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The Story of Payson, Arizona - First Stores and Saloons

December 17, 2008

The Pieper Saloon building as it appears today at its original location.

In the spring of 1886, a settler named Frank Alkire came through Payson on his way to lay claim to Indian Gardens along Tonto Creek. Years later he recalled how the town appeared. “Payson was the only town in the basin and was the general supply point for miles in every direction. There was a general store, fairly well stocked; connected with it was the eating house for travelers ... The post office was next door and had living quarters for the postmistress, who afterwards married John T. Dennis, an old pioneer of Phoenix.[1] A large livery barn with broad corral, and a small brewery were owned by August Pieper; a well-equipped blacksmith shop belonged to John Callaghan. These with a lumber loading house and five or six homes made up the town ... The most striking thing in the place was a large stockade just back of the store on a small hill. It was built of pipe logs ten feet high set up in the ground ...”[2]

Historic photo courtesy of Rim Country Museum

This is the Pieper Saloon as it appeared in the 1890s, and the corner of Main and The Alley.

The stockade was the village refuge in case of Indian attack, and stood behind Henry Sidles’ saloon. Henry Sidles had built Payson’s first saloon and dance hall in 1882 on the northeast corner of Main and “the alley.” This was where the road from the south entered Main Street, and the location was certain to become “the center” of the new town. The saloon was the place where people could meet when they came to town from the far-flung ranches to lay in supplies. For cowboy and rancher, this was the place to get the news and while away some hours, breaking the barriers of distance and silence that made up so much of life in the wilderness. Pieper’s saloon added rooms to accommodate dances and community gatherings.

About the same time, Sidles established Payson’s first saloon, the family of John Hise built Payson’s first mercantile store, kitty-corner from the saloon on the southwest corner of the intersection. When Hise’s efforts brought a post office and the naming of the town in 1884, he moved the store across Main Street and built on the northwest corner. This is where the first post office was housed. At that time, Hise sold his first property to attorney John W. Wentworth, and in 1886 Wentworth expanded Hise’s old store with two stories. There was a saloon downstairs and a dance hall upstairs. He named his enterprise Tammany Hall, after the New York City political headquarters building, where the Democratic Party made significant decisions in controlling local politics. Wentworth would use this as a base for his own political ambitions, as we shall see in later chapters.[3]

The Sidles’ establishment was reported in the Globe newspaper to have been “fitted up for the entertainment of wayfarers.” According to the reporter, the merriment included fancy dances and midnight suppers of wine, chicken pies, scalloped oysters and hand-cranked ice cream. The crowd danced until morning, and commenced a tradition of all night dances and midnight suppers.

In 1889 the August Piepers bought out Henry Sidles, who moved to Starr Valley and then on to Los Angeles. The Piepers took over the saloon and dance hall, adding the livery stable and a mercantile business. The Pieper Saloon building has gone through many changes in its 100-plus years of existence, but still stands on the corner of Main and Bootleg Alley.

During prohibition, A. J. Franklin operated a pool hall in the building and renamed it The Dive. It was during those years that Bootleg Alley got its name, because of bootleg liquor sold in the back room of The Dive. Franklin sold the saloon to Frenchy Choquette, who is said to have operated a still in the basement of a house on The Alley. His illegal goods were disbursed from The Dive as well as from his bakeshop up the street.[4]

Another famous Payson saloon was built in 1899 by the local blacksmith, James C. Callaghan. It was located approximately where the restaurant of today’s Ox Bow Inn stands. The name of the saloon, 16-to-1, referred to the battle cry of the West during those years. The Gold Act of 1900 mandated a single gold standard and the demonetization of silver. This would have put Rim Country miners out of business, and they joined the rallying cry for the unlimited coinage of silver. They wanted the value of silver set at a ration of 16 ounces of silver to 1 ounce of gold.

Historic photo courtesy of Rim Country Museum

A historic view of Main Street in Payson, with a freighter’s train ready to pull out and Boardman’s Rock Store in the background.

The 16-to-1 Saloon was the scene of occasional violence when cowboys overindulged during their celebrations. In one of the Rim Country Museum’s oral histories, Theresa (Mrs. Bill) Boardman recounted how violence finally closed the drinking establishment. “Sam Stewart was deputy the day Bill Wilbanks tore up the town.” She tells about the bullet that remained in Wilbanks’ head from former days and how it caused him to “become a wild man.” The cry would go out, “Here comes Bill Wilbanks, he’s drunk, everybody run for cover. He took all the chairs and threw them down the well out in the street. He took all the billiard balls, he took everything in the building he could get his hands on, and broke it in pieces. He even broke every pane of glass out of those windows in front. There were two big windows, and he cut his thumb. The men were scared of him, but wrestled him down and Doc Risser gave him a sedative. He slept the night upstairs in the 16-to-1, and rode home the next day. He was living at Round Valley; he wasn’t a married man. And he was gone in five days.”

Apparently the thumb wound became infected, and Wilbanks got blood poisoning. He returned to Doc Risser to help him. Mrs. Boardman continued her tale, “Well, he put the 16-to-1 out of business. Could never run anymore, never opened up the saloon again.”

Down at the opposite end of Main Street from Pieper’s Saloon, where the road to Pine took off to the north, J. W. Boardman was building Payson’s most legendary mercantile store.

J. W. and his wife Mary had come from San Diego and opened a store at Rye, but by 1898, they decided Payson was the place to be for business. They purchased the lot on the northwest corner, and built their house just to the west. At the same time, they began building Payson’s first store of rock. The red sandstone blocks were quarried by Joe and Tom Ezell (father and son) who hauled them from south of town for 50 cents a load. The Ezells left for Texas during the construction, and a Mr. Clause completed the building in 1904. He was traveling on foot through Payson on his way to the mines in Jerome, and paused long enough for this task. Austin Lockwood did the carpenter work on the inside. This building would be the location of many Payson “firsts.” It held the area’s first bank, its first commercial telephone, and the official town timepiece. It contained the post office from 1899 to 1915, and became the center where local folk gathered to share the news.

A succession of “town fathers” owned the store. In 1908 Boardman sold the property to William H. Hilligass, who promptly expanded the old Boardman house next door to become a boarding house (later called The Lone Pine Hotel), while they built their own house to the west of it.[5] In turn, Hilligass sold to partners Castle and Hubert, who expanded the store using rock from the same quarry, and instituted the “Payson Commercial and Trust Company Bankers and Merchants.” This enterprise functioned until the Great Depression, when the banking business collapsed in 1932.

Stan Brown photo

Mart McDonald and Roy Lockwood purchased the mercantile business. After a few years they sold it to James R. Chilson, who was the owner when the building burned in 1938. But that is a story for another time.

[1] Ada Bowers was postmistress from Nov. 11, 1885 to June 9, 1887.

[2] From the papers of Frank Alkire, Archive at Rim Country Museum. His reference to August Pieper was premature for the year 1886, since August and his teenage bride Wilhelmina did not come to Payson from Globe until 1888 or 1889. We can excuse his memory lapse since he wrote many years later.

[3] By 1920 Tammany Hall had burned down and the property was vacant. In 1934 Grady Harrison took over the property and built his garage there, moving from his first location on the north side of Main Street. The old Grady Harrison garage still stands.

[4] The bakeshop would later be purchased by the Payson Womans Club for their first home, and the building still stands today, moved across the street behind the old Connolly store.

[5] These historic buildings still stand adjacent to Payson’s History Park on the site of the old Rock Store.

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