Round Valley Unified Schools
Eagar Town History
 

Eagar’s History up to 2008

(This history was compiled from “A History of Eagar”, written by Clarcia Ashcroft Eagar and a history written by Richard Lynch of the Arizona State Parks as part of a grant studying the importance the establishment of Mormon communities had in the development of the State of Arizona.)

Scouted in late 1872, Eagar has its early beginnings in the Mormon colonization of the Little Colorado River Valley in the mid 1870’s.  It was inspired by Brigham Young, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at that time, and the great colonizer of the American West.

Mormon pioneers from Utah found significant numbers of Anglo and Hispanic settlers already here.  They had discovered the grazing potential for their flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and had claimed the choicest and most centrally located land for farming.  The isolation of the area far from the law headquartered at Prescott, had also attracted a lawless element which “had become a terror to St. Johns, raiding from a headquarters near Springerville, going into stores, saloons, and other places, driving the occupants out, helping themselves to whatever they wanted and destroying goods and other property”.  We know some of these outlaws to be the Clanton’s, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and his gang, and the Snyders.

Into this frontier environment, the Mormons added their numbers to those in Springerville, homesteading parcels of land and trading cattle for farms and other holdings, and going about the business of establishing their Church and their colony. 

Many of the Mormon settlers often spent the summer months in the mountains putting their livestock on summer grazing lands.  When they returned after the summer of 1885, they found their homes and fields occupied by members of the infamous St. Johns Ring who dared them to make any move to recover their property.

Instead of fighting the land-jumping tactics of the lawless element, leaders of the Church counseled their people to withdraw and regroup.  They asked the 3 Eagar brothers, John T, William and Joel, and others who had already resettled on land where Eagar now stands, to allow other Mormons who wished to settle there with them, to buy  into their land holdings at nominal prices.  This request was honored, and the history of Eagar had begun.

Being so isolated from other regions, orchards and gardens were necessary, not only for economic survival of the people, but they also made for greater self-sufficiency and independence and improved the health conditions of the pioneers far from markets.

Jacob Hamblin (an ancestor of most of the Hamblins who reside in Eagar today) is credited with bringing the first fruit trees in the late 1870’s.  Soon Bishop George H. Crosby accelerated the process, having wagonloads freighted in for new orchards.  This classic Mormon pattern of an orchard and a garden for each family can often still be seen in the Eagar of today.

Water for fields, orchards and gardens came from an irrigation system still in use today.  A typical Mormon development tool, it was built under the supervision of Mormon bishops.  With reservoirs near Greer, it was completed years before the Mighty Theodore Roosevelt Dam started storing water for Arizona and California.   Building the system was relentless, hard and sometimes heartbreaking work.  As Joe Burk, a resident of that day later remarked, “We fought the dams, the weather, and sometimes each other.”

During the same time that Bishop Crosby oversaw the beginnings of the irrigation system, David K and Joseph Udall bought the old Milligan Farm lying along the river (located now within the golf course).  The farm contained a gristmill (a part of which still remains and is marked with a historical marker) which the Udall brothers upgraded alter, with a roller mill they imported from St. Louis, which proved to be of considerable benefit to the new community, grinding their grain into flour for local use, trade, and sale. 

Description of Eagar during the 1920’s and 30’s always mentioned the irrigated gardens and orchards of the community and the pioneer practices of the 19th century continued to have a strong hold on the town well into the 20th.  The Great Depression had a devastating effect on most city dwellers of America during the 1930’s but in rural Mormon communities such as Eagar nobody went hungry or suffered from want.  The livestock and cultivated fields, gardens and orchards kept the community fed and the neighborliness of the women saw to it that everyone had clothes to wear.  One old-timer said that, “None of us had much, but we were all just alike so it didn’t matter”.  There were no movies, T.V. or radio, but there was plenty to do.  Recreation was home made.  It was popular to play games such as:  charades, Here Comes an Old Lady with a Stick and a Staff, Hide and Seek, Run Sheepy Run, and others.  Other things they did included candy pulls, hikes, picnics, chicken and corn roasts and rodeos.  Even without money in those days, they managed to have a good time. 

Now, the pieces for a viable community were coming together.  Schools and education were of paramount importance to the Mormon colonists and schools were in existence from the very beginning.  However, it wasn’t until 1892 that the actual Eagar School District was created.  Joseph Udall later moved into Eagar to purchase the William W. Eagar home and farm, (located on the Southeast corner of the intersection of Central and Main).  Soon after their arrival Joseph’s wife Emma was appointed as Eagar’s first postmaster, and their new home became the first post office.  The date was February 4, 1888.  The Town of Eagar had been officially added to the map.

As Highway 60 was developed, local merchants and businessmen located their places of business in Springerville to take advantage of the travelers coming through.  This stop brought an infusion of cash to the economy of Round Valley.  Wages and payments for foodstuffs, building materials, construction, and freighting aided the economy of Eagar and boosted the expansion of the community.

In 1911, with a population of 397 residents, Eagar passed a bond issue to add rooms to the school house.  Then in 1916 the community added a large social hall called “The Grapevine”, later to be called the “Arvazona”, and which still stands today as the home of “Finch Cabinets”.  Until then, dances had been held at the schoolhouse but they had become so crowded that the dancers counted off with the even numbers having the floor for one dance and the odd numbers for the next.  Or they would dance by’ barefoot and boots’ where those wearing boots and shoes would dance one set and those barefoot would dance the next.  The Grapevine changed that and for many years served the community not only as a dance hall but also as the site for church and school plays, operettas, speech and dance festivals, and after the high school was opened, the Grapevine became the high school basketball court.  Behind the hall, the players rigged a small shed where they could take cold showers after practice and games with a hose connected to the running water from the Joseph Udall home just a block away.

