Days Past: History along Route 89 from Chino Valley to Ash Fork: Part II
After Fort Whipple was moved from Del Rio Springs near Chino Valley to Prescott in May of 1864, the land vacated at Del Rio Springs was settled by Robert Postle by way of "squatter's rights." He, with three partners, farmed the land and provided supplies for the people in Prescott.
In 1866, the David Shivers family bought a piece of land from Postle and a year later their daughter, Hannah, 15, married 30-year-old Robert Postle. They lived in the large adobe house that was once headquarters for the original Fort Whipple. Four years later, Robert died, leaving Hannah with two little ones, Robert David, age 3, and Alice, an infant.
Helped by her father's family, Hannah remained on the Del Rio homestead, which was now in her name. In 1875, an ex-soldier named Samuel Rees married Hannah and they had three boys. Hannah's son, Robert David Postle, contracted typhoid fever in 1883 and, while caring for him, she became ill with the fever and died in 1885. Samuel Rees did not fare well without Hannah, and the ranch was foreclosed in 1886.
The ranch was acquired by John G. Campbell and James Baker. They soon operated the largest ranch in central Arizona and laid claim to all the water from Del Rio Springs. In 1900, after the fire in Prescott, the town acquired from the Baker family a 130-acre parcel including the main springs and, in September 1901, began pumping water to Prescott through a 19-mile pipeline. By that time, the Santa Fe Railroad spur had a depot in Del Rio Springs and the city sold water to the railroad at 72 cents a gallon (via 6,600 gallon tank cars). The railroad then provided water for Ash Fork and the Grand Canyon. This water enabled the Grand Canyon to develop the resort hotel of El Tovar. The railroad also developed a dairy farm at Del Rio Springs to provide dairy products and meat for the Harvey House restaurants. This operation continued into the 1950s. In February 1956, the Del Rio Ranch was sold to developers, the Val de Chino.
Just north of Del Rio Springs Road (near the roadside historical marker on Route 89), look for the old Route 89 turnoff to the right. Along this road you will come to a concrete bridge and beside it, a railroad bridge crossing a canyon. There is a dam on the west side of the bridge and a large lakebed (usually dry) called Sullivan Lake. The name Sullivan comes from an early miner, Matthew Sullivan, who had a mining claim in the region. This is part of what is known as the Upper Verde region. The Big Chino Wash is dammed here to form Sullivan Lake and downstream from this lakebed and flowing under the bridges is considered the headwaters of the Verde River. In a heavy rain, Sullivan Lake and the dam may be overflowing.
Continue north on old Highway 89 to where it rejoins the new highway, turning north toward Paulden. The Pownall family settled in this area in May 1924 and operated the Midway Grocery, café, service station, garage and several tourist cabins. Its location halfway between Prescott and Ash Fork made it a popular stop. The post office here was first named "Midway Grocery" but, in February 1926, the name was changed to Paulden at the request of Postmaster Orville T. Pownall whose son Paul had died from an accidental gunshot wound. The Pownalls had a daughter, Ruth Pownall Gilpin, who received the 2008 Sharlot Hall Award for her contributions to an awareness of Arizona history. She has written a book, "Paulden Pioneer Family and Ranching History."
Continuing north on Route 89, you will come to Hell Canyon, so named because of the difficult wagon road in and out taken by the stage from Ash Fork to Prescott. Judge Joseph P. Allyn, traveling with the Governor's Party to Prescott in 1864, writes of this canyon, "About ten o'clock we got under way and an hour brought us to the most infernal canyon for wagons I have yet seen. It was about 300 feet deep and the sides nearly perpendicular, and covered with rolling stones."
Soon after Hell Canyon, the Santa Fe Railroad branch line crosses the highway and nearby there is a turnoff for Drake. Drake was originally named Cedar Glade, a little community that sprang to life with the mining of lime and quarrying of local sandstone. The railroad bridge here over Hell Canyon was completed in 1901. It connected Cedar Glade (north side of canyon) with Puntenney (south side of canyon). Herman Schwanbeck built a hotel, general store and restaurant beside the tracks as well as a house for his extended family. In 1920, the name Cedar Glade was changed to Drake, after William A. Drake, who was in charge of railroad construction in the area in 1899. Today the historic ruins around Drake have been obscured by the construction of a large cement plant. The old Drake railroad depot is now a restaurant on Iron Springs Road in Prescott.
The Ash Fork-Prescott highway was one of the first constructed by Yavapai County in 1924. Ash Fork was a station and division point on the A. T. & S. F. Railroad. It was named for the ash trees located on the town site. Stage coaches connecting the Santa Fe with Phoenix started from here for many years, until the spur railroad could be taken to Prescott and on to Phoenix. In the 1950s, Route 66 gave a boost to the town's economy, but the construction of the interstate by-passed the town. In 1960, the Santa Fe Railroad moved its main line north of town and a 1977 fire destroyed many businesses. The economy and population never recovered from this triple blow.