine artifacts from Zane Grey and his era, and the whole building itself will be an exhibit."
The famous novelist, who penned 56 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.
Wolfe believes the replica will be a huge tourist attraction.
"If it was attracting 20,000 people 13 years ago and it was so hard to get to, we feel it's not only going to be a building to house some very valuable artifacts, but it's going to be a real economic engine for the town," he said. Wolfe also cited the cabin's historical importance and educational value.
To join the foundation or learn more about ways to contribute to construction of the cabin, contact the foundation by e-mail at email@example.com; by mail at P.O. Box 3188, Payson, AZ 85547; or by phone at (928) 474-6115.