Eagar’s growth and prosperity came from timber, cattle, sheep and wool, the cash corps of Northern Arizona.  As World War I began, these industries experienced tremendous business and the local saw mills were kept busy.  The war generated great demand for Eagar’s goods and helped build a solid base for the future.  Unfortunately, once the war ended, the demands evaporated and priced dropped through the floor.

In 1921, the Mormon Church announced its decision to close all of its academies and to let the states take over the secondary education of its young people.  Eagar immediately responded and opened its own high school with classes held in the church and private homes.  In 1924, Springerville added its students to those of Eagar to form Round Valley High School and the next year moved to a new building at its present location.

During the Second World War, the town pulled together and acted on the perception that Eagar MUST have a better water supply than the open wells in use.  A committee composed mostly of public spirited women canvassed the town to gain a majority agreement to repay a proposed loan from the Farm Security Administration.  A loan was eventually secured, and work on the water system was begun in 1944.  14 years later in 1859, the Eagar Water system was turned over to the Town of Eagar for administration.

In 1948, 60 years ago, the community of Eagar was incorporated with a population of 641 citizens and an area of 75 square blocks.  One of the first ordinances passed forbid livestock on the streets.  Up until that time, some people had used the ditch banks and their neighbors’ gardens for pastures.  Taking the cows to pasture used to furnish social life for the kids.  They played along all morning with their friends as they all went right down the middle of the street with the cows to the pasture at the north end of Eagar.  Then the youngsters started out early in the afternoon to bring the cows home for the evening milking.  Many of the kids learned to swim in the river while the cows were at pasture.

Springerville was also incorporated in 1948, and the two towns cooperated in order to put the hospital on a sound financial basis by paying off the old indebtedness.  Together, the towns bought a motor grader and dump truck and hired a worker to handle street repairs for both communities.

The 1950’s and 60’s saw Eagar’s population double from 637 to 1279 residents.  The Whiting Brothers sawmill employed 130 people and turned out 40,000 feet of cut lumber per day.  Timber and livestock continued to be the main products of the town’s economy.

In 1963, 14,000 head of cattle were shipped from Round Valley to market and the Whiting brothers brought employment at their mill to 200 workers.  In the 1970’s the Salt River Project and Tucson Electric Power Company constructed two coal fired generating stations in the area which have had a major impact on Eagar’s economy and growth.  The power plants have been good for the people of Eagar.  The sawmill in Eagar was purchased by Southwest Forest Industries and in 1980 they announced that they would build a new $20 million, state-of-the-art sawmill at Eagar (they were then known as Stone Forest Industries).  All the ingredients were then in place for the increase of Eagar’s population between 1970 and 1980 and its continued climbing to a total of 4,600 people in 1998.

This unprecedented growth produced an economy and a tax base unimagined by long-time residents, but what Eagar did with its new-found prosperity is illustrative of the community.  During the decade of the 1980’s the residents of Eagar, still without a municipal building and utilizing the old elementary school for a city hall, voted to build a domed stadium and auditorium for their high school costing in excess of $17,000,00.  Although we shared the vote with Springerville, this allocation of community resources to education speaks loudly to the tradition of community commitment to education.

Then…just when we thought the future looked so bright with new growth and technology, the environmental issue of the Mexican Spotted Owl and the injunction which was soon to come, took it’s toll on the timber industry not only in our mountains but all over the southwest part of the country.  It didn’t seem that it was long until there was just the skeleton of the new sawmill left, which we can see today.  There was definitely a slowdown in Eagar’s economy.  But industry is building back.  Just a few of the wood product business are:  The Walker brothers who are contracted by the Forest Service to do thinning and harvesting of small diameter trees.  Then they collect the slash and wood debris which they sell to a pellet manufacturer on the mountain to make wood pellets for stoves; Terry Reidhead has a business logging small diameter logs (which are 10” in diameter or less) and which are in great demand.  Randy and Keith Nicoll own Arizona Log and Timber Works and Cheyenne Log Homes.  These plants both use the small diameter logs for log homes, posts, pickets, latillas, and many other wood products.;  Steve Nicoll has a laminated beam manufacturing plant where they make large laminated beams and trusses and other building components from laminate wood.  These products are shipped all over the country for constructing log homes, porches, and many other structures.  His business concerns are called American West Structures and Arizona Structural Laminators.

So once again, with innovative thinking, businesses using forest products are thriving again and there are numerous other types of operations and businesses in Eagar now as well.

The Town has made progress:  the population is again over 4,400 residents.  Ramsey Park is beautiful with the skateboard area, new playground equipment, and picnic armadas’; 2 new water tanks have been erected; the cemetery is beautiful and ready for another expansion; new road equipment has been purchases.  In the last 10 years a new public works yard was acquired and extensive expansion and renovations have been made to the town hall, police and fire departments.

Once again, the future looks bright.  Taxes are still due and payment on bonded indebtedness still have to be made.  There are not so many orchards and gardens dotting the landscape anymore.  But Eagar will endure.  The old values still run deep.