When Peck’s Lake was prosperous
CLARKDALE – Peck’s Lake, today, is something of a memory for many contemporaries.
Many locals have enjoyed its recreational opportunities in the past in a wide number of ways. Today, short of an agreement over liability with the Town of Clarkdale, the mining company that owns the land has fenced it against public use. Even when the monumental Clark Mansion caught fire this past year, firefighters needed a key to unlock the fence that protects it from vandalism.
Still, it is believed that transients’ fires may have caused the blaze.
But Peck’s Lake was once an area that provided fishing, boating, picnicking and sightseeing. Peck’s Lake had a lot of history before that fence.
Vince Randall, an educator and leader in the Yavapai-Apache community, still lives on land where Native Americans camped south of the Tuzigoot Bridge, facing Peck’s Lake. He says that was one of two Clarkdale-area communities where the true locals had camps. The other eventually was home to the Clarkdale copper smelter in an area locals called “Twittyville,” between the town and the rail tracks east of the community. That area was formally named Santa Fe Town.
Former Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Superintendent Julie Larson, who retired after 38 years in education, became a member of the Arizona Historical Society and wrote a collection of the history of the many local elementary schools of the Verde Valley, worried that people would lose the memory of where we came from and where the schools were born. She wrote that in 1878, the first school was established in Cottonwood, located where the Cottonwood Civic Center now stands in Old Town.
Larson’s compilation shows that schools grew up around communities of people, and children were taught in groups. Sometimes, as with the Pecks Lake School District, it is difficult today to see where that community was located. Larson has found it difficult to even locate the site of the Peck’s Lake School at all, even though it reportedly had up to 25 students from 1896 through 1913. It was the first Clarkdale school. She believed it originally served a rural non-Clarkdale farming community as well at the plant workers of the TAPCO power plant upriver.
There are few records of the school or the population it served, but the Arizona Journal-Miner of May 25, 1911, does record a request from the Yavapai County School Superintendent Glenn W. Persons, asking the Board of Supervisors to adjust the boundaries of the Peck Lake District to avoid an overlap with the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District.
The next year, W.A. Clark’s United Verde smelter moved off the rich ore body in Jerome to relocate along the river next to his train line nearby.
Peck’s Lake became part of the recreation amenities for the master planned smelter community. The knoll that the horseshoe lake surrounds boasted a nine-hole golf course, a clubhouse and a dance hall. The popular course was where Marty James honed his skills to take Mingus High School to the state championship.
Tuzigoot is the Apache word for “crooked water,” referring to neighboring Peck’s Lake, a cutoff meander of the Verde River.
In Sept. 23, 1933, it was published in the Prescott Evening Courier that Commander Bill Conners of the Clarkdale post of the American Legion had extended an invitation to local ex-servicemen, families and friends to attend a program of boat races and other features at Peck’s Lake that Sunday.
The same newspaper announced that the first six CCC camps would come to the Verde Valley that winter, according to Northern Arizona Army Supervisor Pearl L. Thomas.
In October, another motor boat regatta and dance was proposed by the Legion at the Post at Peck’s Lake.
It was a time in which excavation nearby had advanced and the ruin was given the name Tuzigoot. Many laborers were hired to move rock and expose the ruins.
Announcing the 70th anniversary of the ruin last year, reporter Steve Ayers wrote that, by 1937, when the museum opened to the public, former graduate student Earl Jackson was custodian of Montezuma Castle and encouraged the establishment of Tuzigoot as a National Monument.
After considerable legislative wrangling, Tuzigoot was finally turned over to the National Park Service in February 1939. On July 25, 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a proclamation establishing the site as Tuzigoot National Monument.
There are actually two ruins in the area. Tuzigoot is the largest and most renowned but a smaller pueblo had been built on a hill above the western reach of the lake. That property has been acquired by The Nature Conservancy.
Peter Pillas, archeologist with the Coconino National Forest, believes there were Sinagua pueblos built about every 2.2 miles along the Verde River.
After the several family deaths, including that of W.A. Douglas III while attempting “blind” flying, the United Verde Clarkdale holdings were sold to Phelps Dodge in 1935.
The lake also giveth and taketh away. A father and son, 37-year-old Carmen Cardenas and Rubin Cardenas, 13, died of drowning in the lake the same day, Sept. 7, 1925. Michael Pereja, 15, also was reported to have drown in the lake in 1956.
Anticipating the 50th anniversary of incorporation, Janice Benatz told the Verde Independent about her childhood in Clarkdale. Her mother, Dorothy Benatz, graduated from the Arizona State Teachers College in Flagstaff in 1938, and relocated to Clarkdale to work at the Clarkdale High School and later as the town’s clerk. About 10 years after the move, Janice was born.
She was 10 when the town incorporated in 1957. “We’d just spend all our summer days there at the pool,” Janice said. “Swimming in the summer was from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and they drained the pool every week.”
But one of Janice’s fondest memories was driving to Peck’s Lake for the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks explode in the sky and reflect in the water.
“It was spectacular,” she said.
The fireworks that flickered on the water ended at Peck’s Lake once fireworks became popular at the slag heap behind the Verde Valley Fairgrounds. There was easier parking and the threat of fire was not so great.
During the Arizona housing boom but before shipping copper for the China boom made the metal more attractive again, Phelps Dodge considered developing 550 acres around Peck’s Lake for 700 home sites. The company proposed capping the adjacent mine tailings to build an expanded golf course, and the old course was closed. Opposition and environmental agencies became roadblocks.
In order to ease the merger to Freeport MacMoRan ownership, Phelps Dodge completed capping the tailings pond, ending a long-standing eyesore.
A recent proposal to revive Clarkdale’s industrial flavor with a green approach has since been discouraged by both Tuzigoot and turned aside by the mine company.
Everyone is still aware of the rich recreational opportunities and the vast wildlife and bird life around the lake, but the future of Peck’s Lake is unknown, awaiting an eager population to see beyond that fence.