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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features August 27, 2015


1/4/2011 1:55:00 PM
When Peck’s Lake was prosperous
VVN/Jon HutchinsonAt one time, the knoll that the horseshoe lake surrounds boasted a nine-hole golf course, a clubhouse and a dance hall. Peck’s Lake provided fishing, boating, picnicking and sightseeing. Peck’s Lake had a lot of history before that fence.
VVN/Jon Hutchinson

At one time, the knoll that the horseshoe lake surrounds boasted a nine-hole golf course, a clubhouse and a dance hall. Peck’s Lake provided fishing, boating, picnicking and sightseeing. Peck’s Lake had a lot of history before that fence.
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Once upon a time, the area was popular for picnicking and community gatherings.

Jon Hutchinson
Staff Reporter


CLARKDALE – Peck’s Lake, today, is something of a memory for many contemporaries.

Many locals have enjoyed its recreational opportunities in the past in a wide number of ways. Today, short of an agreement over liability with the Town of Clarkdale, the mining company that owns the land has fenced it against public use. Even when the monumental Clark Mansion caught fire this past year, firefighters needed a key to unlock the fence that protects it from vandalism.

Still, it is believed that transients’ fires may have caused the blaze.

But Peck’s Lake was once an area that provided fishing, boating, picnicking and sightseeing. Peck’s Lake had a lot of history before that fence.

Vince Randall, an educator and leader in the Yavapai-Apache community, still lives on land where Native Americans camped south of the Tuzigoot Bridge, facing Peck’s Lake. He says that was one of two Clarkdale-area communities where the true locals had camps. The other eventually was home to the Clarkdale copper smelter in an area locals called “Twittyville,” between the town and the rail tracks east of the community. That area was formally named Santa Fe Town.

Former Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Superintendent Julie Larson, who retired after 38 years in education, became a member of the Arizona Historical Society and wrote a collection of the history of the many local elementary schools of the Verde Valley, worried that people would lose the memory of where we came from and where the schools were born. She wrote that in 1878, the first school was established in Cottonwood, located where the Cottonwood Civic Center now stands in Old Town.

Larson’s compilation shows that schools grew up around communities of people, and children were taught in groups. Sometimes, as with the Pecks Lake School District, it is difficult today to see where that community was located. Larson has found it difficult to even locate the site of the Peck’s Lake School at all, even though it reportedly had up to 25 students from 1896 through 1913. It was the first Clarkdale school. She believed it originally served a rural non-Clarkdale farming community as well at the plant workers of the TAPCO power plant upriver.

There are few records of the school or the population it served, but the Arizona Journal-Miner of May 25, 1911, does record a request from the Yavapai County School Superintendent Glenn W. Persons, asking the Board of Supervisors to adjust the boundaries of the Peck Lake District to avoid an overlap with the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District.

The next year, W.A. Clark’s United Verde smelter moved off the rich ore body in Jerome to relocate along the river next to his train line nearby.

Peck’s Lake became part of the recreation amenities for the master planned smelter community. The knoll that the horseshoe lake surrounds boasted a nine-hole golf course, a clubhouse and a dance hall. The popular course was where Marty James honed his skills to take Mingus High School to the state championship.

Tuzigoot is the Apache word for “crooked water,” referring to neighboring Peck’s Lake, a cutoff meander of the Verde River.

In Sept. 23, 1933, it was published in the Prescott Evening Courier that Commander Bill Conners of the Clarkdale post of the American Legion had extended an invitation to local ex-servicemen, families and friends to attend a program of boat races and other features at Peck’s Lake that Sunday.

The same newspaper announced that the first six CCC camps would come to the Verde Valley that winter, according to Northern Arizona Army Supervisor Pearl L. Thomas.

In October, another motor boat regatta and dance was proposed by the Legion at the Post at Peck’s Lake.

It was a time in which excavation nearby had advanced and the ruin was given the name Tuzigoot. Many laborers were hired to move rock and expose the ruins.

Announcing the 70th anniversary of the ruin last year, reporter Steve Ayers wrote that, by 1937, when the museum opened to the public, former graduate student Earl Jackson was custodian of Montezuma Castle and encouraged the establishment of Tuzigoot as a National Monument.

