A Sweet Spot: Indian Bend and Scottsdale roads bustle with activity

A Sweet Spot: Indian Bend and Scottsdale roads bustle with activity

By Joan Fudala

For more than 100 years, the area around Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads has attracted modest farmers, land speculators, captains of industry, Arabian horse and Angus cattle breeders, tourists, railroad history buffs, family picnics, veterans, civic group events, shoppers and diners.

Soon it will add a new dimension — a Ritz-Carlton property and the Palmeraie mixed-use development.

Look at some of the highlights of this historic crossroads:

  • Evidence of prehistoric animals was found when construction crews excavated McCormick Lake in 1971. Researchers at the time estimated that the remains of giant Columbian mammoth, as well as horses, tortoises and ground sloths, could be 12,000 to 25,000 years old.
  • Homestead papers on land that is now the McCormick Stillman Railroad Park were issued to Guadalupe A. Lamb in 1897, to the Saginaw and Manistee Lumber Co. in 1904, and to Hattie A. Weaver in 1915. It is unknown if any of these early homesteaders built on the property. However, the Weavers established a homestead in what is now the town of Paradise Valley, operating a small sanitarium and creating the area’s first cemetery (now known as the Camelback Cemetery on McDonald Drive opposite the Kiva Elementary School).
  • In the early 1900s, land now known as McCormick Ranch was a favorite hunting spot, particularly in “the slough” — a name for the Indian Bend Wash.
  • Samuel and Mary Jolly moved from Missouri in 1921 and settled on 45 acres north of Scottsdale, where McCormick Railroad Park now sits. They raised a few cows and chickens on land that remained mostly desert. Mary raised their three daughters — Scottsdale schoolgirls Marie, Dora and Rosemary — on the Jolly Ranch. When Marie married Malcolm White, they lived at the Jolly’s ranch for a few years. He later became a flight instructor at Thunderbird II Airfield during World War II and was the first Scottsdale mayor after incorporation in 1951.
  • Marvin L. Folkman, a partner in Cleveland-based Research Products Chemical Co., established R.P. Ranch in 1941, northeast of what is now Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads. Company executives used the ranch as a vacation retreat. The Fowler McCormicks bought the southern part of R.P. Ranch, and Daniel Gainey of the Jostens Company purchased the northern portion.
  • By 1941, retired chemist Merle Cheney, founder of Cheney Chemical Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, had established a ranch on Mummy Mountain, and purchased land from Mary Jolly on the southeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian Bend Roads for $5,500. He used the land for raising his Arabian horses. Cheney kept this portion of land for about a year, when he sold it to Anne and Fowler McCormick.
  • In 1943, after visiting the Phoenix area for several winters, Anne and Fowler McCormick (he the grandson of Cyrus McCormick of International Harvester and John D. Rockefeller) bought 160 acres of what would eventually total 4,236 acres in Scottsdale for a winter home. Fowler and Anne (“Fifi”) raised Black Angus cattle and championship Arabian horses, as well as alfalfa, barley and oats. Ranch headquarters were located on the southeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads, referred to as the “South Ranch” (the former Jolly family property in the 1920s and 1930s). The McCormicks moved into the house built by Cheney on the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads. The white stucco home faced east to enjoy a view of the McDowell Mountains. Anne planted roses around the house and decorated it with arts and crafts she had purchased from Native American artisans throughout the Southwest. A distinctive round stable and guest houses were located north of the main house.
  • Dorothy and Burke Patterson opened Ride-n-Rock Ranch, an 80-acre dude ranch on Indian Bend Road in 1949, with accommodations for 28 guests. Amenities included a swimming pool, shuffleboard, a putting green and horse stables. Dorothy sold Ride-n-Rock Ranch in 1967. It continued to operate under new owners for a few more years before much of the land was sold for development of a large resort. Some of the original ranch casitas still comprise the Ride-n-Rock neighborhood.
  • Anne’s son Guy Stillman moved his family from Phoenix to Scottsdale in 1952, locating Stillman Ranch on the northwest corner of Indian Bend and Scottsdale roads. A lifelong train enthusiast, he had the first cars of his Paradise & Pacific — a 5/12-scale railroad — fabricated for his personal ranch railroad to the enjoyment of his children and friends.
  • The year-old All-Arabian Horse Show moved to Scottsdale, held at Anne’s show ring just north of their ranch house. The show was then moved to Paradise Park farther north on the McCormick’s ranch until Anne’s death in 1969.
  • On November 23, 1962, the city of Scottsdale annexed the site of the McCormicks’ main house and the land surrounding it.
