The 1920s were a roaring time in America. Times were good and the automobile was growing in popularity.
The Payson area was still hard to access though, and throughout the country there was generally some catching up to do with regards to roads.
Enter Harvey Granville Bush, a Mesa lumberman with a cabin under the Rim near Tonto Fish Hatchery.
Bush would help get the highway built that would bear his name.
One of the driving forces for an improved road between Phoenix and Payson has always been Phoenix area businessmen, and it was no different in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A number of businessmen wanted a better road to this area and Harvey Granville Bush was the leader of this effort. Bush operated Foxworth-Bush Lumber Company, a company that he had organized around 1920 as a branch of Foxworth-Galbraith Lumber Company.
He was born in Gainesville, Texas on Nov. 3, 1888. Prior to coming to Mesa he had lived in El Paso, where he was in the lumber business with his brother-in-law.
Bush used his contacts, including Judge H.C. Gilbert, who was chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, to push for the highway and by the fall of 1932 plans for construction had been made.
The Bush Highway route was planned with cooperation from Payson residents, the Mesa District Chamber of Commerce, the Mesa Good Roads Boosters, and the United States Forest Service.
While it was initially thought that construction would be completed by the start of 1933, a delay in funding stalled the start of construction until the middle of March of 1933.
Harvey Bush turned the first shovel on March 21, 1933 in a ceremony at Stewart Mountain. It was at that time that Judge Gilbert spoke and named the highway for Bush.
A May 26, 1933 Arizona Republic article shed further light into the ongoing construction. It stated that, “up until the past two weeks, all labor was done by hand. At that time, however, an 80-horsepower tractor and grader-blade was put on the job and progress has been much faster.”
The equipment for construction during that era was vastly different than it is today.
This article also shows why folks in Maricopa County were so eager for its construction.
“One of its outstanding advantages from the standpoint of the Salt river valley, it was pointed out yesterday, is the fact that it is expected to bring to this section new trade that has never before reached here from the cattle and sheep-raising sections which it traverses, and from the Pine-Payson area. There also is a strong possibility that mining in that section of Maricopa county, in which there are many claims, particularly quicksilver and gold, will be greatly stimulated through construction of the Bush highway. This industry has been held back because of lack of transportation facilities.”
Construction was long and arduous and the highway was not opened to traffic until May 1934. More than $280,000 was spent on its construction with money coming from a variety of entities including the CCC, Maricopa County, Salt River Valley Water Users and various mining companies. It had shortened the route to Payson, yet it still remained very arduous. The next substantial improvement to the roadway would not occur until the Beeline Highway was constructed in the 1950s.
Harvey Bush saw the highway completed, but wouldn’t enjoy it for very long. He died on Jan. 27, 1935.
The Mesa Times Journal said of him, “he was a political power in municipal, county and state affairs. His judgment was respected by hundreds whom he had befriended and it was usually better to have Harvey Bush ‘for you than against you.’”
Another article at the time remarked on Bush and his cabin. “The Bush cabin in the Mogollons near Payson was his vacation playground. Hardly a week-end arrived during the hot summer months that he was not bound for his cabin with a party of Mesa friends.”
The Bush family and their friends would continue to use their place on Tonto Creek for a long time after.
Bush’s widow, Bee, went on to be a vice president at Valley National Bank during the 1950s and the cabin, while gone, can still be found on topographical maps. If you’d like more information about the Bush Highway I would suggest looking at: From the Desert to the Mountains; Archaeology of the Transition Zone; The State Route 87 — Sycamore Creek Project; Volume 4: Archaeology of the Historic Bush Highway and Reno Road. This is available in the reference section of the Payson library and has a great deal of technical information.