Locals remember the scene when J.E. Thompson first visited Greer, Arizona, on his way from New York to Phoenix. He arrived in 1919 with his clan in a Twin 6 Packard touring car, which was about the grandest thing that many residents had ever seen. He was referred to as the local millionaire.
But the former investment banker, who retired at age 42, brought something much more important to the frontier town snuggled high in the White Mountains: indoor plumbing. That’s right. After vacationing in Greer for a few summers — his principal residence was in Phoenix and he’d go to the mountains to avoid the heat, hunt, and hike — Thompson built a home on the hilltop coming into town in the early 1920s.
The home, which was more like a lodge (it could sleep 22 people), had indoor plumbing, and J.E., a developer at heart, encouraged others to follow suit. He recommended the development of a big spring southwest of the village that could serve the entire town. The spring provides toilet and other water to townspeople to this day. Previously, locals had filled buckets with water and taken them home.
J.E.’s lodge was regarded as the “grandest thing” around, according to Karen Miller Applewhite, writing in “On the Road to Nowhere, A History of Greer Arizona 1879-1979.” It featured a main log lodge with two fireplaces, five upstairs bedrooms, a bedroom suite on the lower level, and a big open living-dining-kitchen space. Perfect for vacations with lots of guest.
Applewhite tells the story, probably related to her in an interview with my grandfather William B. Thompson, J.E.’s second son, that the Thompsons wanted “rustic” furniture for the lodge, so that it wouldn’t create too much maintenance for the family. That include a piano, which unfortunately arrived unblemished. People in the village were invited to the house with branding irons to give it a proper patina.
One reason the Thompsons wanted to live the easy life in Greer was because Bessie Boner Thompson, J.E.’s wife, had a mild case of TB. The couple would take long walks with walking sticks in the fresh mountain air. They would bring their horses with them to their mountain get-away.
The lodge included two guest cottages; one for Judge Charles Ayer of New York, who was general counsel and later president of the Newmont Mining Company; the other for William H. Remick of the New York Stock Exchange. The Thompsons kept things busy around town, bringing in guest for hunting and fishing trips up in the mountains, where he kept a cabin. The cabin only recently burned down.
According to Applewhite, the Thompsons were legendary around Greer. Their “wealth and ways became almost legendary to people unaccustomed to such things.” Locals remember, among other things:
–The Thompsons always had at least two servants working for them.
–A horse trained for the circus knelt so that Mrs. Thompson could get on.
–The Thompsons would send gifts and decorations to the village children.
It’s not clear when the lodge left the family’s possession, but it eventually became Turners’ Lodge. It burned down in 1952, according to Applewhite, who wrote that the only way to protect buildings was for brigades to bring buckets of water. A fire department wasn’t organized until 1970.
My uncle Bill (William Ernest) Thompson remembers vacationing in Greer one summer during the mid-1940s with his uncle Joe. He and a friend entered rodeos all over — in St. Johns, Eager. Each time the 15-year-old New York boys, who had never been on a horse before, would get pitched. But it didn’t dim their enthusiasm.
My uncle Tony (Anthony Richard) Thompson visited Greer with his older brother in the summer of 1956. “We stayed in an old line cabin, went to a dance at the Mormon Church, and ate chicken dinner at Molly Butler’s lodge, but the J.E. cabin was long gone.”