Monday, January 13, 2014

Apache Junction - A History

January 6, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Apache Junction as we know it today didn’t exist when the first prospectors searched for gold near the base of Superstition Mountain in the late 1860s. The U.S. Army called the Superstition Mountains the ‘Sierra de Supersticiones’ and was still pursuing hostile Apaches in the mountain’s interior.

Peace came to the Apacheria in 1886, when the infamous Apache war Chief and Medicine man Geronimo surrendered to the United States Army at Skeleton Canyon near the Mexican border. Shortly afterward, prospectors and cattlemen poured into the mountains and deserts of the Territory in great numbers. The cattlemen were looking for grazing lands and the prospectors were searching for gold and silver. The small mining towns that dotted the landscape provided a market for the cattlemen.

Gold from the area was first mentioned in 1864, however no samples were produced until 1879 when two Mexican prospectors were attacked by Apaches. One of the prospectors survived and returned to Phoenix and reported finding gold west of Superstition Mountain. The attack on these two prospectors may have been the source of the legendary Peralta Massacre in the Superstition Mountains. The brothers were named Peralta.

Prospectors worked small gold outcrops as early as the 1880s in and around Goldfield Wash. The Lucky Boy claim was staked in 1881 and William A. Kimball staked out the Boulder-Buckhorn in 1886. A rich deposit of gold ore was discovered at the Black Queen claim in November of 1892, but the richest discovery of all wasn’t made until April 14, 1893.

The Mammoth Mine discovery was located after a sudden downpour and flash flood along Goldfield Wash. The Mammoth produced more than three million dollars worth of gold bullion from 1893-1897. This was equal to about 12,000 pounds of gold bullion.

Goldfield boomed and died within a five-year period like many other mining boom towns of the era. This mining camp, located beneath the towering facade of Superstition Mountain, introduced the first church, school, hotel, saloon, livery stable, stage line, mercantile store, butcher shop, restaurant and barber shop to the area. The pounding of a twenty stamp gold mill created a towering cloud of dust visible for miles. The dust and sounds of the stamp mill soon ebbed when the gold vein disappeared and the desert once again became silent.

The area near the base of Superstition Mountain had returned to desert again by 1900. However, that wouldn’t last for long. It was the Newland Arid Lands Act of 1903 that brought life back to the area. The construction of the Tonto Wagon Road and a telephone line from Mesa to the Tonto Dam site changed the region forever. The Tonto Wagon road opened a very remote area to development. These construction projects produced hundreds of jobs shortly after the turn of the century. Workers from all over the nation came to work on the Tonto Wagon Road and the great Tonto Dam, later known as the Apache Trail and Theodore Roosevelt Dam. This was a fabulous economic boom that is still felt today.

The Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Tonto Wagon Road) provided the shortest means of travel for a wagon or an automobile loaded with goods from the copper capitol of the world (Globe-Miami) to Phoenix, the capitol of Arizona. The road was renamed the Apache Trail by E. E. Watson. He was a public relations man for the Southern Pacific Railroad’s concession on the Apache Trail.

Governor George P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor after statehood, envisioned a shorter highway route between the Globe-Miami areas to Phoenix via Superior. Hunt had arrived in Globe in 1879, and was the community’s most adamant spokesperson. Hunt wanted to develop a shorter transportation link between these two important economic centers rather than over the rugged and undependable Apache Trail. Hunt’s vision came true on May 13, 1921, when the first cars made a run over the Globe-Superior-Phoenix Highway, known today as U.S. Highway 60. The highway didn’t open to two-way traffic until April 29, 1922.

Above, the junction of U.S. Hwy. 60 and the Apache Trail (photo circa 1932)

Soon after Hunt’s vision came true, another visionary arrived at the foot of Superstition Mountain where the new highway and the Apache Trail intersected. This man was George Cleveland Curtis. Curtis was a traveling salesman from Logan, Utah who had a dream and little money. It wasn’t easy for Curtis, his wife Aurora and their three young daughters to make a living on undeveloped desert land west of Superstition Mountain. Curtis and his family settled down to living in a tent at first, selling water and making sandwiches for travelers who came through the junction area.

