The Frontier Lives 
on at 
Pioneer Arizona Living History Village

 By Maxine Rosenberg 

Originally acquired by John Marion Sears, the Phoenix 1890 five room Victorian house was scheduled for demolition in May 1969. Fortunately it eluded the bulldozers and is one of the many authentic and reproduced period buildings in Pioneer Arizona Village

"A little settlement rose from the desert, a living history museum. It attracts hundreds of thousands of people, just to get acquainted with what this state had to offer at the very beginning of its growth. It is  always an enriching experience for me to take a trip back to the 'olden days' and to understand a little bit more of Arizona's rich history." 

These were the words of Barry Goldwater in an April 1996 letter of support for the Pioneer Arizona Living History Village. Situated on approximately 90 acres along I-17, north of Carefree Highway in Phoenix, the Village (originally referred to as a museum) personifies the history, lifestyle and hardships of the Arizona frontier and its early settlers. 

Plans for the Village were formulated in 1956 when a group of dedicated visionaries met to discuss the tragic demolition of historical pioneer buildings occurring throughout Arizona. Out of their meeting came the dream to create a "living monument to the faith, foresight and fortitude of Arizona's Pioneers" and save a piece of Arizona history from destruction. The

 Pioneer Arizona Foundation was formed and, in 1962, the Locketts, descendants of an early 1880s sheep ranching family, donated a state land lease as the site for the Village. The dream became reality when the Village celebrated its Grand Opening in February 1969. 

In 1890, all eight grades received their education inside this one-room territorial schoolhouse, an original structure that was in use in Gordon Canyon near Payson from 1880 to 1922.

Many of the 22 buildings in the Village are original structures dating back to the 1800s. Painstakingly disassembled at their original sites, parts numbered, transported and then reassembled by number in the Village, each of these authentic buildings is complete with period furnishings and equipment and each has a special history of its own. 

The Victorian Home built in the early 1890s was originally located at 4032 North Seventh Street on an 80-acre homestead that fronted Central Avenue and extended from Thomas to Indian School Road in Phoenix. Constructed after a railroad connection in Phoenix made the transportation of lumber affordable, this building was among the earliest total frame houses in Phoenix. The dwelling and its primarily authentic contents depict a typical middle class Phoenix home of the era with a parlor, music room, kitchen and two bedrooms. Each room is decorated and furnished in the style of the times. Period clothing is also on display. Among the hundreds of artifacts and antiques in the house, the Boston-made Chickering & Sons Piano from the 1820s and a Square Box Cello (age unknown) found in the music room are among the notable period pieces. In the kitchen, a primitive wood-burning cast iron Acme Renown stove, as well as utensils and pots of the era lend a striking contrast to 21st century culinary equipment and cookware.

 Other original buildings include a redwood farm house from an 80-acre citrus farm located near Grand Avenue and Camelback Road in Glendale (the first commercial citrus operation in Arizona); the state's oldest brick bakery built by the Holsum Bakery Company; an 1880 log school house moved by the Arizona National Guard from Gordon Canyon near Payson; an 1870 cabin, also from the Payson area; a double barn from Newman Canyon; the circa 1880 Flying "V" Ranch, which endured the raids of Apache Indians and the Battle of Big Dry Wash; the 1878 boyhood home of Henry Fountain Ashurst (the first Arizona Senator); the Northern Home from Flagstaff along with a teacherage that served as the home for the teacher who taught in the schoolhouse next door. 

The Sheriff's Office is a reconstruction of an 1881 adobe building which stood in Globe, Arizona.

Replicas of other early southwest Americana buildings located in the Village were constructed in accordance with historical records and documents. These include the Road to Ruin Saloon with one of the oldest original cherry wood bars in the West, the Opera House reconstructed with bricks acquired from the original structure in Prescott, the Carpenter Shop with original tools, a Print Shop, Dress Shop, Blacksmith Shop, Miner's Cabin, Darrell Duppa Stage Station that operated along the old Phoenix to Wickenburg Road from 1871 to1873, Community Church, Southern House that exemplifies palsade and daub construction, an adobe Sheriff's Office and a reproduction of the 1884 Valley Bank, the first in Phoenix to be used exclusively for banking purposes.

 The newest exhibit in the Village is a reproduction of a typical late 1880s frontier Barber Shop. Also called a Tonsorial Parlor, originating from the Greek word "tonsura" or the shearing of hair, this building represents the bathing, hair cutting, shaving and sometimes tooth pulling (if there was no dentist in town) services offered at the Parlor. A red and white pole on the side of the building depicts the universal sign of the barber shop. The colors on the pole originated with very early parlor services that included bloodletting. The blood-soaked rags would be washed and hung out in front of the building to dry. Bloodletting by barbers for medicinal purposes ended in the 1840s and the poles were subsequently painted red and white. Blue was added later. 

The Village (complete with farm animals, frontier garden, corral, old west style town cemetery and town ditch) is a fascinating and extraordinary living chapter from our state's history book. It is toured annually by visitors from all over the world, provides an educational opportunity to visiting school children and serves as special event and wedding site for an old fashioned 1880 Territorial style experience. Amazingly, Pioneer Arizona Village is operated and run solely by dedicated volunteers including Lee Anderson, the Village's Executive Director. A retired Honeywell employee, Lee grew up on a farm in Iowa and has always had a passion for the old west and horses. Volunteering to take on his new position at the Village, Lee said, "Everything I have done in life has brought me to this place. When I came here, I found home." Other volunteers include Charlie in the Exhibit Shop, who knows his collection of more than 1,000 hardware and tool artifacts from the 19th century like the back of his hand; John, the Blacksmith who demonstrates his craft at the Blacksmith Shop; Jean, the interesting and knowledgeable Victorian Homes guide, and many devoted others. 

As a nonprofit organization, the Village operates on a shoestring budget relying mostly on modest admission fees (ranging from $4 to $7) and limited other revenues. The vision of those involved with the Village is to create and preserve one of Arizona's premier historical and educational attractions for future generations. According to Lee, "Our greatest challenge is to obtain the resources needed to maintain the Village property, keep the buildings in good condition and make much needed improvements to enhance and expand the educational value of the Village." Lee and Ken Smithee, Board Member and Marketing Director, are enthusiastic about the future of the Village but say that additional volunteers, in-kind contributions, and/or financial donations are key to meeting the present day challenge. 

Volunteers Needed

The Village needs your help. Contact Lee at (623) 465-1052 if you can contribute any of the following: 

  • Volunteers to work at the village (construction, electrical, landscaping, office, village guides, other) 
  • Animal feed for chickens and horses 
  • Building materials 
  • Electrical supplies 
  • Chain link fencing 
  • Horse team and wagon 
  • Large period wood desk
  •  Picnic tables

General Information

Name: Pioneer Arizona Living History Village 
Address: 3901 W. Pioneer Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85086
Directions: Exit 225 On I-17, 1 mile north of Carefree Highway 
Telephone: 623.465.1052 
Hours of Operation: October through May - Wednesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June through September - 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.