Category Archives: Historic Ranches

Oro Valley’s Steam Pump Ranch panel agrees on restoration plan

[Source: Lourdes Medrano, Daily Star] — The Oro Valley community task force charged with creating a development plan for the historic Steam Pump Ranch wrapped up its work last week. The town wants to restore the ranch for public viewing and use. The group’s final plan now goes before the Historic Preservation Commission meeting on April 14. The group will gather at 5 p.m. in the Oro Valley Town Hall, 11000 N. La Cañada Drive. After the commission puts its stamp on the plan, it goes to the Town Council for consideration on May 21. The council got an early glimpse of the plan in February, when some members expressed concerns about the potential cost. The property includes roughly 11 structures, including the original ranch house.

If the council approves the project, the public could have access to the site about eight months later, said Corky Poster of Poster Frost Associates Inc. As a town-hired consultant, Poster worked for months alongside the task force on a Steam Pump Ranch master plan. The task force recommended that the town initially focus on the project’s first phase, which would cost about $5 million. Full restoration previously was estimated at $8.4 million. The final plan scaled back some of the amenities in the build-out, Poster said. “We have a smaller-scale equestrian center and a smaller-scale event center, for example.” The changes mean new costs, Poster said, but the task force did not tackle the new estimates. Any work done after the opening phase will need additional study and funding, Poster emphasized. “The main thing is that it restores the historic buildings,” Sarah More, the town’s planning and zoning director, said of the task force’s final recommendation. The initial phase includes restoration work and displays about the two eras in which the ranch figured prominently. “There are so many buildings there, we can’t use them all,” said Dick Eggerding, a task-force member. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Future of Oro Valley’s Steam Pump closer to resolution

[Source: Patrick McNamara, Explorer News] — The Oro Valley Town Council, last Wednesday, got an early glimpse of estimated preservation and operating costs at the town’s historic Steam Pump Ranch property. As currently envisioned, the restoration alone could top $8.4 million. With that potentially multi-million-dollar restoration effort and hundreds of thousands in annual operating expenses looming, some council members have grown apprehensive about the plans. “What I’m worried about is, how do we control the level of expectations people have and what can we deliver?” Councilman Terry Parish said the day after the meeting.

Answering some of those questions is what the citizen-led group charged with writing a proposal for the council to review and possibly adopt has tried to do since first meeting last August. At the Wednesday council meeting, the group sought guidance from the council on some possible funding options for the site, and to secure council members’ input on different staffing and operations options at the historic residence. “We like to look at master planning as not fixed or set in stone,” said Corky Poster of the architectural firm Poster Frost Associates. The town contracted the company to guide the planning process and draw up the final plan. So far, the plan has the property bisected into two era-specific displays. One half reflects the early years of the ranch, established by German immigrant George Pusch in 1870. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Ubiquitous Tucson ranch houses gain historic cachet

[Source: Tom Beal, Daily Star] — Tucson grew up, or rather out, after World War II as the desert was carved into lots and filled with houses that, by and large, had the same basic design. Pour a rectangular slab, sometimes deviating into an L or a U. Stack some block or brick for walls. Cover it and the attached carport with a low-slung roof built atop wooden beams or trusses. Call it a “ranch” — a type of residential construction developed in California that swept across the country as a newly mobile middle class created American suburbia. The ranch had big windows front and back, often with sliding-glass doors inviting an outside-living style. It had a rambling, adaptable interior.

In its many variations, the ranch seemed perfect for the desert lifestyle — especially in fall and spring when the warming sun heated its blocks and kept inhabitants cozy through the mild nights. In winter and summer, with little insulation, it was another story, but, hey, energy was cheap. Just crank up the furnace or that new-fangled central air conditioner. Those were the days when gas stations had price wars, and you could cruise Speedway all night with the pocket change you lifted from your father’s dresser caddy. That all changed in the ’70s. The energy crisis put a premium on the well-insulated home. Land costs dictated smaller lots and more compact housing footprints. The single carport gave way to the two-car garage. The era of the ranch house passed. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Local land trust helps preserve Skull Valley ranch, historic buildings

[Source: Joanna Dodder Nellans, The Daily Courier] — The Central Arizona Land Trust has saved three scenic sites in the Prescott area over the past few decades, but its latest conservation easement is by far its largest ever. Skull Valley rancher Dave Jenner (pictured at left) wanted to keep his ranch a ranch forever, so he turned to the Central Arizona Land Trust (CALT) for help. CALT came into being in 1989 to preserve open space at the base of Thumb Butte in Prescott, and later took on easements of 10 acres in the Mountain Club subdivision and 35 acres in the Granite Dells of Prescott. Jenner chose to donate a 4,296-acre conservation easement on his W Diamond Ranch to CALT. In exchange, he received federal tax benefits.

