With the opening of the Zane Grey cabin just a month away, the annual fund-raising banquet of the Northern Gila County Historical Society takes on added importance.
"The historical society, including the museums and now the cabin are all staffed by volunteers," Judy Buettner, vice mayor and a member of the society, said. "That's such a critical thing that people know, because we came close a year ago to having to just close."
The 15th annual banquet, "Celebrating Our Rim Country Heritage" will be held at 5:30 p.m., Sept. 24 at Mazatzal Casino. Buettner, who is coordinating the event, says it will be the best yet.
"We'll have (town historian) Jinx Pyle there to tell stories and sing, and there'll be some really nice silent auction and live auction items," she said. "I've got a contact on the Navajo Reservation, so I'm going to be getting some handmade items there."
Tickets are $30 for members and $35 for non-members and can be purchased by calling 474-3483. The event will be preceded by a no-host bar at 5 p.m.
Proceeds help support the important work of the Northern Gila County Historical Society in preserving and conserving the cultural heritage and colorful history of Payson and the Rim Country.
The society, which has about 250 members, operates the Rim Country Museum at Green Valley Park and the Museum of Rim Country Archaeology on Main Street. It will also operate the Zane Grey cabin -- a replica of the original cabin which was destroyed in the Dude Fire.
"When it's all finished and up and running, we'll take it over," NGCHS President Tom McGuigan said. "We're talking about it being open seven days a week."
The two museums recently expanded their hours of operation. They are now open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Monday.
Besides limited financial support from the town of Payson and fund-raisers like the banquet, the society is supported by member dues, donations, museum admissions, and gift shop sales.
Although the museum attracted visitors from 17 different states and three foreign countries one recent month, it is the cabin that McGuigan is counting on to produce the numbers that will help the society stay in the black.
The famous western novelist's cabin was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and by the 1980s it was attracting 20,000 visitors a year. Grey, 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. 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, (Grey) was certain that it was also rich in history that would provide many plots for his novels," Beth Counsellor, one of the original cabin's caretakers, wrote in "The Story of the Zane Grey Cabin."
"It's 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," Zane Grey Cabin Foundation President Dick Wolfe said.
The society is also faced with the expense of re-siding the Rim Country Museum and the adjacent ranger station. Both buildings have sustained substantial water damage from the Green Valley Park sprinkler system being installed too close to them.
"We can't put just any old siding up there," McGuigan said. "It has to be historically correct, so we'll probably have to buy the lumber and do the planing right on site."
The society can always use more members and volunteers.
"They need volunteers to act as docents," Janet Farrington, who is in charge of accessions for the museum, said. "And once the cabin is open, they'll really need volunteers then."
For information on membership, call Diane Visdas at (928) 468-0184. For information on volunteer opportunities, leave a message at the Rim Country Museum, (928) 474-3483.