by Drew Desmond, Secretary, Prescott Western Heritage Foundation
During the heyday of railroads, Fred Harvey ran an extensive chain of shops, restaurants and grand hotels along the Santa Fe line. To supply his hotels and restaurants with milk and cream, he established a dairy farm, Arizona’s first, in Peach Springs. However, the water supply was inconsistent there, and in 1912 Harvey moved the entire operation to Del Rio Springs, north of Chino Valley.
This land was then owned by the City of Prescott, which entered into a 10-year lease with the Harvey franchise. Work started immediately. The first year, grain hay was raised; the second, 200 tons of alfalfa was produced.
“From a financial standpoint, the coming of the Harveys to this section is a matter of great import,” the Weekly Journal-Miner reported. It was thought that the Harvey Dairy would employ 30-50 men regularly with dozens more employed during construction. In all, 12 structures were built. The milking barn was the largest and measured 35×116 feet.
“Feed sheds, a large corral, a mess, milk, ice and other houses (made) one of the most complete institutions in the diary line in the territory,” according to the paper. Soon it was employing twice the men as originally anticipated.
George Harkin, superintendent of the farm, was well pleased with the operation. “Milk and cream are being shipped daily to the main line stations of the Santa Fe, and average 300 gallons every day,” Harkin said. Two years later in 1914, the dairy produced 80,000 gallons of milk and cream to be served at the Harvey Houses.
Dairy products weren’t the only things the ranch supplied. “The operation (also) supplied … chickens, eggs, turkeys and all meat and dairy products,” according to author Ruth Gilpin in her book “Paulden Pioneers”. “There was something like 2,000 laying hens and 5,000 turkeys raised a year. They had around 550 acres under cultivation.”
After the water at Del Rio Springs was sent to Washington for testing and was pronounced “the purest of any in the nation,” Harvey management decided “to give the Del Rio dairy the widest range … of publicity. To this end, every vessel, whether metallic, earthen or glass, (had) a lithographic reproduction of the Del Rio Harvey Farm,” the paper reported. “The table serving … likewise (portrayed) the place in a natural scene.” If any of these described items survived, they belong in the Sharlot Hall Museum!
Eventually however, due to the rising cost of transportation, it was found that the Harvey franchise, “… could buy (the) milk and egg products they needed from sources closer to the various restaurants cheaper than they could raise it and ship it from the ranch,” according to the paper.
In 1929, the dairy was closed and silage was grown for Harvey’s stock animals. Seven hundred to eight hundred tons of hay were produced annually with half of it going to the Grand Canyon to feed the working stock there. Part of these stock animals were the Grand Canyon mules that took visitors to the bottom of the Canyon. These animals spent the winter off-season at the Del Rio Ranch. This continued until 1956 when Harvey closed his Houses — at least in the west.
“Del Rio was also the location of the cattle shipping pens for many years,” according to Gilpin. “It wasn’t uncommon to see herds of several thousand head of cattle being driven to the stock pens when fall shipping began. Today there are many small farms or dwellings where once huge herds of cattle roamed while waiting to be shipped.”