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A History of Litchfield Park

by Bill Jones

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The town of Litchfield Park, named for founder, Paul W. Litchfield, came into existence as result of cotton farming. In 1917, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, of Akron, Ohio, had just gained world prominence as the "world's largest tire manufacturer" and with the development of the pneumatic tire was in need of a source of a specific variety of cotton which provided the strong fibers used in their manufacture. This particular variety known as long-staple cotton had previously been available only from the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and from Egypt. The boll weevil decimated the east coast crops and World War I German submarines had greatly reduced the supply from Egypt thus a newsource was urgently sought by the Goodyear Company.Fortunately, the U. S. Department of Agriculture had conducted experiments that indicated the soil and climate of the Salt River Valley here closely paralleled that of Egypt and was suitable for raising long-staple cotton. At the USDA's suggestion, Paul Litchfield, a Goodyear executive, was sent to the Phoenix area in 1916 with the objective of interesting ranchers in the cultivation of cotton. Failing to gain their enthusiasm, Goodyear Tire Rubber, through Litchfield's urging, formed a subsidiary called The Southwest Cotton Company headquartered in Phoenix area and under the leadership of Paul Litchfield, appointed as President of the Company. Some 36,000 acres were purchased for cotton growing in the general Salt River Valley area. This acquisition was through the purchase of many small local ranches plus 5,000 acres near the present site of Litchfield Park and known as Litchfield Ranch, 8,000 acres near Chandler known as Goodyear Ranch, and later in 1921, the 10,000 acre Marinette Ranch near the present towns of Youngtown and Sun City. Much of the land was purchased for as little as $25 per acre. A concentrated effort was launched in 1917 to convert the Litchfield Ranch in a major cotton producing property. A work force of approximately 2,000 men, mostly Mexican nationals and native American Indians, was employed. Nearly 1,300 mules and more than a dozen iron-wheeled, gasoline-powered tractors provided the power for pulling the heavy chain, timber, and railroad rail drags used to clear the chaparral and cacti and level the desert. Approximately 3,500 acres of land were cleared and planted in 1917 and the harvest of the 1917-1918 winter resulted in 264,000 pounds of fine cotton. Just one year later the harvest increased to 6,734,000 pounds of blue-ribbon grade long-staple cotton. Within the year a large labor camp called "Algodon" (meaning "cotton") was established near the present intersection of Indian School and Dysart roads. A few months later the camp was moved to what is now the center of Litchfield Park. For a time the settlement was also known as "Agua Fria". A temporary public school was established in what had been a cook shack with 11 pupils under the tutelage of Mrs. Mable Padgett, wife of Litchfield Ranch Operations Manager, John Padget. Mrs. Padget also conducted the first Sunday School on October 14, 1917 in the same makeshift building. In 1918 school bonds in the amount of $6,000 were approved for a permanent public school in the Litchfield area. Paul Litchfield was an inventive and creative man whose generosity and artistic talents ultimately created an unusual oasis in a sweltering desert instead of a dismal clustering of shacks in a company town. He lined the streets with stately palms and ornamental orange trees and provided many amenities for the new community - sometimes out of his own pocket. The predecessor to the present world class Wigwam Resort was the Organization House built during the winter of 1918 - 1919 for suppliers dealing with the Company and for Goodyear Company executives from the East who might be visiting the cotton production in the area. It originally accommodated about six people. There was no paved road from Phoenix - then with a population of about 29,000 - and a round trip by horse and buggy was a time-consuming journey. Automobiles of the period would often become bogged down to their axles in loose sand or in some flooded arroyo hence the necessity for local accommodations for visitors was apparent. On Thanksgiving Day in 1929, the renamed Wigwam Resort opened to the public with a house capacity of 24 guests. The first golf course - nine holes - was developed in 1930. It wasn't until 1941 that the course was expanded to 18 holes. The actual name "Litchfield Park" evolved slowly. At first, mail to area residents was addressed in care of Southwest Cotton Co. In1920 the U.S. Postal Department designated the town as "Lichton" refusing to accept the name "Litchfield" because of an older northern Arizona town named "Littlefield." Postal bureaucrats feared the similarity of the two names would result in confusion in mail deliveries. It wasn't until 1926 and through the persistence of the Goodyear Company that agreement was finally reached on the present name of Litchfield Park. The present interdenominational "Church at Litchfield Park" had an interesting beginning. For the first several years after the repeal of prohibition, guests at the Wigwam Resort had no immediate access to alcoholic beverages. Paul Litchfield, then president of the Goodyear Company, was reluctant to condone or endorse the sale of any alcohol on Goodyear property. On a trial basis however, Murray Stevenson, the resort's manager, persuaded Litchfield to allow the installation of a bar for the sale of beer and wine only. Subsequent analysis of the Wigwam's profits revealed the bar was the biggest profit maker hence it was inevitable that a full bar service would be forthcoming. It was at this same time that Paul Litchfield was urging the Company directors to authorize expenditure for a new Protestant church. Because of his reluctance to increase the alcoholic beverage service at the Wigwam Resort, the Goodyear directors indicated there would be no funds for a new church if Litchfield denied the Wigwam a cocktail lounge. From a strict business point of view and setting aside his personal aversion to alcohol, Paul Litchfield authorized establishment of a complete bar and cocktail lounge and was in return, granted permission to build his church. Thus funds were allocated and ground was broken for the building of the Church of Litchfield Park on September 10, 1939. The church was company-owned

until 1972 when it was deeded over to the congregation. Litchfield played a major role in the design of the sanctuary which is patterned after an early mission. The bell for the tower was brought from San Diego by Mr. Litchfield and the cornerstone - containing a Bible, the Church role, and copies of the constitution and by-laws was set on November 6th of that year. This beautiful building stands today in the heart of the community. Services are held twice each Sunday. Thus the village of Litchfield Park came into existence and has survived and grown as a result of two wars, the invention of the pneumatic tire, and the need for a special variety of cotton. The tree-lined streets, the well-manicured yards, the quaintness of its buildings can be attributed either directly or indirectly to the vision and tenacity of Paul W. Litchfield who founded the community and was its benefactor for more than 40 years. Mr. Litchfield retired from the Goodyear Tire Rubber Company in October of 1958 and lived for a just a few months thereafter at hisresidence on Fairway Drive in his town. He died on March 18, 1959. He is survived by two daughters, one of whom still resides in Litchfield Park.

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This page was last updated on 17 July 2012 at 11:48 pm

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