The ranch sits on the southern fringe of the tiny settlement of Skull Valley, about 20 miles southwest of Prescott. The ranch is about half deeded land, and the other half is state trust land and U.S. Bureau of Land Management property. The easement means no one ever will develop the private land into a subdivision. “I saw rapid growth that was coming all through this area, and I thought, ‘Well, we shouldn’t have all this bottomland in development,'” said Jenner, who served as a county planning commissioner for three decades and as a school board member. “Dave will be the steward of this property, just like he’s always been,” said Jeanne Trupiano, CALT project manager. “He’s exercising his property right to protect this forever.”

It is easy to see why Jenner wants his ranch to stay undeveloped. When he was looking to buy a ranch in this area back in 1954, the stately row of cottonwoods along the ranch’s entrance road caught his eye. They are still there and still catching the eyes of visitors. The bottomlands that run through the ranch alongside Skull Valley Wash contain a wildlife haven with lush riparian vegetation dominated by Fremont cottonwood and willow trees. Artesian springs pop up out of the native grasslands that segue into mesquite, hackberry, desert willow, oak, manzanita and mountain mahogany. “You can see by the diversity of the land how important this (easement) was,” CALT President Steven Corey said. “It helps to assure that ranching keeps happening in this area.”

Matt Turner documented the ranch’s baseline conditions for CALT, which will review the on-the-ground conditions each year. “I think it’s incredible, one-of-a-kind, unparalleled,” Turner said. Wildlife appreciate it, too. Jenner and Turner said they have seen coyote, javelina, deer, elk, bobcat, lion, fox, roadrunners, birds of prey and abundant waterfowl on the ranch. Groups such as CALT can fashion easements to fit the owner. Jenner, for example, left a few small pieces off the easement for future family homes and an experimental farm site for Prescott College. Existing structures also will remain. Some of those structures have historical value also worth preserving.

The ranch’s first owner in the 1800s was Jake Miller, Jenner said. Miller was one of the Prescott area’s first settlers, and Miller Valley still bears the family name. He and his brother Sam owned an early freight service on the Ehrenberg Road from Prescott to the Colorado River. The oldest portion of the main ranch house was a stage stop along the old Ehrenberg Road and dates back to the 1800s, Jenner added. The house has incredible views of the bottomlands and rugged Kirkland Peak. Now, those views will never change.

Oro Valley’s Steam Pump design idea topic of public meeting

[Source: Patrick McNamara, Explorer News] — A public meeting was held for the Steam Pump Ranch master planning process last Thursday. Architect Corky Poster of Poster Frost Associates, the firm contracted to create a master plan for the historic property, gave a presentation on a possible final design scenario. Working with the Steam Pump Ranch Task Force, a group of citizen volunteers, the firm has distilled the final scenario from three preliminary plans. One scenario, which the task force called “Eras of Oro Valley History,” included proto-history and Native American displays, Arizona territorial representations, statehood and town incorporation exhibits.

Another option, termed “A Day in the Life,” consisted of ranch recreations circa 1944. The year was chosen because researchers believe buildings from most prior eras of the property were in place then. A third choice included major elements from two dominant periods in the history of Steam Pump Ranch: the founding of the property in the 19th Century, and the post-1933 era when the Procter family bought the ranch. All of the scenarios included variations on a visitor center that would inform guests of the property’s history. The ultimate goal is to have the property registered with the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places. German immigrant George Pusch settled the site in the 1870s. It acted as a stopover for ranchers driving their cattle to rail stations on Tucson’s west side on their way to markets in the east. The property got its iconic name from Pusch’s use of a steam-powered pump used to bring up ground water at the ranch.

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Photo source: Arizona Daily Star. Pictured is the adobe building which used to enclose the steam-operated water pump that gave the ranch its name.]