History has taught us that town centers have a tendency to change, both from a geographical standpoint and from a political power point of view. Here’s a look at how the center of Payson and the surrounding area have evolved since early times.
When the region was first being settled by white settlers, west of today’s Payson was the hub of activity. If you take Main Street west, past the sewage plant, you’ll ultimately top out on a hill. It feels like a different world, and indeed it was. Welcome to the first origins of the area.
About 3 miles further west as the crow flies, is where House & Rouse made the first recorded discovery in the shadow of the Mazatzal Mountains. A little further west is where Marysville sat. Marysville was a mining town established in the early 1880s before Payson was founded.
Further westward was the settlement of Mazatzal City, a Mormon settlement near the East Verde River, approximately where Doll Baby Ranch now sits. The East Verde River was a hub of early activity, as mines such as the Gowan were discovered not far from it.
In 1882, Payson was founded, and its founding represented a shift eastward in the center of the region. The Sidles Hotel was located where McLane heads south off of Main Street, in the same place as the Harrison garage building.
By the late 1880s, Payson Brewery Company sat where Bootleg Alley Antiques now exists. Amazingly, this was still kind of the east end of things.
By the late 1880s, today’s Pioneer Cemetery off of Vista Road was being utilized, and the area school was located about where Julia Randall Elementary School is located. There was a slight shift back to the west by the early part of the 20th century, as the forest service located their ranger station where today’s Rim Country Museum is now located. By the late 1920s though, where Main Street is sandwiched by McLane Road is about where the heart of Payson was located, as the first Payson plat map shows.
Enter the 1950s, and the Beeline Highway gets paved by 1958 and slices east of McLane Road. This opens up development that way, and before you know it, there’s a strong tug at today’s Main Street and Highway 87. The late 1950s brought the arrival of developments such as Payson Ranchos and Mesa del Caballo. A 1959 Arizona Republic ad touted Payson Ranchos as being located 2-1/2 miles north of Payson. Today, it’s not even the most northerly located subdivision in the Town of Payson.
As the town grew, it naturally grew northward. By the 1980s, one could argue that the center of town was at the junction of Highway 87 and Highway 260, as Payson’s town hall was located just north of there.
The 1990s brought another dimension: the development of Chaparral Pines and The Rim Golf Club. What had once been sparsely populated land was developed into luxurious subdivisions centered around luxury golf courses with views of Diamond Point and the Rim to boot. Not long after those subdivisions started being developed, the Ponderosa Village shopping center, anchored by Safeway, was built.
The incorporation of Star Valley in 2005 created another entity to the east and set the stage for possible future growth in that direction, growth which has continued with the placement of a third Town of Payson fire station at Highway 260 and Tyler Parkway and the possible placement of an Arizona State University campus in the eastern part of Payson.
Does this mean that this new center is permanent? Absolutely not. There is still plenty of forest service land within Payson town limits that could be exchanged, and a variety of events could alter the landscape. Nevertheless, the history is clear. Payson was once centered much further west than it is now.