Pine, Strawberry and Fossil Creek
September 5: This was our second Arizona History adventure. We started out by researching Strawberry and Pine and how they were settled and also learned all about the Fossil Creek power plant. Pine and Strawberry are located north of Payson and have a few historical points of interest. Pine has several original homestead buildings still standing which can easily be seen by taking their walking tour of the downtown strip. At the end of the walking tour is the Pine-Strawberry museum which houses many items and memorabilia from the original settlers and other items of historical significance. The original settlers of the Pine area were part of a Mormon settlement group around 1877 that was sent by the church to find suitable areas for expansion and settlement into the Southwest. They first chose a remote area and called it Mazatzal City. It was later abandoned and the townspeople moved to a nearby area that was less remote where they were less vulnerable to the Tonto Apache that were not yet on reservations. They chose the Pine valley area because it had ample water, a mild climate, and it was not settled yet so they would avoid conflicts with other religions that they had previously experienced. Pine was the most populated town from 1883-1890 with almost 200 people. However, by 1890 was all but abandoned by the Mormon Church because of the isolation. The town lost a third of its population when the Mormon’s left. However, six families decided to stay and continued to struggle to keep the town alive.
Strawberry to the north was settled by farmers and ranchers starting in the late 1860’s. By 1884 they were able to build a schoolhouse. In order to make it fair to all families in the area, a measurement from the farthest homes from town was taken using a rope. They determined the exact middle between the two farthest homes on either side of town and that is where the school was built. It was a modern building for the time and location, probably because one of the residents was good friends with the school superintendent. No expense was spared on the one room building. It had wainscoting to four feet and even wallpaper. It had real slate blackboards and factory-made desks. It was used until 1916. All the furniture was removed and the building was used as a temporary residence for many years. In 1961, it was in disrepair and was for sale. A local cattleman bought the building and gave it to the town so it could be restored. The town restored it to the point where it would not be further damaged but it wasn’t until 1980 that funds were raised to restore it and re-open it to the public. It now is a point of interest that should not be missed if you visit Strawberry. Many of the original desks and wall hangings are on display.
Our final research was on the Fossil creek power plant. In 1900, rancher Lew Turner filed a claim for the water rights of Fossil Creek. It was so named because of a high level of calcium carbonate in the water that “petrifies” rocks, trees, etc. that are near the creek. Turner hoped to build a power plant that would provide power to the many mining operations of Central Arizona. By 1908, the Arizona Power Company began construction of the Childs plant. Supplies were taken 40 miles from Mayer to Fossil Creek using 400 mules to haul 150 wagons. 600 men were hired to build the first of two plants. Construction on the Irving plant was not completed until 1916. Water was diverted from the natural course of the creek through a series of pipes and flumes to power the Child’s and Irving plant. For 90 years, the plant provided power to the Tonto Basin and Camp Verde, Prescott, and mining operations of Central Arizona. In 2004, APS decommissioned the plant and the water was returned to its natural course. Our plan was to travel to the Irving plant to explore and see the flumes that used to carry the water away from the creek. Unfortunately, we came a month too late. In July, the Irving plant was finished being demolished and all the flumes and pipes are now gone. The Child’s plant is still standing but, according to a ranger we spoke with, is in very bad condition after years of neglect. It is also quite a bit farther on an even rougher road. So, we decided to stop and enjoy the creek rather than press on to the Child’s plant. We will save that for another day. Since it was a holiday weekend, the creek was crazy busy with people trying to get one last swim in for the season. We did manage to find a quiet spot though and spent a little time letting the kids swim and having a picnic lunch. Then, as is apt to happen in late summer, a storm started to blow in. We quickly packed up and headed back up the treacherous one lane dirt road. No one wants to get caught in a torrential rain storm when driving on a one lane dirt road that hugs the side of a mountain.