SR87 was paved in 1958

The road linking Payson to the Phoenix area, SR87, was paved in 1958, making it possible to easily visit the mountain community. Prior to that, getting to the isolated community was a tough trek. (SOURCE: Arizona Archives Online)

PHOENIX, AZ (3TV/CBS5) -- It's true that Payson rests in the heart of Arizona. It's located at just about the geographical center of the state!

Memories of Payson's early days as a cattle ranching community, nestled among the tall pines beneath the Mogollon Rim, must surely hold a special place in the hearts of ol' cowboys everywhere.

Payson Arizona circa 1900

The town of Payson was first known as Green Valley. (SOURCE: Arizona Archives Online)

For about 100 years after the first road was cut into the area, the mountain town was a little like an island in the pines... an isolated place that required a long trek to get there. It wasn't until 1958 that the road was paved and access became easier for car travel. 

Military road into Tonto Valley led to discovery of Green Valley

The military road that cut a trail to Green Valley began at Camp McDowell and made it's way north through the Mazatzal Mountains and into the Tonto Basin. The site where Camp Reno II was considered to be located is Green Valley, present day Payson. (SOURCE: Camp Reno, Outpost in Apacheria)

It was the late 1860s when troopers out of Fort McDowell began to cut a road into the Mazatzal Mountains. They were working to establish a post in the middle of Apache land, in the Tonto Basin. 

When the push into the Tonto Basin reached the northern end of the range, the soldiers found themselves in a long open green valley with a second, smaller valley, adjoining it from the north.

Stirrup-high pastures of grass crisscrossed by spring-fed streams laid before them. The meadows were dotted with scrub pine, and above it all stood an old Indian ruin that overlooked both valleys.

They named the larger of the two valleys Green Valley, and the smaller of the two, Long Valley. For another decade, the area was still to hostile for settlement. That would come when the Apache Wars had subsided.

William Burch is known as the first white settler of Green Valley. He and another man, William McDonald drove the first herd of cattle into the area in 1878. 

Mining and cattle ranches sprang up around the area and in 1882 a sawmill was built. The timber cut provided lumber for homes, and soon, a community was forming.

That same year a survey of the site was made and the layout of a town was came together for the 42 people who lived there.

In 1884, Green Valley's post office was established, but because there were already multiple places known as 'Green Valley' in Arizona, the new post office, and henceforth, Green Valley became known as Payson. 

Payson General Store, 1900

The General Store in Payson circa 1900. (SOURCE: Arizona Archives Online)

That same year, 1884, the locals got together and had themselves a rodeo on the third weekend in August. Held in a pasture in town, near present-day SR87 and Main Street, cowboys gathered to show off their roping and riding abilities. The tradition continues to this day, making the Payson Rodeo the oldest continuous rodeo gathering.

The Payson Rodeo

The longest running rodeo in the world began in Payson in 1884. The event is held every year in August. (SOURCE: Arizona Archives Online)

Although Payson has held on to its western culture over the years, the town has matured into a thriving community where Arizonans go to spend time in the cooler elevations, many have vacation cabins in the area.

Zane Grey's cabin near Payson Arizona

Western novelist Zane Grey lived in a cabin home near Payson. He wrote several books about the Mogollon Rim area. (SOURCE: Zane Grey Archive)

Western novelist Zane Grey built a cabin home in the area and wrote several books about the area.

These days, a visit to Payson is a quick trip from Phoenix up the Beeline Highway. Once there, you'll find a welcoming, thriving community with art galleries, fine dining, craft shops, and antiques stores.

Just outside of town, visitors will find an outdoor enthusiast's playground, filled with great places to hike, fish, hunt and camp.



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Content Producer

Eric is an assignment editor and content producer with AZ Family-3TV & CBS 5 News. Read more about Eric in his bio.

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