Originally published February 20, 2009 – Ah, the life of an historian. It’s not the most glamorous or exciting work. In fact it’s generally quite tedious. Much time is spent poring through hard-to-read documents, running into dead ends, and otherwise playing the role of an armchair detective.
But every so often a discovery of such magnitude raises the spirits and makes the job more than worthwhile.
Such is the case of today’s subject that begins with old friends Bill and Wendy Bigham, proprietors of A Glimpse of Americana, an online store that features wonderful historic photographs and documents.
Thinking that they might provide some material for this column Wendy dropped off a handful of turn-of-the-century Arizona magazines containing articles about the Salt River Valley and Tempe.
Never one to turn down what might yield a treasure-trove of new information I readily dived into the old periodicals.
One called Arizona – The New State Magazine caught my attention.
Volume 2, Number 2 dated November, 1911 contains a variety of stories about impending statehood, travelogues and Arizona’s mining and agriculture. For a lover of Arizona history, and Tempe in particular, I love the many delightful old ads and fascinating tidbits of information.
I learn “Arizona has a population…of about 220,000, of which fully three-fourths are American born. The Indians number about 25,000.”
That mining output is from $40 to $50 million annually. And that “Arizona has over 2000 miles of steam railroad…”
Regarding farming I discovered Arizona can produce per acre “…12,300 pounds of tomatoes, 5,000 pounds of strawberries (and) 27,000 pounds of melons…”
I never knew that a “Colony of Russians recently located in (the) Salt River Valley. Colonist movement to all parts of the valley is very strong. Mesa, Tempe and Glendale (are) all receiving additions to population in towns and country surrounding.”
An intriguing ad for H.G. Edwards Furniture company of Phoenix proclaims “$150 Automobile FREE. We save you MONEY AND GIVE YOU AN AUTOMOBILE. Patronize us and earn this machine.” What’s that all about?
Closer to home, page four reveals a distinguished gentleman posing in profile before a gigantic “Washington Naval Orange Tree on the Cook Ranch, 3½ miles southwest of Tempe…” No other information is provided.
The Tempe Board of Trade (predecessor to the Chamber of Commerce) along with sister organizations in Mesa and Phoenix, and the Commissioner of Immigration ran a half-page ad declaring the “Salt River Valley…offers great inducements to those who are seeking safe investments for their surplus capital (and) …who are tired of cold winds, snow and ice, and who prefer comfort and a mild, healthful climate…”
But all that stuff was a mere tantalizing prelude to my real find. There in the middle of a feature about Arizona’s mines and mineral resources was a lone photograph that sent me flying from my chair.
Oh gee, I have taken up so much space rhapsodizing about what I learned from one 24-page magazine that I never got to my real incredible discovery. Now it will just have to wait until next week.