  • In December 1967, the McCormicks donated 100 acres of virtually undeveloped land along Indian Ben Road to the city of Scottsdale for parks and recreation use. Thirty acres east of Scottsdale Road became the McCormick Railroad Park, and 70 acres west of Scottsdale Road will be part of the Palmeraie/Ritz-Carlton development. In his acceptance speech reported in the Scottsdale Daily Progress on December 13, Mayor Bud Tims said, in part, “They (the McCormicks) led the way in development of Scottsdale, and when the city expanded, were the first to ask inclusion within its new boundary. Much of the master plan the city recently adopted generated from ideas of the McCormicks. Their vast holdings will make it possible for the city to realize this plan. When a month ago I received from Mrs. Anne McCormick a letter advising me of their gift to the city of 100 acres of land, I was struck with the sincerity and kindness shown. The second paragraph of this letter represents the spirit of this kind woman. I quote it now: ‘I loved my children dearly — who had many advantages. It gives me great pleasure to be able to make other children happy.’ I am delighted to be able to accept this wonderful gift on behalf of the people of Scottsdale, and to pledge to you the city’s determination to develop recreational and cultural facilities of this site.” According to a December 1967 Scottsdale Daily Progress op-ed piece, “Guy Stillman, who is Mrs. McCormick’s son, has made arrangements to turn over a miniature railroad train and a mile of track that will be part of McCormick Park. … An arboretum, a community center, an outdoor theater and an Indian museum are planned for the park. The museum, will be used to encourage Indian artisans, in keeping with the McCormicks’ long-time support of weaving, pottery making, and other indigenous handicrafts.” According to a history compiled in 1979 by Stillman, “The appraised value was $800,000 which constituted one of Arizona’s significant gifts to the public sector.” Fowler also donated funds to get the park started.
  • Anne Potter Stillman McCormick died May 25, 1969, at her home on the McCormick’s Scottsdale ranch; she was 89. Fowler put their over 4,400-acre ranch up for sale and moved to Palm Springs, where he died January 6, 1973.
  • In 1970, Kaiser-Aetna bought the McCormicks’ ranch for $12.1 million from Fowler and the estate of the late Anne. During its development, McCormick Ranch launched many firsts for Scottsdale, including view corridors, developer-paid infrastructure and walking trails, and became Arizona’s first master planned community when it premiered in 1971.
  • Robert Hing opened the Scottsdale Racquet Club on Indian Bend Road. It reopened in 1999 as the Scottsdale Athletic Club. The Hing Family opened the Scottsdale Resort Club adjacent to their Scottsdale Athletic Club on Indian Bend Road in 2003; it closed in 2017.
  • Guy chartered the Scottsdale Railroad and Mechanical Society as of October 5, 1971, to provide technical expertise to the McCormick Railroad Park and raise funds to acquire and relocate historic railroad facilities and cars to the park. Volunteers, using donated materials, built a Railroad Service and Storage Building in December 1971 for the scale Paradise & Pacific Railroad, the first of numerous improvements funded by the SRMS for the park.
  • Sands North townhouse development opened in 1971, just south of the planned McCormick Railroad Park. Residents of Sands North filed a “public nuisance” suit against the city of Scottsdale and the Scottsdale Railroad & Mechanical Society in 1972 that enjoined the city from completing construction of the railroad section of the park. A Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of the city and construction continued; however, the city was required to build a sound-suppression wall between the park and Sands North.
  • In November 1973 the first Scottsdale Foundation for the Handicapped Fiesta was held at the former McCormick ranch house.
  • During spring 1973, the Sheraton Scottsdale Plaza Resort opened on the northwest corner of Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads with 276 units. In 1990, owner John Dawson dropped the Sheraton affiliation, renaming it the Scottsdale Plaza Resort. Its Remington’s restaurant became a popular place for jazz and live entertainment.
  • Scottsdale’s first branch library, dubbed the North Branch, opened in 1974 in the old McCormick Ranch “bunkhouse” within the railroad park. The city’s long-range planning department was also housed there. Due to a citywide budget crisis, the branch closed in 1975, then reopened, but eventually closed for good circa 1978-79.
  • Residents celebrated the grand opening of the city of Scottsdale’s McCormick Railroad Park on October 4, 1975, with train rides, games and music. At opening the park included the old Jolly Ranch garage and stable, which had been converted for use by local model train clubs, the unrestored Roald Amundsen Pullman car, Gabe Brooks’ machine shop and the Peoria Depot.
  • In 1977 the Radisson Resort (later rebranded Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort Scottsdale) opened on Indian Bend east of the railroad park. It was planned as the Timber Bridge Inn. The resort closed in 2004 and razed to make way for a condo development.
  • The Registry Resort opened in 1977 on Scottsdale Road north of Indian Bend Road. Rebranded a Radisson in the late 1990s, it closed in 2005 and razed in 2007 for a condo development. It was the site of numerous civic events and tennis tournaments.
