Friday, September 14, 2012

Mesa Grande Groundbreaking

The sites of Mesa Grande and Pueblo Grande are similar in many ways. They were both large and important villages in their day. They are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They both feature impressive platform mounds surrounded by compound walls and were located at the heads of large canal systems, but they are also different. Perhaps the most critical difference is that today all that remains of Mesa Grande above ground is its platform mound and the area immediately surrounding it. However, Mesa Grande will soon have a visitors center to educate and inform the public about this important site.

The mound and the property it is on changed hands over the years, beginning with the Lewis family in the late 1800s, followed by Ann Medora Barker. For many years, archaeologist Frank Midvale also owned the property, devoting himself to studying and preserving the site and its platform mound. The property was then purchased from Frank Midvale by the colorful Jack Ross, a local owner of a car dealership, and his equally colorful wife, Acquanetta, a model and actress. The City of Mesa in turn purchased the property from Acquanetta in the 80s.
View from the south to the top of the Mesa Grande platform mound.

Although the City of Mesa intended to construct an interpretive or educational center on the property, no money was available to do so. Mesa residents, including those who owned the property over the years, always expressed an interest in preserving the mound. To promote its development as an educational resource, the people of Mesa even held a parade down Main Street in 1927! Other movements took place over the years with the Mesa Grande Neighborhood Alliance and the Southwest Archaeology Team (SWAT) working to realize the development of an interpretive center. The Mesa Grande Neighborhood Alliance, SWAT, and the Arizona Museum of Natural History host the annual Open House and free pancake breakfast at the site—previously the only day the site was open each year. Since its purchase by the City of Mesa, SWAT has conducted excavations at Mesa Grande under the direction of Dr. Jerry Howard of the Arizona Museum of Natural History, obtaining a great deal of information about the site. The reproduction of the site’s ballcourt was also constructed by SWAT and Dr. Howard.

Looking towards the future site of the visitors center.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the visitors center at Mesa Grande took place on September 4, marking the culmination of three decades of work by these groups to make this a reality. Interpretive signage and a trail have already been constructed. Those in attendance at the ceremony included Mesa Mayor Scott Smith along with other City of Mesa officials, Vice President of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Martin Harvier, State Historic Preservation Officer Jim Garrison, Director of the Arizona Museum of Natural History Dr. Tom Wilson, and Dr. Jerry Howard. Even some descendants of the Lewis family were present at the ceremony. After the speeches had been given, Onk Akimel O’Odham Jonah Ray concluded with a traditional blessing of Mesa Grande.
Mesa and tribal representatives participate in the groundbreaking. Dr. Jerry Howard is on the right.
The construction of the visitors center was made possible by a grant from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community as well as additional grants and state historic preservation funding. The center is scheduled to open in January of next year.

Posted By April Carroll, Contract Associate Archaeologist - Archaeology Office

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