In 1911, led by son Robert Wingfield, W.G. Wingfield and Son began expanding their store in Camp Verde. Four concrete additions were built over the next six years, establishing it as the largest general merchandise outlet in the lower Verde for the next 60 years.
The Verde Valley Oil Company was one of four companies that drilled for oil around the valley in 1912. Owned by locals James Henry Wingfield and William Stephens, the company actually drilled two holes, but found nothing and was forced to liquidate two years later.|
CAMP VERDE - Camp Verde may not have been the economic engine that Jerome was in 1912, but it still clung firmly to its de facto role as heart and soul of the Verde Valley.
What it lacked in mineral wealth it more than made up for in agricultural prowess, self-promotion and a prevailing belief that prosperity was just around the bend.
It is a little known fact that although Camp Verde was the valley’s first settlement, it did not become a town, per se, until a dozen years before statehood.
That’s when James Henry Wingfield, with a winning bid of $700, purchased the 40 acres on which the post at Fort Verde was built and effectively took the downtown private.
The community known as Camp Verde had always been a scattering of farms and ranches centered on Fort Verde and the suttler’s store located across a broad roadway from the fort.
Slowly, very slowly, a town began to form.
Building a town
By 1903 it had a saloon, two general stores, a barbershop, boardinghouse, blacksmith shop, meeting/dance hall and a schoolhouse located in the old Fort Verde hospital building.
The 1910 census shows there were 94 Indians living in and around the old fort and 174 non-Indians. Most of the Indians listed their occupation as laborers, laundresses, basket makers, miners and woodchoppers.
Most of the non-Indians listed their occupations as farmers, ranchers, or farm/ranch laborers. In addition, there were five miners, three teachers, a barber, a blacksmith, two housepainters, three teamsters, an engineer, a carpenter, a hotelkeeper, one cook, physician, salesman, three merchants and a stonecutter.
The 1910 census also listed two saloonkeepers. It is uncertain what they were doing come statehood, but if they were still working in or around Camp Verde they weren’t tending bar.
On April 1, 1911, by a vote of 74 to 27, the electorate of the Camp Verde Justice Precinct, which included 144 square miles of Camp Verde, middle Verde and lower Verde, voted to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquors.
Camp Verde and its environs were among the first residents in Arizona to do so, and the first and only valley community to do so prior to the entire state going dry on January 1, 1915. Arizona would be a state for 22 years before liquor was sold legally in Camp Verde.
The center of public life
The old suttler’s store, which had changed hands several times, was in the hands of William G. Wingfield in 1912. Wingfield had purchased it from his brother, James Henry on March 1, 1909, for 1,000 head of cattle, valued at $16 each, and changed the store’s name to W. G. Wingfield and Son.
Although W.G. owned it, it was his son Robert who assumed control and built it into the largest commercial company in the valley, and, before it closed in 1978, the longest continuously operated business in Yavapai County.
The Wingfield Commercial Company became the center of public life for hundreds of families in the lower end of the Verde Valley.
In the first nine years after taking over, Robert Wingfield extended it to include the town’s post office, a bank, bakery and butcher shop, all of which were housed in a newly constructed concrete building that still stands today on Camp Verde’s Main Street.
Camp Verde was certainly no Jerome when it came to mineral production. But between promising prospects at the Squaw Peak Mine, the Verde Squaw Mine and two private companies drilling for oil, Camp Verde was, at least in 1912, on the radar screen.
Speculation that the Verde Valley might contain commercially marketable oil reserves began before the turn of the century. In 1908, James Henry Wingfield, was digging a well when he noticed an oily film on the well water.
Two years later, P.L. Griffin, an engineer who had helped develop the oil fields around Bakersfield Calif., arrived. When his report went public in 1911, the world rushed in.
The Prescott newspaper reported, “The Camp Verde Hotel has been forced to install a number of tent bedrooms ... to care for the oil-frenzied speculators and promoters who have been rampaging the valley ceaselessly for the last three weeks.”
On Jan. 6, 1912, the Verde Valley Oil Company, owned by Wingfield and his partner, county supervisor William Stephens, began drilling. Before the year was out two other companies were drilling in and around Camp Verde.
Speculators, hangers on, wannabes, rogues, thieves and a suitable supply of suckers flocked to the valley to file mineral locations.
Two years later it was over. No oil was found. The county sheriff auctioned off the assets, including the drill rig, of the Verde Valley Oil Company in April 1914.
This and that
Oct. 21-22, Camp Verde played host to the first Verde Valley Fair. For the farmers, ranchers and orchard growers it was an opportunity to show off what was widely accepted as some of the best produce in the state, if not the country.
Prizes of $1 to $5 were awarded for the best fruits, vegetables, and livestock. The big money went to the winners of the horse races -- Frank Dickerson won the saddle horse race, and Gyles Goswick won the cow horse race. Each took home $25.
The new bridge at Camp Verde, dubbed Black Bridge for its black iron construction, positioned Camp Verde by 1912 as the spot where traffic on the Territorial Highway running from Douglas to the Grand Canyon, would cross the Verde River.
Combined with the opening of Montezuma Castle National Monument, plus the privately held Soda Springs and Montezuma Well, Camp Verde was becoming a stopping point for the increasing number of tourists.
And, thanks to the construction of a new ice plant and cannery, both built in 1910, Verde Valley farmers were finding new ways to preserve their crops and broaden their markets.
Working on a railroad
But nothing compared to a railroad when it came to growing markets.
Between the mines on Squaw Peak, the prospects of oil and the known agricultural opportunities, a railroad was seen as the catalyst that would propel Camp Verde from perennial backwater to economic contender, in the emerging state.
A group of Prescott investors had attempted to build a railroad from Dewey, via Cherry Creek, to the lower Verde as early as 1906. George Hance, the local justice of the peace and de facto mayor of Camp Verde, had made a significant lobbying effort, but funding never came.
In 1910, another group of investors formed the Humboldt and Verde Valley Railroad. But their attempts to raise the $3.6 million needed to build the 83-mile line also came up short.
So when William Clark told Jerome reporters in 1912 that it was his intention to fund the extension of the Verde Valley Railroad to the lower valley, hope reached a fevered pitch.
Hope remained for years to come, boosted once again in 1918 when William Douglas of the United Verde Extension Mine expressed a desire to extend his rail line to the lower Verde Valley.
But the crash of the copper market following World War I crushed Douglas’ plans and with it the last big hope that Camp Verde would have its own train station.
When the mines closed 40 years later, the farms began growing houses.