  • In 1977-78 Scottsdale restaurateur and civic leader Dale Anderson purchased the relocated, 10-acre Stillman Ranch on Scottsdale Road from Guy. Anderson built the Scottsdale Centre complex, including restaurant and office space, just north of The Registry Resort.
  • The 1978 Fiesta Bowl Marathon on December 2 started near Carefree Ranch, continued south down Scottsdale road, east on Thunderbird-Redfield Road to Hayden Road, south to Indian Bend Road, and finished at McCormick Railroad Park; the Scottsdale Charros were sponsors of the event.
  • The McCormick Railroad Park Arboretum began in 1980. Purpose of the planned arboretum was two-fold: to create an enjoyable environment where the public could learn about plants for arid landscapes and to provide a testing ground for growing low-water consumptive plants imported from other countries. The arboretum was a direct result of Fowler and Anne’s love for the desert and its vegetation.
  • After The Registry Resort opened in 1977 on land that was adjacent to the McCormicks’ ranch home, there was a grassroots movement to save the vintage 1941 house and place it on the historic register. There was some talk of using it as a restaurant. Regrettably, it was demolished to make way for further development.
  • Arizona’s boxcar — one of 49 in the 1949 French Gratitude (Merci) Train that brought more than 3,200 gifts from the French for American generosity in the postwar years — was moved to the McCormick Railroad Park in 1987 from the Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum, north of Phoenix by the 259th Engineering Company of the Arizona National Guard. After years of fundraising and getting help with restoration, community volunteer Zina Kuhn was proud to have the French Gratitude/Merci Train Car dedicated at McCormick Railroad Park on November 11, 1989. French Consul-General Gerard Coste was an honored guest at the dedication ceremony. In conjunction with the dedication of the French Gratitude Boxcar, Kuhn started an annual city of Scottsdale tradition — hosting the Veterans Day Ceremony in front of the historic boxcar.
  • In 1988, Fife Symington developed The Scottsdale Seville center on the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads with Japanese partner Shimizu. Over the years, it has housed restaurants, the In Celebration of Golf superstore, clothing boutiques, banks and more.
  • In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Ogdensburg Declaration (U.S. Canadian Defense pact) on August 18, 1940, the train car in which the historic agreement was signed — the Roald Amundsen car — was dedicated at the McCormick Railroad Park in August 1990. Brought to the park in 1973, the Pullman car was restored over 17 years and was opened for viewing at the dedication. Part of the project included stripping paint from the mahogany walls and restoring them to their beautiful condition that Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower enjoyed when they used the train car. In 2009, the Roald Amundsen Pullman Car was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • In 1996 Scottsdale’s McCormick Railroad Park was renamed the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in honor of its founder and patron, the late Guy. The railroad park underwent a major renovation in 1996 and 1997. New amenities included the installation of a 1950-vintage Allan Herschell carousel, which was acquired and restored for Scottsdale’s McCormick Stillman Railroad Park, and the debut of Stillman Station as park offices and ticket and memorabilia sales center.
  • A microburst on July 14, 2001, hit the railroad park, causing 16 large trees to fall over and ripping the canopy off the carousel. Tragically, a man was killed outside the park when a utility pole fell on his car at Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads.
  • The new 10,000-square-feet model train building funded by the Scottsdale Railroad and Mechanical Society was dedicated in 2011 at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
  • A sculpture in memory of Family Circus cartoonist Bil Keane was dedicated at the McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in 2013; Keane created a mural inside the Aquila Depot several years earlier.
  • The McCormick Stillman Railroad Park was named the best park in the U.S. in 2019.
  • Sands North residential area was added to the city’s Historic Register in 2019.
  • Scottsdale Fire Department’s Fire Station 603 opened on Indian Bend Road in 2020.
  • And now we await the completion of Palmeraie and the Ritz-Carlton on the southwest corner of this interesting intersection.

So many significant structures, people and events have populated the intersection of Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads. But some ideas never came to be: It was considered as a site for the planned Scottsdale Center for the Arts in the early 1970s, as a relocation site for Scottsdale Stadium, for a convention center, for the Hall of Flame museum and for the relocation of former Papago POW huts that had been used as a motel on Scottsdale Road south of Old Town.

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