The story of Sahuaro Ranch begins with the completion of the Arizona Canal in 1885. The canal stretched 44 miles across the Valley and opened up 100,000 acres of desert land to homesteading and irrigation farming. Local land speculators promoted the Salt River Valley as the future agricultural mecca of Arizona.
William Henry Bartlett was 36 years old when he first became interested in land in the Salt River Valley. In 1886 he and his brother Samuel Colcord Bartlett were among a group of business-men from Peoria, Illinois, to homestead lands northwest of Phoenix and invest in fruit ranching and farming. The Bartletts saw bright prospects for their ranching investments. With water in the canal, large-scale fruit ranching could become a profitable enterprise. They each homesteaded one section of land in an area north of the future town of Glendale.
As men of wealth, the Bartletts could afford to make substantial investments in their ranches. They were partners in a grain brokerage business which, by the mid 1880’s, had become one of the largest traders in the Midwestern farm belt.
Bartlett became well known for his ranching activities in the West. His keen interest in the development of the western frontier began when he homesteaded the Sahuaro Ranch in 1886 and continued until his death in 1918. By 1891 he controlled over 2,000 acres of farmland near Glendale and was one of the largest ranchers in the region.
Bartlett had many well-built, efficient and comfortable buildings constructed on the Sahuaro Ranch. Residences for ranch hands, super-intendents, family and friends were built in a park-like setting landscaped with hundreds of rose bushes, a variety of palms and other specimen plants. The grounds also contained a large pond with a bridge leading to an island gazebo.
Although he visited the Ranch regularly, he never lived permanently at Sahuaro Ranch. Bartlett took an active role in its development and often directed Ranch activities by mail and telegram. Bartlett hired superintendents to manage his ranch operations, supervise continued improvements and advise him of local conditions.
The Adobe House was the first permanent dwelling built on the ranch. It was constructed in 1887 and served as the home and office of Stephen H. Campbell, Sahuaro Ranch’s first superintendent. Campbell was a well-educated banker from Denver, and W. H. Bartlett's brother-in-law. Campbell managed the ranch from 1886 to 1890 and under his supervision, the first improvements to the homestead were made. The original irrigation ditch was built and half of the 640-acre ranch was cleared and planted in figs and other fruit orchards, vineyards and fields of alfalfa.
The horse barn and the blacksmith shop were both built in 1887 as a part of the original farmyard. Draft horses and mules were used to pull orchard wagons, mowers, rakes and other farming equipment. Other farm animals included cows, bulls and hogs. In the 1890’s between 500 and 1,000 hogs were raised on Sahuaro Ranch and shipped by rail to outside markets.
In 1890 Harry W. Adams became the second superintendent. He was a founder of the Valley's first fruit growers association and was put in charge of the horticultural exhibit at Arizona's first Territorial Fair in 1890.
Under Bartlett's direction, Adams continued to plant fruit orchards and grain crops on the Ranch. A 100-acre olive orchard and a 20-acre orange orchard were set out in 1890. Both were among the first grown in the Valley.
Adams also experimented with growing date palms for commercial purposes and planted about 20 seedlings in 1891. The success of these palms to bear fruit and resist drought caused Bartlett to boast that he had “the finest date palms in Arizona.” The large date palm grove east of the ranch houses was planted by Richard W. Smith, who owned the ranch after 1927.
1891 was an important year for W.H. Bartlett and the Sahuaro Ranch. The fig orchards on the Sahuaro Ranch and Rancho del Higo were bearing fruit for the first time since they were planted. The Fruit Packing House was built during the summer of 1891 and completed in time for the fall harvesting of tons of figs grown on both Bartlett ranches. It was built specifically for drying and packing fruit according to the latest techniques perfected in California. The building was designed by prominent territorial architect James M. Creighton and was the largest packing house in the Salt River Valley.
The Guest House was built in 1898 and was intended by Bartlett as an “addition” to the main house. That summer his youngest son, Willie, was stricken with tuberculosis and doctors advised that Willie go West where the warm, dry climate would help his condition. Bartlett commissioned prominent Chicago architect J.B. Silsbee to design the building to accommodate the needs and comforts of his son and family. It was built in the remarkable time of 72 days, and was ready, complete with furnishings, when the family arrived on November 8, 1898.
The Foreman's House was constructed during the 1890’s. It was designed to resemble a colonial farm house and has a living room, dining room and kitchen, and a sleeping room on the second floor.
Bartlett continued to make improvements at the Sahuaro Ranch supplying electricity to his ranch buildings in 1899. By 1901 he had the pump house built for an oil-fired, electrical generator. It supplied electricity for lights and helped pump water from the nearby well. In 1905 the first automobiles were used on the ranch.
After Bartlett, other owners of Sahuaro Ranch continued to farm the ranch and diversify its use. P.E. Bradshaw, owner from 1913 to 1927, planted the first long-staple cotton in 1915. He also grazed sheep and cattle on alfalfa pastures at the ranch. Richard W. Smith purchase the ranch in 1927 and planted large citrus and pecan orchards and a commercial date grove.
We would like to thank the Arizona Historical Foundation for the above photographs.
Recent History of Sahuaro Park
In 1944, Richard W. Smith died, leaving Sahuaro Ranch to his son Richard S. Smith. In 1966 Mayor Max Klass began the application process for a federal grant for the City of Glendale to purchase Sahuaro Ranch. It took years for the purchase to be finalized but in 1977, the city acquired 80 acres of the original 640 acres.
The City of Glendale began the process to register 17 acres that include the historical structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Beginning in 1981, the City of Glendale commissioned several studies for historic Sahuaro Ranch. Gerald A. Doyle and Associates was responsible for the historic structures report and historic preservation plan. Janus Associates produced the interpretive master plan. Woodward Architectural Group completed the Sahuaro Ranch Historic Site Master Plan in 1993, which was adopted by the Glendale City Council in 1995. The Woodward plan is still followed today for restoration of historic structures, appropriate uses of the buildings and development of new structures.
In 1991, Sahuaro Ranch presented its first antique tractor show in collaboration with the Arizona Early Days Gas Engine and Tractor Association. Since then, the tradition began of holding two annual antique tractor shows – one in the spring and the other held in conjunction with Sahuaro Ranch Days in November. The Tractor Association was instrumental in the restoration of the ranch’s barnyard area as a site for staging their shows.
Over the years Sahuaro Ranch has also become home to other annual events including the Glendale Arts Council’s Juried Fine Arts and Youth Exhibits. The Arizona Artist Blacksmith Association regularly does demonstrations for school tours and special events.
During 1995-1996, major restoration began on the Main House, Fruit Packing Shed, Foreman’s House and other historic structures. The most recently completed restoration was the porch for the Main and Guest Houses, which were dedicated in 2004. Future capital improvements include a barnyard building for storing collections and staging special events and a visitor center near the park entrance. Major funding for restoration of historic sites came to the city through matching grants from the Heritage Fund, Arizona State Parks.
The City of Glendale has a long history of preservation and has made a financial commitment to preserve historic Sahuaro Ranch. The city has maintained and preserved Sahuaro Ranch. During this time, historical grants have been acquired, partnerships have been formed, and numerous visitors have appreciated the historical value of Sahuaro Ranch. The City of Glendale will continue to preserve and nurture this historical landmark for generations to come.