Although one could stay for months in the beautiful red rock rimmed landscape of Sedona, many of the 4 million tourists per year visit just for a day; perhaps on their way to the Grand Canyon or up from Phoenix to escape the heat. On any given day, Uptown Sedona is buzzing with tourists shopping at the quaint boutiques, crystal shops and art galleries, sampling local treats and enjoying the spectacular 360 degree view of crimson monoliths. In the heart of Uptown Sedona, just a few blocks up Jordan Road, visitors can also get a taste of life in the early days of Sedona by visiting the Sedona Heritage Museum. Jordan Road is named for one of Sedona’s early families who devoted their lives to developing Sedona into a thriving community for their children and future generations.
The story of Sedona’s famous Jordan family begins with William and his wife, Annie Bristow Jordan, their sons George and Walt and their wives, Helen and Ruth. This industrious, hard-working family and their orchards became a cornerstone for Sedona’s commerce.
William Jordan originally began farming in Arizona in 1881 about 20 miles west of Sedona near Clarkdale. There he had great success until the toxic fumes from the nearby Clemenceau smelter killed his crops resulting in one of the first U. S. Supreme Court battles against a firm for environmental pollution. He conducted tests of air samples to determine how far away he needed to move to resurrect his enterprise. In 1926, he purchased 175 acres at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon from Claude Black who had only just purchased it a few years earlier.
There were 9 children born to Will and Annie Jordan: six sons and three daughters. When the two eldest sons went off to fight in WW1, Walter, the third son, dropped out of high school to assume his brothers’ duties on the farm. It was Will’s fourth son, George who bought out the orchard from him in 1927 and started marketing produce as far as 120 miles away. Walt worked with George until 1928 and then began his own farm on a 65 acre of patch of dry land that Will acquired from Jesse Purtyman for $1000.00 and 12 creek side acres of the original Jordan property. Not much for dry farming, Walt needed to figure out a way to irrigate his crops. He investigated purchasing a water wheel system from New York, but it cost more than the entire purchase price of the original 175 acres. Determined, Walt enlisted the help of George, who had studied engineering back east. Together they poured over the drawings of the water wheel and during the following winter, George began building the components for a giant water wheel right on the living room floor much to the dismay of his tidy wife, Helen. By spring they had the beginnings of the Sedona City water works.
During the Great Depression, produce prices were low and it was difficult for local farmers to make a profit, so George began a co-op. Local farmers would bring their goods to his packing shed where the produce was uniformly packed and readied for market. George would then take the fresh fruits and vegetables to his customers in the neighboring towns of Jerome, Cottonwood, Clarkville, and Prescott as well as Flagstaff and other northern Arizona towns.
Walt could have been considered a Renaissance man of his time. He researched and taught himself all aspects of farming and running an orchard: soil nutrients, grafting and pruning fruit trees and using bees for pollination. He even set up his own weather station and devised a thermostat system to monitor the conditions for frost.
Walter started his farming legacy by growing carrots and driving the hand bundled bunches 12 hours by Model A Ford to Phoenix. There he and his wife would sell them to the hotels and restaurants. Using the money he made from marketing carrots, he was able to pay off his father for the parcel of land, purchase some fruit trees and build a 14 x 20 foot cabin which became the Sedona Heritage Museum in 1990. During the years it took for the fruit trees to mature, he grew strawberries, beans and other vegetables for income.
Getting his precious cargo to market was often a harrowing experience. After working in the orchards all day, he then worked into the night packing the produce on his modified truck. With little or no sleep, Walt had to drive at a snail’s pace over steep slopes and navigate some tight places with plummeting drop offs on northern Arizona’s early rugged roads.
The Jordan family legacy lives on in the Sedona Heritage Museum located inside Jordan Historical Park.
It was Ruth who desired to preserve the history of Sedona and after Walter’s death she approached the Sedona Historical Society with an idea for a museum. In 1991 the Jordan home became the property of the City of Sedona and is now managed by the Sedona Historical society.
Visiting the museum is a great way to experience the life in the early times of Sedona. In addition to the cabin with its original furnishings and the packing house, the museum displays antique farming implements, various exhibits and has a quaint gift shop. The Sedona Historical Society hosts many events there and continuously strives to preserve and teach Sedona’s history.
A walk around the park gives the visitor an opportunity to stand in Walter and Ruth’s shoes.
The homestead is surrounded by inspiring red rock formations such as The Fin and The Sail. These shapes were familiar friends of the Jordan family. One outcropping, The King and His Three Wives overlooked Walt and Ruth’s first home. This configuration consists of a group of small monoliths. The king is off by himself facing a cluster of 3 monoliths, his queens. It is noted it by their daughter, F Ruth Jordan in Following Their Westward Star that Walt thought the tree on the ledge of the king appears to be his boutonniere.
There are several hiking trails just behind the park where an avid hiker as well as the casual visitor can enjoy the natural beauty of Sedona. Walk the trail around the formation known as the Cibola mitten named for the mythical Spanish City of Gold or take a longer trek on Brin’s Mesa. As you drink in the boundless beauty surrounding you, imagine life as an early settler; working endless hours under primitive conditions relying only on resolution, endurance and ingenuity.
Look for more articles in this series Watch for Red Rocks by Ann Galgano-Bellile.