November 27, 2016

The Mysterious Ruins at Sullivan Lake *UPDATED*

Sullivan Lake Dam under construction
The mysterious ruins: What are those smaller stone structures?

A couple of miles south of Paulden, off of Rt. 89, is a loop spur marked "Old Hwy. 89." This aptly named stretch of the former roadway eventually crosses a bridge where some old ruins can be seen.

The usual passer-by often wonders what these buildings were for and when were they constructed?

West of the road, one can see a larger building and several smaller ones, all made of stone. Also immediately west of the road's bridge is a dam forming Sullivan Lake (which is often dry.)

Sullivan Lake dam today.
The two are interrelated and were constructed around the same time. They were, in fact, a failed project by the WPA during the later part of the Great Depression.

The project was meant to be a hunting and fishing locale for the Prescott Sportsmen Club. The larger building was to be the clubhouse, while the smaller stone structures were meant to be permanent duck blinds.

The idea was hatched during the mid 1930's by the Sportsmen Club, which talked the City of Prescott into purchasing 160 acres at the headwaters of the Verde River, right where it starts into a narrow canyon. A dam was to be built there to form a lake which would be stocked with fish. The lake would also provide a habitat for ducks (and game for the hunters.)

The dam at completion circa 1937.
(Notice how silt is already backing up behind the dam.)

In turn, Prescott talked the federal government into accepting it as a WPA project, providing jobs for the unemployed.

The clubhouse was situated close to the lake and many trees were planted along the lakeside.

But before the clubhouse could be completed, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, and all WPA projects were halted as Americans left to go to war. Completion of the site would have to wait.

It was originally intended to irrigate grain crops!

However, it soon became clear that engineers made a major miscalculation in their placement of the dam. They did not take into consideration the mega-tons of silt carried through the Chino Basin during monsoon season.

Major tributaries that feed into Sullivan Lake include: Big Chino Wash, Williamson Valley Wash, Little Chino Creek, and Granite Creek. Roughly, all the rain that falls north and west of Glassford Hill will (potentially) run into the Verde River.

In a few short years, the lake had completely silted-up, leaving the body of water only two feet deep at the dam.

Of course, it wasn't in the budget of the city or the Sportsmen Club to dredge the lake every other year, so the plan was entirely scrapped.

There once was talk of dredging the lake to create a fishing and picnicking spot, but it was found that the weight of the silt has cracked the dam.


On the east side of the same road bridge is a location of special geological significance: The very beginning of the great Verde River.

From this modest beginning embarks the river
that carved out the Verde Valley!

The dam during the flood
of February 20th, 1993.
Also directly to the east is the old railroad bridge that used to run to Ash Fork.

Although the potential tourist draw of the hunting and fishing club never materialized, perhaps the county would do well to erect a historical marker at this location explaining its significance to the curious passer-by.

Posting this article on facebook provoked many interesting reminisces fully worthy of being captured as oral history. They are posted here:

Barbara Gilpin Cook shared:
"It was fun sliding down the dam. Billy used to go bow frog hunting. A few years back during a flood the water was so high in the canyon, (that) it was just inches away from the railroad bridge. It was mostly just a big mud lake because all the dirt and sediment would wash down whenever it rained. I used to freak out walking across the dam but it was fun anyway. The ducks love it whenever the (lake has) water in it."

Marla Smith told:
"My Dad & Mom purchased the ranch that surrounds the lake in about 1954 or so. Our cattle grazed all over the place there and could often be seen in the little rock huts shaded up. We used to swim and fish off the dam--that was before it was neglected. It was a pretty nice spot back then."

Elaine Davis said:
"We used to play in those stone structures while dad fished."

Ronald Weddle remembered:
"I for sure, as a teenager use to shoot ducks (there). The ducks often won! I will never forget being there one day with a couple of other guys, opening up on this duck quacking as he took off. That sucker made it past all of us as we emptied our shotguns into air."

Marla Erhart shared:
"There was one thing I remembered about the place; (there) was not much water in it and I was trying to jump across to the (grass on the) other side...and behold, I fell into the water! Yes I did. It ruined my favorite jeans on one side. It was cold too. I think it was a dare that couple of my friends and I did. They were laughing, but I was not in the slightest, happy about it."


Drew's book is now available!

Available in paperback and Kindle!


Paperback: $21.99

Kindle ebook $12.99 

CLICK HERE for Amazon (PB or Kindle)


Also available at:

Western Heritage Center, 156.5 Montezuma (Whiskey Row)


And everywhere Prescott history books are sold!


Tourist Tip:
The "Old Hwy. 89" turn-off is 2.1 miles north of W. Road 5 N. in Chino Valley. Turn right, then travel 2 miles north to the Verde Canyon road bridge. 

From Paulden, head south on Rt. 89 for only 0.3 miles and turn left on "Old Hwy. 89." Then travel south for 1.4 miles to get to the bridge.

Thanks to reader Trae M. of Paulden for asking this question and providing this beautiful pic of the clubhouse building: 

Clubhouse building today.

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"Paulden Pioneers" by Ruth Gilpin. (c) 12/31/1999. Pg. 116.
(This book is the best resource the author has found regarding the early (anglo) history of the area from Chino Valley to Drake. It costs $20 (at the time of this article,) shipping included. Send a money order to: Terri McPherson, PO Box 297, Paulden, AZ 86334. Via PayPal: send money to this email: If you are in the Paulden area and would like to pick up the book yourself, call 928/636-2272.)


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