The Story Of Payson, Arizona

Chapter 13:Payson’s first developers

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Roundup file photo

What is known as the Pieper Mansion on Historic Main at the corner of South McLane, was built about 1893 by August and Wilhelmina Pieper. It became the center for Payson social life around the turn of the century.

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Stan Brown photo

This poured mud-adobe house was built for Henry Sidles in 1881 and was later purchased for a home by the Piepers. It remains the oldest standing structure in Payson.

The first persons to earn a living from real estate in Payson were August and Wilhelmina Pieper. Their story begins with Mrs. Pieper’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Boske, who fled Germany’s tyrannical government in 1880 and came to America.

A family tradition tells that John somehow developed a friendship with the Chiricahua warrior chief Geronimo, who gave him a notched stick for safe passage through the Apache territory.

The family had made their way to Globe, Arizona Territory, where they established a brewery and a freighting business. At that point they sent for their daughter Wilhelmina, whom they had left with her grandmother in Hamburg, Germany.

Wilhelmina sailed to New York and then traveled by train to Bowie, Arizona Territory, where her parents had come to meet her. On the way back to Globe a party of Chiricahua renegades stopped their stagecoach. Mr. Boske showed them the notched stick he had received from Geronimo, and the Indians allowed the stage to proceed unharmed.

Wilhelmina’s father then sent for August Pieper, a fellow worker with him in Germany, inviting him to come to America and join the family business. The Boskes’ daughter Wilhelmina fell in love with her father’s partner, and they were married in 1887. Husband and wife proved themselves aggressively business-minded, as they started their own ice and beer business in Globe.

Soon they desired to make it on their own, apart from the family, and believed Payson to be a good location for business. They moved in 1889 and with money they had saved they bought out Henry Sidles, who wanted to leave Arizona for California. Sidles had laid claim to the lots on either side of Main Street east of the Globe Road (today that road going south from Main is called McLane). The structures Sidles had built included a poured mud house south of Main, and a saloon and dance hall on the north side of Main. 

August and Wilhelmina took up residence in the mud-adobe house and began expanding their business interests. The saloon and dance hall continued to be a social center for Payson, while Pieper added a livery stable, a feed store, and a mercantile store.

Their horses and cattle grazed along the American Gulch in what came to be called “Pieper’s Meadow.”

The post office was housed in the store adjoining the saloon. Federal law prohibited a post office in a saloon proper.

The Piepers laid squatters claim to the land on both sides of Main Street, including the American Gulch drainage. They also staked pastureland not previously claimed on the south side of Main Street, west from the Globe Road.

In 1893 they began building the house that would be called “The Pieper Mansion.” Today’s address is 505 W. Main St. When it was completed, they moved in and the “mud house” where they had been living became available for rent. Over the years it was also used for storage.

The Piepers had four children, each of whom became identified with the Payson scene. Emma was born in 1889, and would marry Napoleon “Boss” Chilson in 1913.

Ernest, their second child, would grow up to be a businessman like his dad, and take over the family real estate.

Helen, born in 1903, married a Baldwin. She died in 1995 and is buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery, along with her mother and father.

Elmer was their second son.

In 1928, Elmer Pieper married a school teacher who had come to Payson the year before. She was Jo Myers. With the Great Depression clouding the financial picture, Elmer and Jo went into partnership with local Justice of the Peace Jay Vann, and established a fish hatchery high up on the East Verde River. They built trout ponds to catch the fresh water from a proficient spring that gushed out of the side of the canyon, and they sold the fish to Phoenix hotels as well as to the government for stocking local streams. 

In 1990, this writer interviewed 84-year-old Jo Pieper at the Pioneer Home in Prescott. She talked about her life in the forest those years, and said, “I wonder how I managed to live, as dumb as I was. It sounded very romantic, but living it was no romance.”

When their first child was due to be born, she went to her parents’ home for the birth of their girl, Patricia, and then returned with her to the wilderness. She related, “Elmer got hold of an old truck and fixed it up so we could get out in the winter through all the snow. I told him we’d not take the baby in there without some way of getting out. I lived in peril that she would walk away and get lost in the woods. Elmer built a little fence around the front of the cabin, but once in awhile she would get out of that.” [1]

In 1937, after Jo had their second child, she did not go back. Elmer turned the property and Forest Service permit over to Jay Vann, and the Piepers moved to Globe where Elmer worked for the state.     

Over the years the August Piepers sold lots along the north side of Main Street. Buyers included the Stewarts, Andy and Ruth Wilbanks, Wes and Maggie Powers, “Boss” and Emma Chilson, Elmer and Jo Pieper, Grady and Nellie Harrison, and others. They sold the property south of Main and west of the Globe Road to the Chilson family. The Piepers were gracious hosts, and their “mansion” became a center of Payson social life. After Wilhelmina was widowed in 1931, she maintained it as a boarding house with “cooking that can’t be beat,” many said. She called it the “Home Away From Home.”

Later, Wilhelmina moved away to live with her children, and the “mansion” was rented to a family named Curtis. They operated a beer parlor in the living room, and were the envy of town folk as owners of a grand automobile.

However, before she died, Wilhelmina sold most of her property to the Steven Hathaway family, including that portion on which the Owens brothers would later establish Payson’s sawmill. The Hathaways also bought the house and its adjoining acreage. They built three little cabins east of the big house and rented them all out, including the mud house and the mansion.

The saga of The Pieper Mansion continued. The Hathaways sold it and 14 acres of pasture to Bill Wilbanks and his wife Ola Jane Franklin Wilbanks.

Bill died in 1948 at the age of 67, and Ola continued in the homestead, operating a rooming house and the cabins.

In 1956, at the age of 60, Ola married a childhood sweetheart named Walter Lazear. [2]  The Pieper Mansion then came to be known as the Lazear

Place, and the tradition of hospitality continued. Ola surrounded the house with colorful gardens, and the rich shade of cottonwood and willow trees offered a fine place for lawn parties.

Ola and Walter were married only 13 years when Walter died in 1969. She continued to care for the gardens and trees until she died in 1985 at 89 years of age.

Their daughter Jesse Wingfield came to live in the old home when her mother died, and ownership later passed to a granddaughter Mrs. Dannie Garcia.

The old “mansion” continued to warm the hearts of history buffs and old-timers who remembered its heyday. 

[1] The full story of the East Verde Fish Hatchery and the Elmer Piepers is told by Stan Brown in The Rim Review, September 29, 1999, page 3.

[2] Walter Lazear had been widowed for 25 years. With his wife Marie Belluzzi, they had three daughters. Marie died in 1931.

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