The Northern Gila County Historical Society, Inc. (NGCHS) and Payson Parks & Recreation would like to announce the grand “reopening” of Deming Pioneer Park, located at the corner of Main St. and McLane (the Boardman’s façade). The small park was originally dedicated in 2004 to honor Rim Country pioneers. There are 22 display windows in the park which were originally completed through a cooperative effort that included many Payson residents. Unfortunately, the original contents of the windows deteriorated due to exposure and weather and needed to be replaced. With Parks & Rec’s OK, NGCHS began a three-year effort to rethink and redo the displays. NGCHS owns and manages the Rim Country Museum and Zane Grey Cabin and several museum volunteers have dedicated their time and talents to redoing this unique exhibit. We would especially like to highlight the contributions of our resident artist, Sandy Whalen who took information and photos on a subject and turned it into an eye-catching snapshot of Rim Country history. Sandy produced all but two of the window displays; one was produced by Tonto Natural Bridge and one by the Forest Service.
The display windows provide a detailed chronology of Rim Country history beginning with the geology of the area, prehistoric peoples, the Tonto Apache, and continuing through early ranchers, miners, lumbermen, Zane Grey, the Demings (for whom the park was named), Tonto Natural Bridge, and other local history subjects of interest.
The original Boardman’s store was owned by J.W. Boardman and his wife Mary who purchased the lot in 1898. It was the first rock building in Payson. Joe and Tom Ezell, father and son, and a Mr. Clause, used local stone to construct the building which was finally completed in 1904 (it had been in use since 1899). Besides being a mercantile, the building served as the town’s first bank and post office. The store burned in 1938 and not much happened on the site until the early 1970s when Wayne and Betty Jean Tussing purchased the lot. In those days there were no grocery stores in town and large commercial trucks could not make the trip to Payson so the Tussings used the location as a distribution site for groceries. They placed three refrigerated boxcars on the site that were used until 1981 when they were no longer needed. The boxcars became an eyesore and the town purchased the property.
History of the Deming Pioneer Park
We’re not sure when the idea for a history park was first put forward but the plan was finalized and officially proposed in 2000, shortly after Payson was named a “Main St. Community.” Two rotary clubs pledged funds to build the park; a private individual matched the rotary donations.
Deming Pioneer Park was originally called the Rim Country Heritage Park and was planned to be larger than it is today. The original plans included the Boardman’s façade, gardens, a clock tower, benches and a 100-seat amphitheater. It was scaled back due to budget issues. Council member Dick Wolfe proposed changing the name to Deming Pioneer Park to honor two early Payson pioneers who had a major impact on the development of the area, James and Anna Mae Deming. James served in the U.S. Navy, married Anna Mae Ogilvie in 1933 at Tonto Natural Bridge, and worked at the site of the proposed history park at the post office and bank. For over 25 years he worked for the Owens Brothers Lumber Company and Kaibab Industries. He was commander of the local Civil Air Patrol from 1940-45, drove the sick to Globe as Payson had no permanent doctor or ambulance, and served 24 years as secretary for the Payson Rotary Club. Anna Mae worked at the Boardman’s store early on and later served as a telephone operator. She worked at the Valley National Bank for 23 years and was one of the founders of NGCHS, co-writing Rim Country History. She was Payson’s Woman of the Year in 1976 and Gila County Pioneer Woman of the Year in 1990. One of the hiking trails at Tonto Natural Bridge is named for her and she served as Rim Country’s official weather observer for over 55 years.
If you’d like an easy and “FREE” way to learn more about this area’s history, stop by Deming Pioneer Park and see how much there is to learn.
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