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.
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.
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.
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.