Taking advantage of Arizona’s cool Spring weather, before the harsh triple-digit summer temperatures, we drove to New River, Arizona. It was about nine Saturday morning, March 24th. When I travel, timing is critical.
I avoided traveling during Arizona’s miserable hot summers of July and August. I’ve decided the total round-trip distance is limited to four hundred miles.
With two dogs, overnight lodging in motels was too expensive. Most tourist office hours start around nine and close at five. The calculated result was to leave early to arrive at nine o’clock, complete the tour, and return home the same day.
My general travel goal for 2018 was to visit various communities in Arizona. Arizona became a state on February 14, 1912. I’m interested in why people originally settled there and why, after a hundred years, people still live there.
Arizona has some interesting town names. Some, like New River, have reasonable explanations. New River became a seasonal water flood from the Agua Fria River system. In 1868 the site was selected for a stagecoach station
Never a large community, New River’s remained small. It’s located directly off I-17 about an hour north of Phoenix. A few weeks earlier, with my dogs, Bernie and Chris, we visited another small community. It, too, originally had been a stagecoach station. After my experience with Bumblebee, another stagecoach stop and now a ghost town without a stagecoach structure or ghosts, I was quite surprised to see the wealth of commerce in New River.
New River Sign
On second glance, it was the total extent of the businesses. I pulled to the side of the road and leashed Bernie and Chris to take this photo.
Within a few minutes, I took the photo and turned to return when I heard a man call me. It was a state trooper.
He had parked his vehicle behind me. Once he saw what I was doing, he gave a friendly wave, got back in his car and drove off.
My courteous welcome to New River.
Main Street, New River ran parallel about a half-mile west of I-17. The west side of the street, tucked side by side, nested most of the town’s businesses. Across the street was the tourist information building. Adjacent to it was the old schoolhouse, also a tourist attraction. As I approached the tourist office door, a cheerful “Welcome” greeted me. Jane enjoyed being a volunteer at the New River tourist office. She was born close by and lived there all her life.
Finding she’d live here so long, I asked why. “Because it suits me,” and shared why. I listened to Jane relate her wedding night more than twenty years ago. “We dressed up in authentic western clothes and Jim, and his best man went outside and had a mock gunfight. They did have to take the cylinders out of the guns before the sheriff would let them blast away at each other.”
Although it quickly became apparent she would tell me much more than I wanted to know, Bernie and Chris were in the car and I wanted to explore New River. I asked about the schoolhouse next door. Jane said that Tom was inside and knew all about New River’s history. That was my opening to thank her for sharing her wonderful memory and quickly left.
Tom was a dapper slender man complete with white Stetson. He proudly gave me a tour of the one-room-school. This schoolhouse was not the original. This one was built in the 30’s and moved from the original site to its current location. Several very old school books, the original black slate ‘blackboard’ and other materials were displayed in today’s schoolhouse.
Prominent in one corner was a large portrait of Jack Swilling, who lived in Two Rivers for several years.
Jack Swilling had quite a history. Here’s where the title “What’s in a name” became stuff you listen to but take with a grain of salt.
According to Tom, proudly dressed in a white vest and white Stetson, the city of Phoenix was named by Jack Swilling.
Tom pointed to a large portrait of Jack, describing him as a resident of New River for several years. He went on to wax eloquently on Jack’s many accomplishments, such as Jack started the Swilling Irrigation Canal Company. The huge project cleaned out some prehistoric canals dug by the now-vanished Hohokam people.
That part was true. In 1867 Jack viewed the expanding Salt River Valley from the north slopes of the White Tank Mountains. He envisioned farmland, predominately free of rocks. It just needed water. The Swilling Irrigation Canal Company was born. It resulted in a lush agricultural and populated valley. However, Jack was originally a resident of Wickenburg, not New River. He moved to New River much later.
There was another bit of untruth regarding Jack was responsible for naming the small settlement Phoenix. Four people met to decide what to name a new settlement that was rapidly growing. Jack wanted to call it ‘Stonewall’ after his hero the late Stonewall Jackson. Another person wanted to name it Salina after the Salt River. ‘Pumpkinville’ was another suggestion for the wild pumpkins growing in the area.
The fourth person, Darrell Duppa, suggested the name Phoenix. He said the new town would spring from the ruins of a former civilization.
Tom credited Jack with being one of the founders of Phoenix. However, Tom somehow didn’t mention the other people in the story. I suspected he honestly forgot, after the any renditions to visitors.
Even as Tom spun Jack’s side of history, I was somewhat distracted by the vibrant, passionate version of Jane’s wedding drama.
Ever mindful of both dogs in the car, I thanked Tom for his entertaining information and hurried back to the car.
The entire New River business district is one long street. By traveling north, I’d found all of it. Less than a mile later it became a dirt road. An old stagecoach stop was supposed to be in New River. I turned around and headed south to find it.
Slightly less than a mile from the tourist office and schoolhouse, the New River Stagecoach Stop appeared. It wasn’t the original building. Closed for renovation and no one around, I let Bernie and Chris enjoy themselves for a few minutes.
Described as the actual Desert Station Stop established in 1890, it connected Phoenix to Prescott. This structure wasn’t anything like what my research uncovered. Then again, my powerful V-8 engine traveling on smooth I-17 for only an hour to arrive wasn’t anything like a stagecoach journey.
Phoenix – Prescott Stagecoach Route
Although my comfortable, robust vehicle easily conquered the steep hills, it would take more than a few days for a stagecoach. The Phoenix to Prescott route included 11 stops. Depending on the weather and terrain the average speed was about four and a half miles an hour.
Stage stops were located at intervals of 10-40 miles. The term ‘stage’ defined the distance between stages or stations on a route. Routes covered a variety of terrain on often narrow and rugged trails, though deep sands, endless mud, and along steep inclines. There were two types of stations ─ swing and home.
Home stations included stables where the horses could be changed and often, a blacksmith and repair shop, in addition to a telegraph station. Here, relief drivers took over. New River was a designated home station.
Stagecoach type used
Of the eleven stations on the Phoenix to Prescott route, most were ‘swing’ stations. Swing stations consisted of a tiny cabin and barn or corral and managed by a few bachelor stock tenders. At these places, the coach would stop for about ten minutes to change a team of four to six horses and allow passengers to stretch before the coach was on the way again.
There were many gold mines on the Phoenix to Prescott route. “Indian raids on the stage routes were rare, but the highwaymen, known as “Knights of the “Road,” caused havoc. Stage holdups occurred at the rate of nearly one per month for at least a decade starting in 1879.”
The entire New River area hasn’t changed much since the 1800’s. When the paved Main street turned to dirt, I turned around. The only other paved road was West New River Road that wanders east into the hills.
On West New River Road, in 1930, Carl Jesse Myers (Chief Myers) created Wranglers Roost Stagecoach Stop as a dude ranch. Despite tough times in the 30’s, it was a success.
The resort features a pool, hot tub, restaurant and some hotel accommodations. Many weddings and receptions were held here. With five bedrooms and limited to fourteen people, the large property has many amenities. Cost $450/night.
New River, Arizona ─ a small, but memorable stagecoach station in Arizona’s past.