Town of Tusayan
Then and Now
Condensed from an essay by Ronald L. Warren published in the Tusayan Area Plan, Coconino County, 1995
No history of Grand Canyon National Park would be complete without mention of the enclave of private property at the National Park’s south boundary which is now known as Tusayan. The community’s history dates back almost to the beginning of Grand Canyon National Park in 1919.
From 1905 to 1919, George Reed was one of the few Forest Service rangers working in the Tusayan Forest Reserve (now called the Kaibab National Forest). Stationed at Hull Tank Cabin, he patrolled the forest south of the Grand Canyon. In a remote corner of the forest, the Iowa-born Reed saw potential for a successful vegetable farm in the rich soil of the Coconino Wash. Reed quit the Forest Service and in April 1920, the same month that Grand Canyon was formally dedicated as a National Park, he homesteaded a 160-acre tract of land in Sections 23 and 24 of Township 30, some seven miles south of Grand Canyon Village.
The 40-year-old Reed and his wife Mable grew whatever would grow, primarily potatoes, in the natural clearing along the Coconino Wash. He was a good farmer. In addition to feeding his family, he sold to the hotels in the National Park. In March 27, he applied to the forest service for a permit to farm on five acres west of his homestead, and on four other homestead entries.
Getting his vegetables to Grand Canyon Village was a problem. The nearest “highway” connecting Grand Canyon with the “outside world” followed the railroad tracks from Williams by way of Anita Station and Rowe’s Well. Another came from Maine (Maine, Arizona – not the state!) and connected with the Desert View road near Grand View Point. Branching off the road from Williams to Grand Canyon, a dirt trail led east, up the Coconino Wash, to the Reed Homestead. The trail was the handiwork of one of the mining and lumbering camps which operated in the forest south of Reed’s farm. Since George Reed didn’t have an automobile (few people did) during the first years of farming, he made the seven-mile journey to the Grand Canyon Village by horseback or in a mule-drawn wagon.
Reed’s transportation problem was solved in 1928 when the federal government agreed to build a new highway to the Grand Canyon from Williams as part of a deal for the National Park service to acquire ownership of the Bright Angel Trail which was, at that time, owned by Coconino County. Unlike today, in the 1920s and 1930s, there were many “inholdings” of private and county property inside the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park.
With the new highway came new neighbors for the Reeds. The first was Rudolph “Chick” Kirby who opened a store and campground in August 1928 on 10 acres of land leased from the forest service. A few years later, Kirby sold his business to Charles Green and by 1934, the place was known as “Moqui Camp.”
In the late 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers constructed the first rock cabins of the preset Tusayan District Administrative Office of the Forest Service.
Farming was hard work, and as George Reed grew older, the rigors became less tolerable to him. When Ten X Cattle Company offered to buy his homestead in the 1930s, Reed called it quits and sold out. For the next decade, the Reed’s homestead was used as a cattle ranch.
Not much happened in Tusayan, or in the Grand Canyon Park, during the war years of the 1940s. Gas was rationed and tourist visits declined to almost nothing. After the war, the number of visitors grew, soon exceeding the pre-war levels. Local people and returning veterans were quick to see the business potential of tourism to the Grand Canyon National Park.
One of those who saw the potential was Ed Montgomery who owned Arizona Helicopter Service, one of the first helicopter businesses in the US. Montgomery was headquartered in Tucson and would take his Bell Model 47 helicopters wherever there was business. In 1948 he was hired by an Episcopal missionary to “sling load” a surplus military Quonset hut to Havasupai Canyon to be used as a chapel. The charter did not go as well as hoped when the helicopter crashed some mile and a half north of the Red Butte airfield. Neither the pilot nor the hut was hurt.
The idea of carrying tourists, who weighed less than a Quonset hut, stuck with Montgomery and in May 1950, he leased the site of the old Tusayan Bar for a summer helicopter sightseeing business. It was soon popular with visitors and local residents alike. Within a year or two, but business closed, however.
This time in the early 1950s was one of major change for Tusayan. The Ten X Cattle Company realized that more money could be made by selling off the land than by ranching it. One of the first organizations to move in was the Grand Canyon Post of the American Legion. Buford Belgrade had been elected president of the local chapter in 1950 and he was determined to find a place for the Legion Post to call home. He began negotiations with Ten X Cattle Company to buy a part of Tusayan. After two years of wheeling and dealing, the Legion finally bought two acres in 1952, including George Reed’s original home. It took Belgrade more than eight years to get clear title to the land, due in part of the deaths of some of the principles in the Ten X Cattle Company. The Reed house was converted into the Legion Hut, but later became the site of the Quality Inn.
The balance of the Reed property was bought from the Ten X Cattle Company by R.P. “Bob” Thurston, a prominent Williams businessman and rancher who had been ranching in the area west of the Reed homestead since the 1920s. R.P. Thurston’s acquisition of this property, and his family’s foresight, would prove to be a key factor in the development of Tusayan.
In 1951, the State of Arizona decided to improve Highway 64 to accommodate the increasing number of cars traveling to the National Park. Bob Thurston offered to sell the state right-of-way for $1 if they would realign the highway to run directly north through the middle of the homestead. Having served on the Coconino County Road Commission, Thurston knew the value of highway frontage. The State Highway Department agreed and in 1953 the highway was built where it still is today.
In 1953, there was a population boost when the Golden Crown Mining Company purchased ten acres on the northwesterly side of the meadow in Tusayan for a campsite for their employees. They owned the Hogan’s Orphan uranium mine on the rim of the Canyon near Powell Point.
After the mine closed, the campsite was used as a religious retreat for a few years. Later, in the 1980s, the U-shaped campsite building became known as “Ed’s Beds,” although there never was a person named Ed involved with the property. Later, the Quality Inn office and restaurant were built on that site.
A corner of the campsite property, fronting on Highway 64, was leased by “Preacher” Paul Milton, a former manager for Grand Canyon Airlines, and his wife Kay. They built a gift shop named The Western Village. In 1967, the entire ten-acre campsite, and the Orphan mine adjacent to Powell Point inside the National Park, were sold to the Cotter Corporation, another uranium business. It was resold in 1982 to airline owners John Seibold and Elling Halvorson.
The Thurston family built the Fed Feather Lodge in 1963-64 on a small rise in the middle of Tusayan. On the opposite side of the highway, they built White Service Station. That station site was later converted to TWA Services Trading Post and McDonald’s Restaurant. To the south of the Lodge, the Thurstons built a new Tusayan Bar. Years later, after several name changes, the bar and restaurant became the site of a new Holiday Inn Express.
In 1964, the State of Arizona started construction on a new airport, built along the west side of Highway 64 between the Reed Homestead (now owned by the Thurstons) and the Rain Tank property. Once again, Bob Thurston cooperated with the state in getting the property.