Verde Heritage 1887-2017: THE MARY WILLARD HOUSE
James H. A. Marsh, an experienced builder and contractor from Prescott, was hired by Mary Grace Willard to build her new home. It was to be built in the Queen Anne architectural style. The new home was to be constructed east of the 1885 Cottonwood Post Office and stage stop.
Mary Grace Vineyard was born in Iowa (now, Grant) County, Michigan Territory (now, Wisconsin), on June 9, 1834. She is the daughter of James Russell and Mary Ann (Jones/Thompson) Vineyard, pioneer settlers of the area. Joel Willard was born in Gasconade County, Missouri on March 9, 1822, but had lived in what would become Wisconsin with his parents Alexander H. and Elinor (MacDonald) Willard. Several of the Willard brothers went to California during the gold rush. When Joel Willard returned from California, he and Mary Grace were married at Platteville, Wisconsin, on March 23, 1852. Their "honeymoon trip" was a migration with 49 family members and others in a wagon train to California. Led by their experienced fathers, who had lived on the western frontier and served in various military ventures, they traveled with horse-drawn wagons and a herd of horses and mules, making the trip in 3 months from Wisconsin to Sacramento.
Joel and Mary Grace moved from Sacramento to Clear Lake County, then to Los Angeles, where they lived near the Vineyard family. Joel made 2 prospecting trips to Arizona Territory and visited Prescott before moving the family back to Sacramento. Then they moved to Pine Valley, Nevada, where the last of their 12 children were born. When Mary Grace watched her husband and 4 sons begin their journey to Arizona Territory during the fall of 1878, she did not expect to see Joel again, and could not predict that her oldest and youngest sons would drown in the Verde River or that the baby in her arms would soon die with whooping cough.
After selling the ranch, Mary Grace went to visit her sister and relatives in California, and her sons "Mac" and Jim rode their horses to the Verde Valley. They joined Charles and "Dolph," who were living across the river from what would become Clarkdale and Tuzigoot. Later, Mary Willard arrived by train and was met by her sons at Flagstaff. Willard Brothers and their mother bought "improvements" and began moving to the west side of the Verde River during 1885, where "Mac" became the Postmaster and managed the stage stop.
Mary Willard's sons, Charley, "Dolph," "Mac," and Jim worked on the construction project. A wagon road was built from the house site west of the large grove of cottonwoods down the hill and across the Verde River to where there was an abundant supply of juniper trees to be used for fuel. The "Lime Kiln Road" was used primarily by Oak Creek farmers hauling their produce to the Jerome markets for about 20 years.
A lime kiln was excavated in a limestone ledge and closed in front with rocks and mud mortar. The ruin of this structure is at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Lime was burned as part of the process to make durable lime mortar.
Clay was hauled in from nearby to make bricks. "The last remains of the brick kiln were still in evidence about 100 feet east of the Willard house as late as 1912." (Manuscript; Don Willard.)
"Mrs. Willard and sons, of Cottonwood, are burning a kiln of 50,000 bricks with which to erect a new residence. J. H. A. Marsh will put them in place when burned." (Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; September 28, 1887; page 3.)
Excavation was completed for the construction of a full basement. The house measured 30 feet wide and 40 feet long, and had a large attic. Originally, there was a fireplace in every room. Later, most of the fireplaces were fronted with wood stoves. There were no closets in any of the bedrooms. The original kitchen and pantry were downstairs, but there were no built-in sinks. There were no indoor bathrooms; the outhouse was "out back."
The actual construction of the brick residence took about 2 months. "J. H. A. Marsh came in yesterday from Cottonwood, where he has been engaged in building a brick house for Mrs. Willard, sister-in-law of L. A. [Lewis] Willard. He fell in love with the Verde Valley during his residence there." (Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; November 30, 1887; page 3.)