After considerable legislative wrangling, Tuzigoot was finally turned over to the National Park Service in February 1939. On July 25, 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a proclamation establishing the site as Tuzigoot National Monument.

There are actually two ruins in the area. Tuzigoot is the largest and most renowned but a smaller pueblo had been built on a hill above the western reach of the lake. That property has been acquired by The Nature Conservancy.

Peter Pillas, archeologist with the Coconino National Forest, believes there were Sinagua pueblos built about every 2.2 miles along the Verde River.

After the several family deaths, including that of W.A. Douglas III while attempting “blind” flying, the United Verde Clarkdale holdings were sold to Phelps Dodge in 1935.

The lake also giveth and taketh away. A father and son, 37-year-old Carmen Cardenas and Rubin Cardenas, 13, died of drowning in the lake the same day, Sept. 7, 1925. Michael Pereja, 15, also was reported to have drown in the lake in 1956.

Anticipating the 50th anniversary of incorporation, Janice Benatz told the Verde Independent about her childhood in Clarkdale. Her mother, Dorothy Benatz, graduated from the Arizona State Teachers College in Flagstaff in 1938, and relocated to Clarkdale to work at the Clarkdale High School and later as the town’s clerk. About 10 years after the move, Janice was born.

She was 10 when the town incorporated in 1957. “We’d just spend all our summer days there at the pool,” Janice said. “Swimming in the summer was from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and they drained the pool every week.”

But one of Janice’s fondest memories was driving to Peck’s Lake for the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks explode in the sky and reflect in the water.

“It was spectacular,” she said.

The fireworks that flickered on the water ended at Peck’s Lake once fireworks became popular at the slag heap behind the Verde Valley Fairgrounds. There was easier parking and the threat of fire was not so great.

During the Arizona housing boom but before shipping copper for the China boom made the metal more attractive again, Phelps Dodge considered developing 550 acres around Peck’s Lake for 700 home sites. The company proposed capping the adjacent mine tailings to build an expanded golf course, and the old course was closed. Opposition and environmental agencies became roadblocks.

In order to ease the merger to Freeport MacMoRan ownership, Phelps Dodge completed capping the tailings pond, ending a long-standing eyesore.

A recent proposal to revive Clarkdale’s industrial flavor with a green approach has since been discouraged by both Tuzigoot and turned aside by the mine company.

Everyone is still aware of the rich recreational opportunities and the vast wildlife and bird life around the lake, but the future of Peck’s Lake is unknown, awaiting an eager population to see beyond that fence.


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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, December 17, 2012
Article comment by: Fay Kelley

Article comment by: Daniel Daoust

"I moved to Cottonwood just over 3 years ago and it absolutely boggles my mind that the local towns would allow such a beautiful area for recreation to be cut off from public use. I hope when I win the lottery they will sell it to me and I can put up some anti-liability signs and let the public back in."

What Daniel said!

Minnesota where I grew up *all* lakes had to have a public access road.... no privately owned lakes. Then we moved to CT and that's about all there is....private water.

Hard to believe that companies are allowed to do such as this ~


Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Article comment by: prosperous lake

ive been to pecks lake one time in my life, just shortley after my mom moved up here from Chandler, i was 15 or 16 at the time, and i just remember falling bein just in awe at it because i the only lakes i had seen were sourounded by concrete and parks this was the first actual lake, lake i had ever seen. and i had always wanted to come back again. after high school i really go into fishing and pecks was a dream fishing hole for me. well i moved to campverde about 8 months ago got settled in got a job so on so forth. well today i finally got my gear together and headed to pecks much to my dissipointment i saw fence with a posted no trespassing sign on it. lets just say a few choice words were yelled out and a foot print is now on the fence haha. then i found this artical and realized what happend and how stpid i think the city of clarkdale is for letting this happen. maybe we can vote the lake open again or vote out who ever decited to close it..or hope the best of luck to Daniel and the lottery winnings....sad sad day for me.

Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011
Article comment by: Use To

go to Pecks Lake allot. Its a shame that the people who run Clarkdale were more interested in pushing Mountain Gate through even when the majority of the people wanted on part of it then doing something to keep Pecks Lake opem

Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011
Article comment by: Patrick Hernandez

Our family lived in lower Clarkdale in the mid sixties. We would walk across the old Tuzigoot bridge, and go fishing at Peckís lake, where I caught my first fish ever, a small bluegill. I also remember the Fourth of July fireworks at Peckís lake. A Peckís lake visit would always be a great family gathering time. I donít understand why a great asset like Peckís is kept away from the locals. Even if it was state controlled like Dead Horse State Park, I would pay an entrance fee to spend time there. I understand the barricade around the lake, the vandalism was on the increase in the area. It didnít stop them from burning down the Clark mansion. What a shame.

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2011
Article comment by: John Kotulski

I remember Pecks Lake as a place of dread. Not because it wasn't beautiful, it is. Not because I didnt enjoy going there, I did. But because when I was 15 and ran cross country for American Heritage Academy back in 1999 our coach loved to take us there to run around the lake. I loved to run and I loved cross country but that my friends was a heck of a run. Looking back I would love the opportunity to go back to that place and run around it. You know I take it back Pecks Lake wasnt a place of dread it was a place that I remember fondly.

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2011
Article comment by: Daniel Daoust

I moved to Cottonwood just over 3 years ago and it absolutely boggles my mind that the local towns would allow such a beautiful area for recreation to be cut off from public use. I hope when I win the lottery they will sell it to me and I can put up some anti-liability signs and let the public back in.

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2011
Article comment by: Dody Nolan

Pecks's Lake Memories always bring a smile and a flood of great family gatherings to mind! I remember the fire works every year, the fishing and skipping rocks across the water. I remember when my Grandparents Ed & Dot Starkey managed the club house and I learned how to play golf on that challenging course around the lake. I remember family reunions and cousins coming from all over to get together and picnic by the lake. I remember my wedding reception in the club house and decorating it so it looked like a fairy tale. I remember watching the fire on my computer from Virginia where I now live and thinking how sad that Clarkdale has lost something that has given so much to so many. I am thankful I have the memories that will never be lost or forgotten of a time that was about family and being together at a place called Pecks Lake.


Posted: Monday, January 10, 2011
Article comment by: Pecks Puddle

I like others remember watching the 4th of July Fireworks from what we locals call Pecks Puddle, great times we had there! It's such a beautiful place where my kids use to swim and spend lovely summer days. Now it's fenced off, for what??? Makes one wonder if the reason is more than keeping out the sue happy people of today. I remember when Pecks Lake was to be developed too during the crazy building boom time in Cottonwood that never panned out and always wondered if there is more going on than is willing to be told. I'm glad it never happened so the beauty of it will be around for generations. I believe it's time to tear the fence down and let the people of the Verde Valley have Pecks Puddle back to enjoy, it's part of our history! I just hope and pray it's not severely polluted and a health threat and the real reason it's not developed and closed!



Posted: Sunday, January 9, 2011
Article comment by: Dick Thompson

My thanks to Jon for a comprehensive look at Pecks Lake. The Phelps Dodge subdivision proposal came along while I was on the Clarkdale town council. We appeared to be making good progress with the regulatory agencies, and Phelps Dodge's proposal to build a state of the art waste water treatment plant, give it to the Town in the form of a community facilities district supervised by the town council had a lot of potential. The proposed effluent treatment and buy back arrangement would have meant very low rates for all of Clarkdale's residents. The property also contains a very good well that would pump water not connected to the Verde River subflow. A group of folks with radio controlled airplanes on floats used to hold meets at Pecks Lake. I enjoyed watching that, and spent many hours enjoying the area. I hope it will be available to the public in the future.

Posted: Thursday, January 6, 2011
Article comment by: Doug Gordon

Pecks Lake was one of my dad's favorite fishing holes back in the fifties and sixties. I also remember that my favorite fireworks displays were at Pecks Lake. If you got tired of craning your neck looking up you could look at the reflection in the lake's surface.



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