The junction of the Apache Trail and the Globe-Phoenix Highway was still being called Youngsberg Junction after Phoenix’s ex-mayor George U. Young. Young owned and operated the Mammoth Mine at Youngsberg, four miles northeast of the Youngsberg Junction. George Young had a vision of the great Goldfield mines opening once again to full production.

George C. Curtis, founder of Apache Junction
(circa 1920’s)
George Curtis started his business on August 21, 1922. The realignment of the Mesa-Goldfield section of the Apache Trail was completed on May 17, 1922. This finally and officially formed the junction we know today. Curtis was offended by the fact that Young had his mine and the old junction named after himself. Curtis started an immediate campaign to change the name of Youngsberg Junction to Apache Junction. Curtis was adamant about the change because he did not think Youngsberg Junction had any character, color or charm. Curtis was enthralled with the stories about the infamous Apache warriors that supposedly lived in the Superstition Mountains.

George and Aurora Curtis believed so strongly in their convictions about their business in the desert twenty miles east of Mesa they filed a homestead on the parcel of land, NE ¼, Sec. 20, T1N, R8E, on February 23, 1923.

George Curtis made a deal with the Don’s of Arizona, once known as the Phoenix Don’s Club, to build a monument dedicated to Jacob Waltz and the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine. This monument was completed on February 25, 1938 and rededicated in 1988 with more than five hundred dignitaries attending from around Arizona.

This monument served as the icon of this community for more than fifty years. Apache Junction is one of those communities that grew up around a monument. Today the old monument takes a secondary position as the focal point of the community after serving in this setting for more then fifty years. Visitors who remember Apache Junction’s early days always inquire about the old monument.

Another significant historical monument in Apache Junction is the old T-33 jet trainer erected by the American Legion Post 27 dedicated to the men and women of American Armed Forces who have served this country in the time of peace and war. Members of the American Legion Post 27 erected the monument. They were supported by many Apache Junction community organizations. The monument now stands at the new American Legion Post on Meridian Road just north of Southern Avenue.

Moving the T-33 jet trainer from its perch outside the old American Legion Post 27 on Apache Trail in 2000. The airplane now resides at the new Post 27 on S. Meridian Dr.

The community struggled with incorporation for three decades before finally incorporating in November of 1978. Since incorporation many changes have occurred, most for the betterment of the community. This small rural community, setting in the shadows of Superstition Mountain, has become a rapidly growing urban city. Open space continues to be an important asset of this community and sometimes a controversial topic. Several economic endeavors have taken place in Apache Junction since it origin in 1922. Apache Junction once had a sawmill, and at one time even fields of corn, alfalfa, and other crops. Once development started this segment of agriculture vanished. The first sub-division of land along Ocotillo and Ironwood in the mid 1940’s escalated the modern growth of Apache Junction even though it required thirty years or more.

Recently it has been suggested the name of Apache Junction be changed. Some believe Apache Junction has an image problem, but a name change would never solve an image problem. Yes, there are those who associate the less fortunate or poor of our community who live in mobile homes with a negative stereotype. But, a lot of our heroes of the "Greatest Generation" live in our mobile homes parks and in mobile homes. They fought at far away places such as Normandy, Casserine Pass, The Bulge, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other battles. What about those who served in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other far off places? Some of the finest people I have ever known live in mobile homes. We must always remember it is not what some one has, but what is in their heart that counts. The less fortunate today have dreams of something better for tomorrow. Let’s not change their dreams or the name of Apache Junction, lets build a better tomorrow around our community’s name and its citizens.

All of us who love Apache Junction, its beauty, its charm, its uniqueness, its special place in our hearts and its heritage owe a debt of gratitude to George and Aurora Curtis, the founders of this community’s name sake and location. After all, this could have be Youngsberg Junction on the Youngsberg Highway or Trail.

We should all be proud to call Apache Junction our home whether we live in town or in the hinterlands.