What's In A Name?

Information adapted from:Hassayampa River Preserve, a brief history
Compiled by Jean Arrowsmith

About the Hassayampa River: The Hassayampa River Preserve consists of approximately 770 acres along the Hassayampa River, just south of Wickenburg, AZ. The Hassayampa River is one of the few undammed rivers in Arizona which flows above ground creating an oasis in the Sonoran Desert.

The river starts at Groom Creek in the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott. Groom Creek is a typical mountain stream, plunging over rocks and bordered by tall trees typical of higher elevations. When the water reaches the valley floor, it disappears under up to a thousand feet of sand and gravel that has been eroded, over millennia, off the mountains.

To its convergence with the Gila River, the river is almost entirely underground. But for five miles at the preserve, the granite bedrock domes up, forcing the water to the surface, where it flows year round. This geological fact led to its naming, Hassayampa, which can be loosely translated from the Yavapai as the upside-down river.

An Oasis In The Desert

The palm that are the signature trees of the preserve, were possibly planted during Brill’s residency. Oral history says that seeds or plants were brought by stagecoach from Castle Hot Springs, a resort east of the Preserve. There are many palm trees on that property, perhaps brought by Native Americans who used the fruit for food, the seeds for flour and the thatch for roofing material.

The Early Settlers

1866 – 1911. Frederick Brill, a Prussian immigrant, settled on the land in August 1866. He farmed the land growing corn, barley, and an extensive fruit orchard that is reported to be the first one in Arizona. There were also beef and dairy cattle on the property. In 1881, Brill imported carp from California, which he raised in spring-fed ponds, on the property. The remains of one of these ponds still exists beside the Mesquite Meander Trail. This was the first fish farming done in Arizona. In 1875 (or 1877), Brill married Isabella O’Rourke and they had three children: Cora, Frederick and Louis. Isabella died in 1882 and is reported to be buried in the gravesite beside the driveway. Frederick Brill, owned the ranch for approximately 45 years until he passed away in 1911.

1913 – 1917. John S. and Frances Sanger bought the Brill Ranch for $14,700. The retired physician from New York opened it as the Garden of Allah dude ranch for those who wanted the dude ranch experience, and for those who thought desert air would cure their ills. The name, Garden of Allah, came from a popular novel of the time and was inspired by the palm trees, well established by this time. The Garden of Allah has been called the first dude ranch in Wickenburg, and Wickenburg soon styled itself as the Dude Ranch Capital of the World. The Sanger Building was built at this time, and was believed to be bunkhouse for ranch help.

Allah Station. After the Walnut Creek flood of 1890, Henry Wickenburg gave the Santa Fe Railroad permission to build its line through his property -- the railroad’s preferred route -- rather than the back-up route by Vulture Mountain to the west. In conjunction with Wickenburg, Brill also gave his permission for the river route, since the land was no longer suitable for farming. By the time Sanger established the Garden of Allah, this was an important development. Visitors were able to come by train and get off at the Allah Station, across the river near where the Lykes Lookout Trail is now. This was a “flagged stop” so the railroad needed to be informed if a passenger was arriving or departing. There were “whistle posts” where the engineer indicated the train’s arrival, so that someone could cross the river to pick up any passengers and bring them to the ranch.

1919. Property sold at a tax sale with the Sangers name on the deed. After the tax sale, the property was eventually sold to a Chicago resident, Alden Thomas, of the Quaker Oats company who used it as a winter home until he leased it to others.

1935 – 1943. Lebbeus (Leb) Chapman – ran the property as the Lazy RC Ranch.

1960. Wickenburg Springs Association purchased the property in hopes of turning it into a retirement community. The plan was to make this a retirement community and the pond was excavated for swimming, boating, fishing and water skiing.

1974. Before the property passed on to Norman Lykes, it had become a trailer park and significant deterioration of the habitat had occurred.

1986. The Nature Conservancy purchased the property and spent a year restoring it before they reopened it to the public in 1987.

2004. The nearly 330-acre preserve was nearly doubled in size with a gift from the estates of Lykes’ wife, Dorothy. The purchase of other smaller parcels increased the preserve to its current 770 acres.

2017. The Nature Conservancy enters into an Agreement with Maricopa County to manage the Hassayampa River Preserve.

To learn the rest of the story, please stop by the visitor’s center.

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