Main Street Regaining Its Vitality

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The highlight this summer on Payson's historic Main Street will be the June opening of the replica of Zane Grey's Cabin next door to the Rim Country Museum at Green Valley Park.

The popular tourist attraction, originally located near Kohl's Ranch, was destroyed by the tragic Dude Fire in 1990. The famous Western novelist, who wrote more than 60 books, spent each fall at the cabin during the 1920s.

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On the shores of Green Valley Lake lies the Rim Country Museum, a two-story structure with exhibits detailing Payson's past.

Grey set 24 of his books in Arizona and half of those in the Rim country. Among the novelist's works are "Riders of the Purple Sage," "Call of the Canyon," "To the Last Man," "Vanishing American," and "Wildfire."

"Enamored with the Rim's rugged environment, Zane was certain that it was also rich in history that would provide many plots for his novels," Beth Counseller, one of the original cabin's caretakers, wrote in "The Story of the Zane Grey Cabin."

"When he came here, he was interviewing and visiting with people who actually settled the area," Counseller said. "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."

Dick Wolfe, former Payson town councilor, is president of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation, the group that plans to rebuild the cabin.

"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," Wolfe said. "We spent hours and hours with magnifying glasses looking at photos from Beth Counseller's files," Wolfe said. "I feel confident that it's a good replication."

Cowboy country

In the town's early days, Main Street was a dusty thoroughfare with 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 increasingly popular as a tourist destination.

At one end is the Sawmill Crossing complex and at the other award-winning Green Valley Park. Besides a host of shopping opportunities for antiques, gifts, books and other treasures, Payson's historic Main Street features two museums, a full-service restaurant housed in a historic old house (Mad Dawg's & Mel's) , and a legendary cowboy saloon (the Ox Bow).

Here are some of the highlights:

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 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Visitors will find the tour even more informative with the recent installation of 23 plaques on or at the site of some of Main Street's oldest structures. Each plaque features brief text explaining the significance of the building or site based on the walking tour.

Deming Pioneer Park

Located at the northwest corner of Main Street and McLane on the site once occupied by J.W. Boardman's Mercantile Store, Deming Pioneer Park is now open to the public. 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 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, eventually, a Western sculpture.

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