Safford L. Freeman was born on Dec. 13, 1893, in Carnesville, Ga., to Henry and Arizona V. (Bryson) Freeman.
Around 1908, a girl named Viola M. Pyle, who was three years younger than Freeman, moved in across the street. Soon, she was getting rides to school on the handlebars of his bike.
At the end of the school year, Viola’s father was transferred to Illinois, but the mothers kept in touch, and soon Safford and Viola began to exchange letters.
In the summer of 1912, after Viola’s father was transferred to El Paso, Freeman visited her there. They became engaged, and the following summer, on June 9, 1913, they wed.
Shortly after the wedding, Viola’s father, William Pyle, was transferred to Tucson, and the newlyweds followed in December 1913. Their first home in Tucson was at 514 S. Sixth Ave.
Freeman worked as a clerk in the auditing office of the Arizona Eastern, part of the Southern Pacific Railroad of Mexico, from 1913 to 1918. Their first child, Thomas, was born in 1915, followed by Mary in 1917, Frank in 1920 and Dorothy in 1922.
In the summer of 1926, due to a conflict with some people in town, the family relocated to Oakland, Calif., where Freeman found bridge construction work . By early 1928, he found a better job in Stockton, Calif. There, their son Thomas died and was brought back to Tucson for burial.
The following year they returned to the Old Pueblo and Freeman went back to the Southern Pacific Railroad as ticket clerk and railroad fireman, among other jobs.
He homesteaded 640 acres of land on the far east side. The family built a 20-by-24-foot adobe home with a cement foundation and red tile floor, with an living ocotillo fence to keep wild animals out. They eventually added an outdoor adobe-type grill, a ramada, a well, a garage and a chicken house.
John L. Rhodes, Safford and Viola’s grandson who lived with them from 1939 to 1946 and from 1949 to 1952, said the family kept a home in Tucson but spent weekends at the homestead during the school year and during most of the summer. Gatherings of family and friends were common there; a friend brought his fiddle and they would sing and dance.
On Nov. 14, 1946, Safford sold about 138 acres of the homestead land west of present-day Old Spanish Trail to his sister Jean and her husband. On Jan. 18, 1952, the Freemans sold 502 more acres to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Much of the original homestead land is now part of the Saguaro National Park East.
Freeman retired from the railroad in 1959, when the company did away with the position of stationmaster at the Southern Pacific Depot. He was the last person to hold that position.
Freeman died in 1968, his wife in 1991.
On April 4, 1930, Freeman and other landowners in the area — among them Alfred S. Donau and Florence A. Houghton — petitioned to have Freeman Road, or Road No. 236, made into a public highway. The road was to run five miles, from present-day 22nd Street and Melpomene Way to present-day Golf Links Road, then east to present-day Freeman Road, then south to present-day Irvington Road and from there one mile east. The last mile was never constructed.
Two years later, Freeman and other landowners, including Stefan Gollob and J.E. Harrison, petitioned Pima County for a second road. The road ran from Speedway three miles south to present-day Golf Links Road. At the time it was known as Road No. 338, but by 1956 it was called the Freeman Road Extension and ran south to present-day Irvington Road.
Today’s Freeman Road, which runs from the Tanque Verde Wash to where it meets up with Old Spanish Trail, is a combination of parts of the old Freeman Road and the Freeman Road Extension.
Note: Freeman Place, off North First Avenue three blocks north of East Ft. Lowell Road, is named for George E. and Bessie Freeman, who owned property north and south of the street.