In Payson's early days, Main Street was the Rim country's social center. Saloons, hotels, boarding houses, livery stables, a blacksmith shop, and a sawmill lined the dusty thoroughfare.
Steeped in the legend and lore of the Old West, Payson's historic Main Street is an increasingly popular tourist destination.
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, Payson's historic Main Street features two museums; Mad Dawg's & Mel's, a full-service restaurant housed in a historic old house; and the Ox Bow, a legendary cowboy saloon.
Fall and winter are excellent times to take in the sights and do some serious shopping on Main Street. Not only are the crowds smaller, but on days when the weather limits outdoor pursuits, the friendly merchants on Main Street offer a special Rim country brand of warm, down-home hospitality that harks back to an earlier time.
Main Street is changing rapidly. Here are a few highlights:
New shopping experiences
There are two new merchants on Main Street:
• Main Street Mercantile, 216 W. Main St.
"It's antiques and collectibles, but we call it ‘cool stuff,'" co-owner Mike Stuart said. "I think my house looks a lot like this store," co-owner Bruce Itule added. "I like stuff." From autographed pictures of Mick Jagger and Madonna, to a pair of Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves, to a mint condition 1952 Red Ryder BB gun right out of "A Christmas Story," this is an antique store like none other.
• Fashions Now, 408 W. Main St.
Fashions Now, which opened June 15, features women's clothes and accessories, including shoes, purses, wallets, jewelry and sunglasses.
"The clothes are not like anything else available in Payson," owner Cheryl Aschbrenner said.
She takes pleasure in dressing people up and offering ideas on what looks good together.
"I have sent women out of here looking 10 years younger," Aschbrenner said.
Another great new place to visit on Main Street won't cost you a penny.
• Deming Pioneer Park
Located at the northwest corner of Main Street and McLane Road, Deming Pioneer Park 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 depicting the history of the area.
The park also includes a cast-iron official town clock, a 100-seat amphitheater, a garden area, and eventually, a western-themed sculpture.
Other Main Street highlights
A visit to Payson's Main Street would not be complete without a visit to the two museums located there:
• 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.
And while you're at the Rim Country Museum, check out the progress on the rebuilding of famous western novelist Zane Grey's cabin right next door.
The popular tourist attraction, originally located near Kohl's Ranch, was destroyed in 1990 by the Dude Fire. Zane Grey Cabin Foundation president and former town councilor, Dick Wolfe, believes the cabin replica will be a valuable addition to the town.
"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."
Payson Mayor Barbara Brewer recalled a visit to the original cabin, where Grey penned many of 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."
The foundation hopes to complete the project in the spring of 2005.
• 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.
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 said, 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.
And history buffs don't have to stop there, because a stroll down the length of Main Street is steeped in history:
• Main Street Walking Tour
The Main Street Walking Tour offers 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 read as they progress from the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce office at the Beeline Highway down Main Street to Green Valley Park. The guidebooks are available at the Rim Country Museum, and the self-guided tour can be taken at any time of the day.
Fall and winter visitors will find the tour even more informative with the recent installation of 23 plaques on or at the sites of some of Main Street's oldest structures. Each plaque features a brief text explaining the significance of the building or site based on the walking tour.
Be sure to save a little time for a leisurely stroll around Green Valley Lake or just to sit and relax in one of the most beautiful parks in the entire state:
• 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 are stocked with rainbow trout from October to May.
Picnic ramadas and a grassy amphitheater where town-sponsored concerts and other events are held complete the park's family atmosphere.