My 2018 adventure goals involved visits to various Arizona communities. What was so special about each Arizona community? Why were these communities first developed? Why did people continue living there?
The statistical information about Mayer, Arizona was available in written and digital form. However, I needed to feel the experience. It’s like baking a cake. The ingredients assembled, and instructions followed. But, as the proverb stated, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating!”
My research on Mayer, Arizona disappointed me. As a mining town, Mayer attained a short-lived boomtown presence in the late 1880’s. Today about two-thousand people live there. There had to be more to Mayer.
At five o’clock on Saturday morning, June 9th, with Bernie and Chris in the car we began our Mayer, Arizona adventure. From our home in Surprise, Arizona the cool 75-degree temperature would make the seventy-mile hour-long trip a pleasant drive. The most direct route to Mayer was Interstate 17 north to Route 69. Mayer, Arizona was about eight miles west on Route 69.
Bernie and Chris, always alert at the beginning of any trip, quickly settled down once the car reached highway speed. They recognized my routine on these car trips. Somewhere within an hour, I stopped, and they had a new playground to investigate.
After ten minutes, each enjoyed a cold hot dog and their fill of water. Sated, and back in the car, they settled for the rest of the journey.
Within a few more miles on Interstate 17, I smoothly merged on to two-line Route 69.
With very little early morning traffic, and the enjoyable drive so pleasant, I became distracted by an extremely tall, isolated and non-smoking smokestack.
I almost became another of the hundreds of thousands of motorists who zipped past the tiny Mayer community, without realizing it. The 129-foot-high smokestack sat as a silent sentry over Mayer. Except for its visual presence, its history remained a secret to the unwary passing motorist.
This fully constructed smokestack never operated as intended. World War I required massive foundries for war materials. Smelting mill construction began in 1917. The end of World War One decreased the demand for the metal and halted construction on the unfinished smelting foundry. Thus, the completed smokestack never got used. Until 1985, the local high school students celebrated homecoming events with bonfires inside the smokestack.
According to January 30, 2016, PrescottAZHisotry issue,
“Early in the stack’s history, a bride on her wedding day placed a bet with several miners that she could climb the stack. Little did the miners know that she was raised in the Swiss Alps and had absolutely no fear of heights. Not only did she climb the stack, but she walked around the top of the rim! The shock of the miners could have only been exceeded by the scenic view the new bride beheld.”
Once aware of the complete smokestack history, it became difficult to look at that high tower and not visualize the light-footed dancing bride.
The smokestack came into view about a mile before the town. As I slowed down, I experienced a positive impression. It’s just a sign, I thought. As I turned off the highway my body relaxed, some inner comfort whispered ─ home.
I’ve traveled the world for more than seventy years. There were lots of places I’ve enjoyed, but none in all that time I wanted to live permanently. The immediate sensation colored my perception of Mayer.
Unlike my current home in Surprise and cookie-cutter planned communities, Mayer comprised many different structure types. The narrow-paved roads followed the hilly terrain. Houses were tucked on hillsides, hidden within a patch of trees, or across a gulch. At every wheel turn a surprise awaited on what type of house might appear. Only later did I realize I’d taken some historical photos.
The domed home wasn’t one of them.
However, this home was once a Catholic church.
The only historical significance of this barn was it’s still standing.
This cottage dwelling was similar to the first Mayer house constructed in 1882.
The two-story brick school was constructed in 1915 and used as a school until 2002. It is now used for the Mayer Unified School District administrative offices and as a Sheriff’s substation.
As I drove around this quiet, quaint community, I wanted to know more. The facts were bare. It began as a mining town but blossomed because of one man – Joe Mayer.
He was a man of many interests and diverse enterprises. Of Joe, Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble wrote, “He was a husband and a father, an entrepreneur, hotelier, restauranteur, mine investor, merchant, farmer, rancher, land developer, philanthropist and unabashed promoter of Mayer, Arizona.”
It’s ironic that Joseph Hoffmirer (1846-1909) who ran away from home when 14 to join a circus, became so famous that when he died people from all over Arizona attended his funeral. Joe had changed his name to ‘Mayer’ so his father couldn’t find him.
“A man of many interests and many enterprises,” needed clarification. Among his many friends were Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok. When he arrived, there was no town, so he built it. An orchard and large vegetable garden were planted. Joe purchased horses and cattle. He had a restaurant and hotel built. Not only was the stagecoach station upgraded but Joe negotiated with the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway Company to run a 26-mile track to Mayer. Once the railroad arrived in Mayer in 1898, it became a major shipping point for cattle, sheep, wool, and mohair. In 1918, more than 300,000 sheep passed through Mayer twice that year.
An Illustrated History of Mayer, Arizona by Nancy Burgess chronicles a full history of Joe Mayer’s impact on the area.
Although almost everything he became involved with was a success, however, one venture was a disappointment.
With a partner, E. S. Rogers, Joe started a business that produced toothpicks from cactus needles. Called “Indian Souvenir Toothpicks,” at first, they were very popular. The two-and-a-half-inch long cactus needles were dull and unattractive in their natural state. Once the skin was removed, their coloring was beautiful.
The chemical process was complicated and took too much time. After a few years, the novelty wore off. Cheap wood toothpicks closed the business.
The National Register of Historic Places lists several Mayer properties. These include the Mayer General Market Store, Mayer Business Block, Two Mayer Apartments and the Mayer Red Brick Schoolhouse.
Joseph Mayer built a town from nothing into a bustling, but short-lived boomtown filled with mineral seeking prospectors and ranchers. Today, It’s a peaceful scenic quiet town with few single-family businesses, a very small fire department, police station, with both an Elementary and High School.
The Welcome sign sums it up.