Each year summer visitors to the Rim Country find something new and different along Payson's historic Main Street.
West Main Street is the historical part of the road; East Main is a new addition to the community's road system, making the Payson Regional Medical Center and the surrounding medical offices more accessible to residents and visitors.
Turn onto West Main at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce. If you are looking for information about the area or details on upcoming events, you will want to stop here. Across from the chamber is the new National Bank of Arizona and the Sawmill Crossing, where you can visit the Sawmill Theaters to see the latest summer movie.
Farther down the road are the Gila County Sheriff's Office, which is not exactly a historic structure, but has been on the site for a good many years. Shop for car parts or clothes next. Peggy's Payson Place was the only spot to buy clothes for a good part of the region's recent past.
A new addition to Main Street is another restaurant in an old home. The Main Street Grille will be newly opened this summer at 202 West Main Street. It features casual dining, a sports lounge and entertainment, all at affordable prices in a family-friendly atmosphere.
Farther down the street, heading toward the Payson jewel, Green Valley Park, you will find the Rim Country Museum of Archaeology, the historic Ox Bow Saloon (now on the National Register of Historic Places), quaint old homes that have been converted to businesses and others that are still private residences.
Just before reaching Green Valley Park you will see the Julia Randall Elementary School's rock building. At one point, still in the memory of many longtime residents, this was the only school in Payson.
West of the school is the park which features three lakes, all of which have been stocked with trout during the past several months. Also within the confines of the park is the Rim Country Museum, which occupies the site of the area's original ranger station. The two-story structure is a replica of an old Payson hotel, the little cabin is the relocated Haught home. The newest structure at the park is a replica of the Zane Grey Cabin.
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.
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, a former Payson town councilor, is president of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation, the group that rebuilt the cabin.
"It's ... an exact replica of that cabin ... and it ... houses 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."
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.
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.
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.
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. The guidebooks can be picked up at the chamber office or the Rim Country Museum.
Visitors will find the tour even more informative with the recent installation of 23 plaques on or at the site of some the oldest structures.