Eastern Arizona Museum

January 29, 2022

After spending November and December 2021 and most of January 2022 in New Mexico, the Goddard made its way to Safford, Arizona, in late January, where we stayed for two weeks. Our first destination, not including a couple of very good Mexican restaurants in Safford and nearby Solomon, was the Eastern Arizona Museum in Pima, Arizona, which is a few miles west of Safford. The museum is located in the former Bank of Pima, which opened on May 19, 1916, with $30,000 in capital, as well as a couple of other adjoining buildings that were built separately but have since been connected. Like the museum in Deming, I neglected to get a photo of the exterior of this museum as well, but it’s an impressive building.

It’s hard to ignore the structure on the right: it’s pine bark that’s enclosing the museum’s office. I’m uncertain when, but some decades ago a Pima town employee used prison labor and the city’s dump truck to collect several loads of pine tree bark from the nearby Graham Mountains. They cleaned up the bark and then fumigated it under plastic to kill the insects, and then used the bark to construct display cases for the museum. In 1997 most of the display cases were remodeled like the ones on the left, but the bark remains around the museum’s office.

The town of Pima was founded on April 8, 1879, by a group of Mormon pioneer families on a site south of the Gila River (the same watercourse Nancy and I saw when we visited the Gila Cliff Dwellings north of Silver City, New Mexico, earlier in the month). The original settlers were joined later that year by several other families, and today the town has about 2,500 residents.

The museum has an impressive collection of Native American pottery and stone tools found in the area. It also features a wide variety of donated collections of tools, housewares, and other items dating back to the 1880s.

Here’s a large collection of old farm and ranch tools. Nancy noted that the person who wielded the sheep shears (to the right of the curry comb and bullet mold at center left) probably had impressive forearms. The shears date to the early 1900s.

Much of the museum’s collection is in a building called Cluff Hall, which is the oldest building in Pima. It has been connected to the former bank building just to its south as part of the museum. Moses Cluff constructed the building from limestone in 1882. It served as Pima’s cultural center, hosting plays, concerts, political debates, dances, and meetings of the Latter Day Saints (although it was never formally dedicated as a house of worship). The first kindergarten class in the Gila Valley was held in Cluff Hall in 1901, with tuition of five cents a day. In 1912, two immigrant brothers from Lithuania opened a clothing store but their endeavor was ended by the country’s entry into World War I a few years later. The two brothers later opened a department store in Safford that was in business until the 1960s. As with many old buildings, Cluff Hall was home to a huge variety of businesses and activities.

This bell, forged in 1890, was installed in a brick Latter Day Saints church that had been built in Pima in 1888. It’s perhaps two feet tall. A placard nearby has a recollection from 1981 of the bell by a resident of Pima, Laura McBride Smith, who was present when the bell was first rung 90 years earlier: “When that church bell in that building gave its first taps, I heard it. I climbed upon a big double gate where teams and people went in and out across the street west of the Pima Church house, and that is where I first heard the lovely sweet tones and it was first broadcast all over Pima. It was the first bell in the Gila Valley. It rang ’till the sun went down. It is something I have never forgotten. I am sure there isn’t another person alive today who heard that bell first ringing in 1891. Folks, its tone is just as sweet today as always, and to me, when this bell was poured hot in its case they poured a portion of ‘witchery’ into it and closed up the opening while hot and it could not get out and that ‘witchery’ potion will always be there. My children and everybody knew how much time they had to get to church or school the year around. What a blessing that old bell was to the whole community!”
Any museum in the western United States worth its salt will have a display of historic barbed wire, and on this point the Eastern Arizona Museum does not disappoint. This case, about six feet tall, includes information about the manufacturer, style, and date of each example.
I really like the simple burlap and wood presentation of this exhibit, which is located on top of the larger case seen above. I used to have a DYMO label maker when I was a kid – I never forgot what the things in my bedroom were called back then because everything was labelled.
Still more examples of barbed wire from the 1870s and 1880s. Some of these styles look like they were quite a lot of work to manufacture, especially in the quantities needed to fence the American west. I’m just happy that everyone shares my appreciation of barbed wire.
Let’s, with regret, set aside our examination of barbed wire for a bit. Here’s a phonograph that belonged to Thomas Hollis Dodge, who was born in Pima in 1897. This phonograph was the first one in the Gila Valley. The recordings on the wax cylinders didn’t have the names of the artists until 1910. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to music being transmitted into the Goddard from satellites positioned more than 22,000 miles above Earth and I have access to 95% of the catalog of human song recording, including the one on this blue cylinder if only we knew what it is. For now, I’ll have to be happy with “Be My Baby” (The Ronettes, 1963). And I am.
The placard on this manual foot-pump organ states that it was purchased by Adiel Sanchez and Reyes Colvin Sanchez in 1915 and used many years in a church in Sanchez, a town about 20 miles west of Pima, and later used in their home. I love the wear marks on the pedals, and I’m sure the people playing this organ made beautiful music.
The placard for this item notes that its first owner, W.W. Pace, “had to put up his own lines to have this telephone.” It’s one of the first telephones installed in Thatcher, which is a town just west of Safford on the way to Pima. Nancy’s family will note that this phone is a fine Western Electric product. I took all of these photos at the Eastern Arizona Museum with my phone, which doesn’t have the beautiful wooden construction of the model shown here.
Here’s something I found really interesting: this is the wedding photo of Albert M. Haws and Alice Cluff Haws from October 30, 1911. They’re a very handsome couple. A trunk on the floor under the photo contains Alice’s wedding dress and clothes worn by some of their later children. The interesting part is …
… next to the 1911 photo above is this program from the celebration of the couple’s fiftieth wedding anniversary on October 28, 1961. Albert and Alice were married for six years before the United States entered World War I, and celebrated their 30th anniversary a few months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were married eight years after the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, and, a few months before their 50th anniversary, the Soviet Union and, later, the United States sent men via rockets into space for the first time. Still a very handsome couple, and I appreciated that the family shared its history with museum visitors.

The Eastern Arizona Museum is a great example of a community historical institution that continues to serve its community. There are plenty of resources for families with roots in the area to continue genealogical research, and there’s a huge variety of exhibits that nearly anyone will find of interest. And, as the Haws family shows us, museums can put personal family gatherings in the historical context of larger world events. Especially when the museums are in historic buildings, one has an opportunity to wonder about all of the people who stepped through those doorways in the many decades before, and who may have used the objects now on display: farmers, bankers, mothers, young students … what were their lives like in the 1890s or the 1910s or the 1960s? What made them laugh, and what made them stay up sleepless at night? We can all learn a lot from history, and great community institutions like the Eastern Arizona Museum are a perfect place to do just that.

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