Set on 90 acres this museum is a collection of approximately 30 stops along their “town” with a mix of authentic buildings and historically accurate replicas. It is called Arizona’s “most authentic Old West town” on their website and it was quite a nice assortment of homes and businesses to give visitors a feel for life in the Pioneer times between 1863-1912.
With admission we were provided with a map of the village to use on our self-guided walk of the site. In all we spent about an hour wandering around the buildings, some of which you can go inside, while others are set up only to look inside. It was very quiet on the day we visited with only a few staff members present to explain some artifacts in a couple of buildings, which they did a really good job of. Other than those few folks we really didn’t see many other visitors either so we pretty much had the place to ourselves to roam as we liked. Perhaps during events, like the Pioneer Harvest Fest, that I see is coming up, it is a more lively place which I think would really bring the village to life. As it is a “living” history museum we were a bit disappointed that there weren’t more folks around the different buildings going about their daily 1800s life, and to tell us about the times, their occupations, or the buildings in which they were working or living.
So with our map in hand we set off around the village popping into the various buildings, of which a few of my favourites I’ll share today.
Built in the early 1890s on an 80 acre homestead in Phoenix, the Victorian House is one of the original buildings at the museum. Owned by a man named John Marion Sears, the home was originally surrounded by orchards of apples, pears, peaches,and other fruits and nuts, as well as a pump house, windmill and a dairy. This home was one of the earliest total frame houses in Phoenix that was made possible by the railroad connection to Phoenix in 1887. Prior to that lumber was too expensive to ship in wagons so most buildings were built of adobe bricks.
In 1969, many years after the Mr. Sears had passed away, the home was scheduled for demolition. It was then donated to Pioneer Arizona who came up with the funds to have it moved to the museum site. Today it stands as a typical 1890s middle class Phoenix home with a parlor, music room, kitchen, and two bedrooms.
The Teacherage and the Schoolhouse
Being a teacher at one time I’m always fascinated to see what teachers had in days gone by to educate the town’s children. One room schoolhouses were very common and I’ve seen many of those over the years but a ‘teacherage‘ was something new to me. I’ve since learned that this was also a new concept to the people of Arizona as the little community of Pleasant Valley,AZ was a bit ahead of the times with their teacherage.
On the same concept as a parsonage, that attracted and housed ministers in rural communities, the teacherage was a small cabin used to house their teacher. In 1890 it was very forward thinking but by 1910 teacherages were very common in communities as they provided a better life for the teacher, and thus incentive to take the position, and relieved the local families of boarding the teachers. This teacherage cabin is another of the original buildings on the museum grounds.
Originally the home of a man named William Gordon and his family, the schoolhouse was converted from that home by the community of Gordon Canyon and is another original building on site. The exact date of construction is unknown but they do know it was used as a school from about 1885 to 1930 and the interior depicts a typical 1890s schoolhouse.
During that time the schoolhouse was used to educate all eight grades from March through November, with no classes held in the winter months. With no air conditioning I’d think it would have been much more pleasant to be in school during the winter than in August! But I guess they had their reasons for the school calendar they observed.
The schoolhouse is the first completely restored historical building at Pioneer Arizona and a dedication ceremony was held for it in October 1966 where the motto of the Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum was written on the blackboard: “Faith, Foresight, and Fortitude Equal Pioneer Spirit“.
The Community Church is one of the reconstructed buildings on the site and is a copy of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church which stood in Globe, AZ from 1880 through 1927. Over 1500 hours of research was put into the reconstruction using church records, original photographs, newspaper clippings and personal interviews. 1500 hours! Now that is some dedication to getting it right.Today this church is used for Sunday services and can be reserved for weddings.
The original St. Paul’s church was sold and then torn down by the Mountain States Telephone Company, but its bell, that was called “God’s Alarm Clock”, was incorporated into the rebuilt St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Globe. The bell in the Community Church is a replica of that bell.
Another original building from about 1885, the Northern Cabin was moved from Newman Canyon which is about 25 miles from Flagstaff. It was owned by the Newman family of eight kids, which is a lot to have in such a sized home, although this was considered to be a fairly large cabin for that time period.
Only half of the hay loft, which was used as sleeping quarters, was restored to give visitors a better view of the living areas. Although it may not look it, the area was surprisingly nice and dry in the rain as the cedar shingles would swell to seal the cracks when wet. Outside in the yard visitors can check out the cast iron pot that would have been used for washing clothes, making soap, and heating water for all sorts of uses.
Sheriff’s Office and Bank
The Sheriff’s Office is a reconstruction of an 1881 adobe building from Globe,AZ. The original building housed the sheriff’s office and jail, that can be seen in the village today, and also a courthouse for a circuit judge who would have visited about once a month.
Keeping the sheriff and the mischief makers warm in winter and cool in summer was the job of the thick clay, sand, and straw walls that regulated the temperature. This was likely one of the nicer buildings to be in the town…well at least climate wise!
The bank is another reconstruction that represents the 1884 Valley Bank in Phoenix. This was the first bank that was used for the sole purpose of banking, not a bank that was kept in the back of a store or hotel as previously had been the norm. Contents in the bank are original pieces from the Valley Bank, with the vault coming from the Gila Valley Bank and Trust Company. Using drawings of the original bank the reconstruction was carried out and then furnished in the style of the time period.
Strolling Through the Town
With over 20 other buildings and structures around the village the ones I’ve shared today are a just a sampling of what can be visited in the village. Other buildings include the Opera House, Carpenter and Wheelwright Shops, Bakery, Dress Shop, Print Shop, and other farms and homes with corrals, barns and farm equipment around.
I enjoyed strolling through the town taking in all the different kind of vegetation, but didn’t so much enjoy the reminders of snakes! The remaining photos give you a little taste of the vegetation found throughout the village, and throughout all of Phoenix that we visited.
All in all, I’m glad we stopped and took an hour to wander around as it did give us a nice feel for the time period and life during the 1880s. I would recommend checking our their website to see if an event is scheduled that you could incorporate into visit though as I think it would be so much more interesting and informative with folks dressed in period costumes doing chores and activities from the times. As there weren’t many informational signs around to explain the purpose or history of the buildings I also think it would be nice to have those folks to tell the building’s stories all throughout the village.
Open year round but double check the Pioneer Living History Museum’s website for hours of operation (vary by season) and admission fees. It is closed Monday and Tuesday, Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, and Easter (unless an event is scheduled)
Phone: 623-465-1052 || Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for admission prices and the schedule of events.
To follow along on our adventures on our Phoenix, AZ Getaway, please feel free to check out these posts: