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1/20/2014 8:21:00 AM
Home on the Range
Historical society celebrates Del Rio Springs settlement sesquicentennial
Photo courtesy of Mary ConverseMembers of the Converse family pose circa the 1930s at the Del Rio Ranch, with Casa Del Rio and silos in the background.
Photo courtesy of Mary Converse
Members of the Converse family pose circa the 1930s at the Del Rio Ranch, with Casa Del Rio and silos in the background.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily CourierDel Rio Ranch structures that date back to the Fred Harvey and Santa Fe Railroad days include barns and bunkhouses.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Del Rio Ranch structures that date back to the Fred Harvey and Santa Fe Railroad days include barns and bunkhouses.
Joanna Dodder Nellans
Special to the Review

CHINO VALLEY - It's been 150 years since the Arizona Territory's first governor arrived at Del Rio Springs to establish the territory's first capital.

While the capital was only temporary, Del Rio continued to play an important part in the development of northern Arizona in subsequent years as well.

The Chino Valley Historical Society is celebrating the sesquicentennial Wednesday with a re-enactment of the governor's arrival, 18-gun salute and chuckwagon lunch.

"The arrival of Gov. Goodwin's party on Jan. 22, 1864 and the establishment of the first Fort Whipple was a seminal event in the history of Arizona," CV Historical Society President Kay Lauster said. "It's fitting that our community celebrate its key role in the creation of the territory that became this state."

The public is welcome to attend the event although the deadline for RSVPs has passed. Call 636-1622 or send an email to cvhistoricalsociety@gmail.com to see if any lunches are still available.

The event runs from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Del Rio, located along the east side of Highway 89 about 3.6 miles north of Road 3 North. Follow the signs.


On Jan. 22, 1864, Gov. John Goodwin and his cabinet arrived at Del Rio Springs, now in Chino Valley, to establish at least a temporary territorial capital at the new Fort Whipple.

In his proclamation announcing he would organize the first "temporary" territorial government, Goodwin wrote that "the seat of government will for the present be at or near Fort Whipple."

President Abraham Lincoln appointed Arizona's territorial cabinet members from a variety of eastern states after he created the Arizona Territory on Feb. 24, 1863.

Sent to find an appropriate site for a fort near the gold fields that the Walker Party had discovered just south of present-day Prescott, Captain Nathaniel Pishon chose a spot along what he called Cienega Creek about 25 miles north of the Walker Mining District.

"The neighborhood abounds in deer, antelope, turkey and other varieties of game," Pishon reported, alongside good water and wood.

The military first arrived at the site on Dec. 10, 1863, and the fort was officially established on Dec. 23.

Secretary Richard McCormick was among those who arrived with the governor on Jan. 22, 1864. McCormick brought along a printing press and printed the first newspaper in northern Arizona, the Arizona Miner, on March 9.

"The location is in the Val De Chino, on the banks of Cienega Creek, a never failing stream of clear, sweet water," McCormick wrote in the first issue of the Miner. "The wide valley abounds in the best gramma grass, and affords extensive pasturage."

By March 18 the military had built a hospital, commissary, quartermaster buildings and a corral. Today, there is no trace of any territorial buildings at Del Rio, although it's unclear whether the military built an adobe structure that burned in the late 1960s.

Within a few months after the arrival of the governor's party, the Miner reported a shortage of timber in the area for building. Gov. Goodwin concluded the fort needed to be moved closer to pine forests as well as the miners it was supposed to protect.

The Arizona Miner announced on May 11 that the fort would be moved to a spot along Granite Creek about 20 miles south.

The fort was officially established at its new location on May 18.

But the Del Rio Springs area remained one of the best places in the region to farm, and new settlers quickly moved in. Robert Postle, J.M. Brown, Andres Montaugus (Montaques) and Jose Delgrallo (Delgado) recorded the first claim there on Jan. 7, 1865, according to a short history of Del Rio produced by the CV Historical Society.

Postle lived in the adobe building, called Casa del Rio, the CVHS wrote.

David Wesley Shivers, his wife Sarah and their four daughters bought Delgado's land on April 2, 1867. The couple and some of their descendants spent the rest of their lives there. The few remaining gravestones of the Shivers family from the 1890s are the oldest Anglo remains at Del Rio, although remnants dating back to the prehistoric Prescott Culture also remain.

The City of Prescott bought part of the ranch shortly after the devastating fire of 1900 that torched most of the downtown, so it could establish a reliable water source and fire hydrants. While the city still owns a small tract at the ranch with several dilapidated historic structures (the city already tore one down), it stopped using the Del Rio Springs water in 1910 because of the cost of delivering the water uphill. Today, however, Prescott still gets most of its water from wells in Chino Valley to the south.

Another group of buildings were constructed by the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad with the help of the Fred Harvey Company between 1909 and 1926. A dairy barn, bunkhouse and mule barn are among those still standing.

The railroad sent Del Rio Springs water to drier settlements throughout northern Arizona.

"The water from Del Rio Springs made northern Arizona economic development possible," said Peggy Nelson, a member of the Winslow Harvey Girls that re-enact the Harvey House waitresses known as the Harvey Girls. She and fellow Winslow Harvey Girl Chris Pane talked about Del Rio history during a recent tour organized by the Highlands Center for Natural History.

Harvey used the spring water to make great coffee at his Harvey Houses, Pane said.

"Fred Harvey wanted everything to be consistent," Pane explained.

The ranch also grew hay for the mules that gave rides to Grand Canyon tourists. The mules wintered at Del Rio.

The George and Grace Converse family managed the ranch for the railroad and Harvey from 1927 to 1956. One of their daughters, Mary Converse Hardin of Cottonwood, was born in 1927 and has fond memories of growing up in Casa Del Rio.

She recalled numerous floods, including one off Granite Mountain that swept away the ranch's topsoil and revealed big musket balls, keys and shells from the fort days.

Throughout the Depression and Dust Bowl eras, the verdant ranch between the highway and railroad was a magnet for the poor seeking a better home.

"We had a lot of hobos that would stop by to be fed," Mary recalled in a video for the CV Historical Society. And Okies would camp under the trees near the bunkhouse. Grace always had sandwiches and milk for them.


The Del Rio Ranch has gone through a series of owners since the Santa Fe Railroad sold it and in recent decades, some had plans to develop golf courses and thousands of homes while tearing down historic structures.

The current owners happen to be two Microsoft pioneers - Bob O'Rear and Jim Brown - but have no immediate development plans, said their local representative and Realtor, Paul Aslanian. They are leasing the place to another rancher.

They are looking forward to talking more with the CV Historical Society about historical preservation, Aslanian added.

"There is just so much history at this place," Lauster said during a recent tour of the ranch. "And history is happening now."

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder

Related Stories:
• 150th anniversary of Del Rio arrival
• Del Rio Springs expected to dry up by 2025

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