Mon, Jan. 20

Old Town Cottonwood is picture-postcard perfect

As with other Verde Valley communities in the, Cottonwood shares a rich history. The region has long been home to Native Americans, particularly the Sinagua and later the Yavapai and Apache.

The first Anglo settlers in the area farmed and provided goods for the soldiers at Camp Verde and for the miners in Jerome beginning in the late 1870s.

During the mining heyday of the early 1900s, William Clark and Jimmy Douglas developed major smelters and the mining communities of Clarkdale and Clemenceau, respectively.

Clemenceau located near the intersection of Willard Street and Mingus Avenue was a complete company town with thousands of residents, a school and other community facilities. During this period, mining companies that closely regulated commerce, industry, employment and even housing in Jerome, Clarkdale and Clemenceau.

Old Town Cottonwood became a haven for those seeking to be free from the prejudice and regulation of nearby company towns. Main Street was created in 1908 when Charles Stemmer and Alonzo Mason used a mule team to pull and drag through brush. The Mason Addition, Willard Addition, Hopkins Ranch No. 2 and other tracts were platted during the next decade coinciding with the development of Clemenceau on higher ground about one mile to the south.

The Clemenceau smelter closed on Dec. 31, 1936 with a great loss of jobs and disruption to the area's economy.

In recent years, Old Town Cottonwood, which had been dormant for years, greeted a revival with new restaurants, gift shops and a streetscape project that improved lighting, parking and walking opportunities.

Historic Old Town Cottonwood is a town within a town, with its quaint character and colorful 20th Century Old West past. It was a bootlegging center and a popular movie location. Its well-preserved architectural heritage has won it a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Town Cottonwood is a picturesque, year-round destination. There are nearly three dozen stores and galleries in the Prohibition-era buildings along Old Town's Main Street, featuring art, antiques, books, clocks, women's and children's clothing (new and used), gift items, homemade furniture, jewelry, Native American crafts, rocks, yarn and beads-even Christmas ornaments. There are also services, including a key shop, a dance studio, and an athletic club.

Visitors may want to notice the high sidewalks and period architecture and to look up when they are in the stores and eateries. Many of the ceilings are beautiful examples of elaborately hammered tin.

The Cottonwood Hotel (circa 1925) on 930 N. Main, the oldest hotel in Cottonwood and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its apartment-style lodging, the five-unit hotel housed many famous guests including Mae West, John Wayne, Gail Russell and Elvis Presley, who shot films in the area. Three of the movies, "Angel and the Bad Man," "Desert Fury," and "Stay Way, Joe" are available to guests for viewing.

Many of the buildings have stories to tell. 1060 Main Street used to have underground cellars for storing moonshine. The Cottonwood Civic Center was built by the WPA in 1939. The women of Cottonwood raised funds for the materials.

The Old Town Association's Visitor Center at 1101 Main St. was once the county jail. Its two metal-enclosed cells were built in 1929 to contain bootleggers and sometimes held up to a dozen people. The jail continued to be used until the 1970s.

Curious visitors can view the cells, pick up a handy map or refresh themselves at the public restroom.

Just to the right of the visitor center is the Jail Trail, a lush one-mile riparian area with many rare plants and nearly 20-threatened or endangered animals, including the river otter and southern bald eagle. The road connects with the Verde River Greenway and Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Every Thursday evening from July through the first week in October, Old Town Cottonwood hosts a Farmer's Market in the ball field behind City Hall from 5 p.m. until the sun goes down. The event features produce, handcrafts and a live band. During the first week in December, there is the annual chocolate walk. From time to time, Old Town merchants hold other festivals, including salsa tasting and art walks. Contact: Old Town Association Visitor Center at 928-634-9468.

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