City of Cottonwood turns 50

John Garrett was selected mayor on the appointed council when Cottonwood was incorporated in 1960. Names were submitted to the council after a public poll was taken.

John Garrett was selected mayor on the appointed council when Cottonwood was incorporated in 1960. Names were submitted to the council after a public poll was taken.

In November, Cottonwood will mark a Golden milestone, marking 50 years of incorporation.

Incorporating a community is never an easy road. Many communities such as Sun City become large and continue to be overseen by county governments.

Organization under a city or town government banner is often stressful and can be rancorous. Often times, as in Cottonwood's case, it becomes a matter of people who have been organizing the community anyway finally gaining the authority to do it more efficiently.

When reviewing the tale of incorporation in Cottonwood, one organization is cited over and again. The Cottonwood Progressive Association, a business group, was a key player long before incorporation.

The population of the Cottonwood area had grown to 1879 residents by 1960. In 1959, the Central Arizona Project enthusiastically estimated the Verde Valley population would reach 75,000 in 20 years time. It's taken about 50 years to reach that population.

1960 was a time of change and movement. The year did not see a steel mill built on the site of the old Clarkdale smelter nor the copper mill proposed for the Clemenceau Smelter site and no oil was found after Cottonwood Oil Co sank a shaft.

However, another industry was taking off. Belyea Trucking announced the arrival of 20 Fruehoff tractors and trailers to begin trucking Phoenix Cement for the Glen Canyon dam construction.

After 15 years, the Lawrence Memorial Hospital announced plans to construct a $1.5 million dollar new hospital building.

The 1960 Jerome Hill climb car race drew 2,000 spectators and was featured in Sports Illustrated.

Thanks to joint lobbying by Verde Valley communities, the state highway budget finally included money to improve State Rout 279, what is now SR 260.

Crews began surveying for the Town and Country Shopping Center today home of Bashas. The Verde Valley converted to the new dial telephone system and direct dial became available.

The Verde Electric Cooperative had been sold to APS.

In February 1959, the Cottonwood Progressive Association learned that the Post Office Department was investigating a site for a new Post Office for Cottonwood. It was suggested that the association investigate the feasibility of constructing the building to lease to the Post Office Department. The group also discussed raising the salary for the street cleaner and night watchman.

In April, Arvin Small, Herschel Thompson and Leonard Sexton talked to the group about serious community problems that were be dealt with.

Small told the group, "We must make the community more attractive, promote courtesy and handle other problems facing us now. These things need action, not talk," the Verde Independent reported.

Among the problems needing attention were a zoning program, development of a sewage system and elimination of undesirable loafers and drunks from the downtown area."

Small encouraged formation of a courtesy school for employees of local businesses. He said business had gotten reports that visitors did not feel treated well and were not staying around.

A nucleus group of about 30 people formed from the Cottonwood Progressive Association and the Civic Club in May 1960 formed an organization that would investigate incorporation.

In April, Leonard Sexton reported that, at $19 per capita, about $35,000 would be available to the community from the state.

Former postmaster Charles Stemmer made an impassioned speech backing the concept, "You'd better do it now, because you may never have another chance."

Three earlier attempts at incorporation had failed over the same number of years.

The committee on pros and cons declared that a town government would give "local control to the area and to development, help attract light industry and improve property values, provide better police and fire protection and attract state money to the community."

Greg Masaro, Ersel Garrison and others said the first council would be encouraged to operate with "no tax levy if possible." They also suggested that the first council be elected rather than appointed by county supervisors if incorporation succeeded.

The Cottonwood Café, today a vacant building on the opposite corner as Kactus Kate's in Old Town, had become the meeting place for the organization.

By late July, with the newspaper publication of boundary map, some larger property owners were protesting their inclusion: Elvin Kerley and Pete Groseta of Cottonwood and Russel Sweitzer of Flagstaff.

Removed from the boundaries is a quarter-mile strip of farmland on the east boundary at the request of Kerley and Groseta. The latter also asked that some range land belonging to him on the west boundary be removed. Most of his holdings on the west and south of the airstrip were accepted and he agreed to the part that was north of the airport.

Sweitzer met with the group at the café and protested that no portion of his land should be included and the committee voted to remove almost three-quarters of his land from the proposal.

Tony Kovacovich, president of the Progressive Association, took the amended map and the legal description to the county engineer's office to be checked for accuracy and the new petitions and map were ready for distribution.

The next few weeks were spent canvassing registered taxpayers and by Aug. 11 they had achieved the necessary two-thirds of voters needed to get approval.

The organization then compiled a list of possible candidates to be named to the first council and the straw poll was published in the Verde Independent for informal voting with a list of 10 names.

The organization was planning to submit the names to the supervisors along with the petitions.

Those named to the first council were Tony Stadelman, Bob Robinson, Jack Arnold, John Garrett and Don McDonald, R.W. Wilpitz and W.G. Ingram named by the poll.

Bob Robinson told the Verde Independent, "I'm very happy about it. A community can't progress until it does something for itself. We have finally done it. With industrial and retail developments coming in we are bound to benefit. I believe that incorporation was a necessary thing that will increase property values, give us a cleaner town, an opportunity to govern ourselves."

Jack Arnold said, "I think that incorporation is the way we can do the best that we can for Cottonwood for the least dollar cost. I know that it will help our growth and finally get some recognition from the state that has been sorely needed."

John Garrett: "I appreciate the confidence of the people in the area by their vote and I will do my utmost to justify their faith in my ability. I do not foresee any drastic changes in the town government. I am primarily concerned about keeping taxes down to not work a hardship on pensioners and others on fixed incomes."

Don McDonald said, "I believe incorporation will be the start of improving Cottonwood. There won't be any overnight changes but we will now have a foundation for the beginning of improvements. As a homeowner and businessman, I will certainly watch the tax rate while at the same time I will be looking for any improvements that could be met by our budget.

Then came a waiting game. The clerk of the board of supervisors had to verify that the signatures were those of valid voters, a process that would take four to six weeks.

Clerk Dorothy Munton found that 700 people lived within the corporate limits and were eligible to sign. Her office received 476, nine more petitions than necessary.

But, not everyone was happy. Charles Stemmer protested there was "too much hush-hush and fear throughout the campaign to incorporate" and that "some of the proposed town council members have fought the progress of Cottonwood."

"I did not bargain to be a member of the council for my support in incorporating Cottonwood, but I would like to serve to keep this thing from running away with us."

"We had no intention of slighting you, Charlie," said Ersel Garrison, but "we felt that the younger people should carry the load."

The County Supervisors declared the new town a reality and council members were sworn in with Cottonwood becoming the 58th Arizona municipality.

Boy Scouts decorated the business section with American Flags and the Cottonwood Progress Days celebration in early December hailed the opening of the new post office (today Cottonwood City Hall offices) and Cottonwood's successful incorporation.

John Garrett was name the first Mayor. Don McDonald became the first elected mayor in 1963.


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