James H. A. Marsh was born in Indiana during 1843, and had been a Union soldier, serving in the 3rd Regiment of the Indiana Cavalry, in Company B, during the Civil War. (Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; September 15, 1886.) At Prescott he was the Postmaster (1884-1886) and was known as a good brick mason. He worked on the construction of the new Congregational Church at Prescott during 1881. (Weekly Arizona Miner, September 23, 1881; p. 4.) As Allen & Marsh, contractors, he helped build Howey's brick building at Prescott during 1882. (Weekly Arizona Miner; May 12, 1882; p. 3.) He built his own handsome brick residence in West Prescott during 1885. (Weekly Arizona Miner; May 8, 1885.) James Marsh had the contract for building a railroad bridge across Granite Creek, and completed an assaying furnace during 1886. (Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; December 8, 22, 1886.) Then, James Marsh sold some Prescott property. "J. H. A. Marsh writes from Phoenix that he is well pleased with that town. He thinks there will be a greater amount of buildings erected there the coming summer than in all the balance of the Territory. (Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; February 8, 1888.) Apparently, James Marsh found employment at Phoenix.
The new Cottonwood residence did not escape the notice of the county assessor. During a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, December 10, 1889, "On motion, Mrs. M. G. Willard's brick dwelling house assessed for $5,000, was reduced to $3,000." (Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; December 11, 1889.)
A wood porch across the back of the house was an early addition. Located close to the Old Indian Reservation Ditch (now, Cottonwood Ditch) and on the cooler north side of the residence, this structure was probably used as a sleeping porch during summer months.
A younger daughter of Joel and Mary (Vineyard) Willard, Frances L. Willard, graduated from school in Maine, and taught school in Arizona Territory. She and her cousin, Flora Willard, applied for and were granted teaching certificates. (Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; December 7, 1887.) Frances taught part of the 1889 term at Jerome. Frances married John Lee Munds in a ceremony at her mother's home during March of 1890. During the following years, John and Fannie Munds occasionally visited or lived in the house. After 1919, John Munds worked for the United Verde Extension Mining Company smelter and was a deputy sheriff at Clemenceau.
Mary Grace Willard was granted a land patent for 160 acres on December 9, 1892. Her property extended from what is now Pima Street northward across the Verde River, for 120 acres (with her home in the south 40 acres). Back of what is now known as the "Old Town Jail" she owned 40 acres.
Mary Grace Willard encouraged all of her children to join her in the Verde Valley. Mary Ellen "Nellie" (Willard) Ricker and her husband Al. homesteaded neighboring land across the Verde River. After Nellie died on October 26, 1895, Alfred Ricker took their 3 children returned to his family in Maine. Emma Jane "Jennie" (Willard) Goodwin, her husband and their children also lived at Cottonwood for a few years. Don Willard, the son of George MacDonald "Mac" and Luna B. (Scott) Willard, was one of the babies born in the home of Mary Willard.
After Mary Willard died on May 16, 1921, her home was rented to various families and eventually sold.
The Burnett family bought the house in 1973 when Mike was the area engineer with the telephone company and the Verde Valley became his territory.
"'We needed a new home base, and we started looking all over for a suitable place for our 5 kids, horses, goats, cats, dogs, ducks, and chickens. A friend told us about this place, but it was Dracula's Castle. It needed a lot of repair,' recalls Mike Burnett, who ended up doing a major overhaul of the house he now calls home. He originally wanted the property because of the 8 acres that went down to the river in back, as well as the size of the house, he said. But it took many months just to make it livable."
"When the Burnetts first saw the house, a family of squatters had taken it over, and the property was heaped with garbage and debris. 'Day by day, we had the pickup trucks hauling out the trash to the dump,' he said. 'It was hard to believe that anyone could wreck a house like that. Hardly one window was intact, and there was broken glass everywhere,' Mike said. 'I didn't try to restore it to its original architecture because the materials were too hard to find. I had to make it suitable for our family,' he said."
"'Dust devils took the roof off the porch soon after we bought the house, and we had to rebuild the whole thing. My daughter came home one day and put her foot through the floor,' Mike said. The porch now has a sturdy stone floor."
(The Verde Independent; November 17, 1993; by A. R. Tarlow; page 8A.)
The original front porch was gabled; the metal pins still exist on the front façade. That porch was probably replaced at least once before Mike Burnett built the current porch.
The original decorative short fences around the top of the roof and on the gables have never been replaced.
The MARY WILLARD HOUSE, located at 1127 North Main Street, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since September 19, 1986.
J. H. A. Marsh at Cottonwood: See; "The Verde Independent;" 1887: THANKSGIVING TRAGEDY; The Clem Family; November 21, 2012.