Some of the comments made on the Payson Roundup forums lately concerning the work being done to recreate Old Payson along Main Street put me in mind of what this place up here was like when I first became acquainted with it.
And so, I thought it might be fun for us to look into a little known WPA book entitled "Arizona."
The Works Project Administration, or WPA, was established by the Roosevelt Administration during the Depression to create jobs. It is chiefly remembered for construction projects. For example, back in Connecticut at a seaside state park named Rocky Neck, the main building was built by the WPA. Constructed of beautifully dressed local granite, it has supporting beams, made from tree trunks brought from the 48 states of the day, stripped of their bark, brightly varnished and labeled by state.
But construction projects were not the only thing the WPA produced. The WPA also involved the arts -- commissioning paintings, plays, books and poetry. The book I mentioned is a WPA-written, Arizona state guide, published in 1940 and revised in 1956.
Here's part of what it says about Payson, which at the time could be reached only by means of a gravel road and was often snowbound in the winter.
"Payson: Altitude 5,000 feet, population 750.
"[Payson], as real a cow town as it was when it was founded in 1886, preserves the true appearance of a frontier settlement. It has a few frame store buildings and a modern log hotel and caters to the needs of residents and visitors.
"... a fort was built ... and the village grew. For many troublesome years, Payson served as a retreat for participants in ranchmen's feuds.
"Until a few years ago, annual rodeos ... now given in a rodeo ground, were held on Main Street. Horse racing down this street has always been a favorite pastime. Dances, following Western tradition, last all night during the three-day rodeo celebration.
"Payson has appeared in ... motion pictures of cowboy life."
Makes you think, doesn't it? It has only been 50 or so years since the revised 1956 edition of the book, but those 50 years have seen some big changes in Payson. To put those changes in perspective, my hometown, New London, Conn., looks almost the same as it did in 1956.
Oh sure, there are a few more tall buildings, and many new stores, and some new development here and there, but the center of New London has hardly changed.
"... as real a cow town as it was when it was founded?"
"Horse racing down [Main Street] has always been a favorite pastime?"
"Motion pictures of cowboy life?"
Now, that's change.
It looks like the great American westward migration is still on. The Rim Country, with its pines and clear skies and mountain climate and views and surprisingly large rainfall for a place in the middle of a desert state, was at one time one of the best-kept secrets in this nation.
But, no more. Payson is on the map and is growing, and will continue to grow until maximum buildout, when the available water supply is reached.
The trick, of course, is to find ways to enable that growth while still retaining a cherished Western heritage.
What's happening on Main Street is a part of that two-pronged goal. Main Street isn't perfect yet. Some of the buildings don't fit the traditional Western pattern. But give the project time.
Just as time has changed Payson itself, time will also allow the work on Main Street to continue, letting Payson save a part of its past, recreate other parts and end up with a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, which will be something for future generations to love as much as this generation loves what's here now.