Street Smarts: Former piece of Grant Road once named for enterprising farm family

2013-12-31T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T15:33:22Z Street Smarts: Former piece of Grant Road once named for enterprising farm familyBy David Leighton Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Grant Road once was divided into four streets, and DeMoss-Petrie Road was one of them.

Otto G. Petrie was born to August and Amelia (Griese) Petrie in Lee County, Ill., in 1877. Both his parents had emigrated from Germany.

Otto grew up in or near Dixon, Ill., and like his father, he became a farmer. He met Ella D. Schick, whose parents had also emigrated from Germany, in Dixon, and they married around 1911. Their first two children, Mae and Wilbur, were born in 1913 and 1914.

Otto Petrie first visited Tucson, by himself, in 1914, because he had heard it was a good place for people with asthma, and liked it.

After he returned to Illinois, his asthma severely worsened, and his health deteriorated. The Petrie family came to Tucson by train in 1915, with Otto on a stretcher.

Soon after his arrival, Petrie recovered and bought a large piece of land bounded by what is today West Grant Road to the north, North Silverbell Road to the west, West Speedway to the south, and the Santa Cruz River to the east.

His grandson, Jim Izlar, said Otto at one point owned all the land in between, with the exception of the land where El Rio Golf Course and the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind now stand. He had a two-story house built (at what now would be 1919 W. Grant Road), along with two wells by the house and a third by the fields for irrigation purposes.

Two more children, Elsie and Florence, were born in 1917 and 1919, respectively, in Tucson.

In the beginning, the family grew alfalfa and milo maize (a type of corn used to feed chickens), which were sold. They also had a few cows for milk and butter, some of which was kept and some sold. Petrie kept six mules for plowing, with names like Bill and Tracy, until he bought a tractor.

As he got older, Petrie began raising turkeys and chickens, maintaining a stock of about 300 turkeys and 5,000 chickens, which he sold along with the eggs.

His grandson Jim grew up on the Petrie farm and remembers when he and his grandfather would travel around Tucson delivering eggs in his grandfather’s 1940 two-door Studebaker sedan. They always stopped by a bakery downtown around 18th Street and bought three loaves of fresh-baked bread, but only managed to make it home with one.

During World War II, the local Civil Defense volunteers made regular visits to the family home to ensure the rules of wartime were being followed, such as making sure the windows were covered during blackouts, but Petrie always felt he was being targeted because of his German accent and German ancestry.

On several occasions, he was reminded that because of his ethnicity he could be taken to an internment camp (in spite of being an American citizen) if he didn’t follow the rules.

The family’s two-story house burned down in 1948 due to an electrical fire, but within a year the family built another house, this time one-story.

Around 1953, Petrie retired. He died in 1967.

In 1923, a petition signed by members of the John N. DeMoss family (who owned land on present-day Grant Road, just to the east of the Santa Cruz River), Otto G. Petrie and others was presented to the Pima County Board of Supervisors asking for the establishment of a public road.

The board established DeMoss Road in 1924 and by 1931 it was changed to DeMoss-Petrie Road. It became a part of Grant Road about 1953.

Ironwood Hill Drive, originally known as the DeMoss-Petrie Road Extension, got its name at the urging of Louise T. Martin, who owned property on Silverbell Road. When she wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors in support of the name change (originally proposed by her neighbors), she described the road as follows: “(It) is a picturesque drive in the Tucson Mountains running through a heavy growth of ironwoods.”

The Board of Supervisors approved the name change to Ironwood Hill Drive on Oct. 2, 1939.

Sources: Interview with Jim Izlar on Sept. 13, 2013 (grandson of Otto Petrie, son of Florence (Petrie) Izlar, who grew up on the Petrie Farm); 1918 U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards; “Otto Petrie Succumbs at Age of 89,” Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 5, 1967; 1880 and 1900 U.S. Census (Bradford Township, Lee County, Ill.); Office of Vital Records — Petrie family birth and death certificates; Petrie Family Genealogy Sheet (Jim Izlar family archives); “Prominent Farmer Dropped Dead Today,” unknown newspaper, Sept. 30, 1909; August Petrie obituary (Jim Izlar family archive); information about the DeMoss family land ownership, provided by Dan Cowgill of Fidelity National Title Agency; information on the ironwood tree: www.pima.gov/cmo/sdcp/species/iw/illus.html; Louise T. Martin letter to Pima County Board of Supervisors, dated June 2, 1939 (PCDOT files); Ed Smith file, PCDOT files

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