Linked by history, Clarkdale, Chandler say a lot about AZ

2011-08-28T00:00:00Z 2014-07-22T11:24:53Z Linked by history, Clarkdale, Chandler say a lot about AZTom Beal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 28, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Two Arizona municipalities, each the creation of a single visionary, have a pretty good claim to being the state's "Centennial City" when Arizona turns 100 on Feb. 1, 2012.

THE TOWNS

Clarkdale

Clarkdale, in Yavapai County just over the mountain from Prescott, was planned and built by "robber baron" William Andrews Clark when he moved his smelting operations and 7,000 workers from nearby Jerome in 1912.

Clark owned the houses. His company made and enforced the rules, which included a prohibition on cutting firewood on the kitchen drainboard.

Like many towns built on mineral extraction, Clarkdale and Jerome both shrank after copper mining ceased in 1953, then rebounded a bit as tourism and retirees filled the void. By the 2010 census, Clarkdale's population was back up to 4,097.

Chandler

Chandler was subdivided in 1912 by veterinary surgeon Alexander John Chandler, who concocted a land scheme that allowed him to assemble 18,000 acres south of the Salt River at federal discount prices of $1.25 an acre.

In 1912, he laid out a town site and building lots. Investors poured into town, which then consisted of a grocery, a dining hall, a sales office, some tents, curbing, streets and a few piles of dirt near a big billboard marking the site of a planned hotel.

The investors, many of them from California, snatched up $50,000 worth of land on the first day of sales, May 17, 1912. They were lured by ads in the Los Angeles papers calling Chandler "the New Pasadena."

Like all the Phoenix suburbs that grew slowly during the Valley of the Sun's agricultural years, Chandler switched from growing crops to growing suburban tracts of homes in the boom years of valley real estate. Its population tripled in the 1980s and doubled in the 1990s.

In 2010, its population stood at 236,123, making it the fourth-largest city in Arizona.

THE FOUNDERS

W. A. Clark

At the end of the 19th century, W.A. Clark was as rich as Rockefeller.

Clark made his fortune out West, initially in Montana in the 1860s, where he struck gold - or rather "sluiced" it - to make his first fortune.

He later acquired rich mining claims for copper and silver in Butte, Mont.

Clark didn't just develop mining claims, he bought them and owned them. He built and owned railroads. His railroad ran through Las Vegas, which he also owned. The county where it lies is named for him.

He bought Jerome's United Verde Copper Mine in 1888.

Clark didn't live in Clarkdale very long or very often. He had homes in Montana, California and New York City, where he constructed a shrine to his wealth, a grand and gaudy mansion on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan that was heckled by architecture critics. The New York Times called it "the most costly private mansion in America."

He could buy anything he wanted - and one thing he wanted was to be called "Senator."

His first attempt to buy a seat from the Montana Legislature failed in scandal, but he used his wealth to elect a new Legislature, which appointed him to the U.S. Senate in 1901.

In his autobiographical memoirs, Mark Twain, who once reluctantly sat through a dinner at Clark's home, wrote: "He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a chain and ball on his legs."

A.J. Chandler

A.J. Chandler was more modest in his riches, but not in his vision for creating a major modern city.

He moved to the Phoenix area in 1891, buying his first 80 acres of desert south of the Salt River from the federal government.

He assembled more land as the government built Roosevelt Dam, whose completion in 1911 protected the Salt River Valley from floods and assured a continuous supply of water to area farmers.

The Desert Land Act allowed purchases of 180 acres at a discount for those who could provide the improvements needed to water it, said Jody Crago, administrator of the Chandler Museum.

Chandler "interpreted" the law to allow him to pay for the improvements and then buy back the land from investors who were, in essence "straw buyers."

Crago said Congress investigated Chandler's dealings and concluded they were illegal but did not prosecute Chandler or attempt to reclaim the land.

"Is he a 'robber baron?' No, he skated the line," said Crago. "He's a complex man."

TODAY

Clarkdale

The center of Clarkdale looks much as it did in 1912, with two significant differences - no smelter stacks overlook the town, and trees now grow.

Clark had laid out a model town with wide streets, a central grassy park and a gazebo.

His smelter, however, poisoned the soil. The trees that line Clarkdale's streets and the grass in its central park all grew after the smelter ceased belching, said Earl Bauer.

Bauer lives with his wife, Ellie, in one of Clark's Craftsman-style homes on the town's main street, which is called Main Street.

Ellie Bauer, former vice mayor of the town, said Clarkdale is drawing new life from an influx of "newbies," attracted to its well-preserved historic homes, which were built in six architectural styles.

Clarkdale is also a minor tourist hub in a much-visited area.

Its one major employer, the Phoenix Cement Plant, stands on a hill above town.

Tourist traffic often bypasses the town, heading for Jerome, where there are fewer people but more shops; Cottonwood, where there are supermarkets and services; or Sedona, where a more iconic scenery beckons.

The one big draw in Clarkdale is the railroad Clark built, which runs along the Verde River and has become a popular tourist excursion.

Drake Meinke is adding another reason to visit Clarkdale, renovating the former high school, built in 1928, as repository for his family's treasure of copper and brass art.

The Museum of Copper Art, an officially designated Arizona "Legacy Project," is to open next July 4, which the town has chosen as its centennial date.

Asked if the town was founded that day, Meinke hedged a bit. "'Founding' is an inexact term," he said.

The smelter and some early buildings came in 1912. The rest of the town was built between then and 1930. The entire town is now a registered National Historic Landmark.

The Clark family sold the United Verde to Phelps-Dodge Copper Company 10 years after W.A. Clark's death in 1925.

Mining and smelting ceased in 1953.

Chandler

Chandler bills itself as "an All-America City where entrepreneurial spirit and hometown traditions" mingle.

It boasts of being a high-tech hub with four Intel locations.

Its long east-west boulevards, which once ran through farm fields, connect to Interstate 10, and the city is served by both of the area's loop freeways.

The bulk of the city, built over the past three decades, has none of the flavor of the Chandler he once knew, said longtime resident Eddie Basha.

"They've tried to maintain some homogeneity in the downtown area but it's so far-flung," Basha said.

Basha, whose family moved to Chandler in 1919 to open the first of many grocery stores in Arizona, said he remembers being able to contact his mother at the grocery store in the 1940s by simply picking up the phone and saying: "I want my mommy."

Crago said he thinks A.J. Chandler would be pleased by the city's development. He was a mover and shaker who wanted Chandler to grow into a city.

Parts of the city might be recognizable to Chandler today. The original town site has been spiffed up, many original homes still stand and the resort hotel that A.J. Chandler promised and delivered, the San Marcos, remains the city's iconic center.

Art walks and farmers markets are held regularly in the adjoining town square, now named A.J. Chandler Park.

Chandler, who lost his fortune and his land holdings in the 1930s, lived in a snowbird bungalow behind the San Marcos at the end of his life. He died in 1950.

On StarNet: To read more Arizona centennial articles go to azstarnet.com/az100

FUN FACTS

•The Monkees' hit "Last Train to Clarksville" originally had Clarkdale as its destination. Co-songwriter Bobby Hart had been through Clarkdale on summer trips to Oak Creek Canyon.

• A.J. Chandler bought and installed the first commercial solar engine to power the pump in one of his wells. It was destroyed in a windstorm in the first week of its operation.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158111

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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