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Community Profile: Flagstaff’s Early Businessmen Built a Legacy


In 1887, Matt Riordan shook hands with Edward E. Ayer and purchased Ayer Lum- ber Co. for $145,000. Less than a month later, the mill burned to the ground. Rather than cut their losses and head back to Chicago, the Riordan brothers, Matt, Tim and Michael, used this opportunity to expand. Within two weeks, Tim had the mill up and running. Dur- ing rebuilding, they brought in another mill to continue cutting and used other smaller units in the forest to rough cut the timber. They paid off their debt in three years.

“The Riordan family is a good case study of how you make a community,” said Kathy Far- retta, assistant park manager, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park. “They worked to move things forward.”

Their Arizona Lumber Company, reincorpo- rated as Arizona Lumber and Timber Company in 1890, was the largest employer in the area, with an average of 250 men. In 1895, the Rior- dans assisted in creating the Flagstaff Electric Company, providing electricity to the mill and

the community. The brothers also worked to ensure that an adequate water supply was available, creating Lake Mary in 1903. The Riordans, concerned about their employees’ health, took a dollar each month out of every paycheck for a doctor’s salary. The doctor served the mill’s employees as well as other Flagstaff residents.

However, the Riordans wanted more than a successful business in Flagstaff; they wanted to create a community. The family served on boards, volunteered where needed and wined and dined visitors. They left a staggering list of accomplishments, including: creation of the first forest research station, construction of Catholic churches and a school, development of public schools, establishment of Lowell Observatory and the Normal School in Flagstaff (which became Northern Arizona University).

     By 1904, Matt had moved away from Flag- staff and Michael and Tim and their families had settled into their duplicate houses on Kinlichi Knoll, what we now call Riordan Man- sion. Family members continued to occupy the residence until 1985, when the state parks system took over full management. Tours of the east house, Tim’s side, have been provided since 1983. “The tours are an hour long,” said Donna Russell, volunteer at Riordan Mansion, “and I can’t get to half of the stories.”

     Tim Riordan married Caroline Metz and had two daughters. Michael Riordan fell in love with and married Caroline’s sister, Elizabeth. They had six children. On the tour of Tim and Caroline’s house, you begin to get a feeling for who they were. Caroline loved to cook and her big coal-fired stove has never been removed from the kitchen. Tim enjoyed talking; his almond-shaped dining room table promoted cross-table conversations. Timothy’s sense of humor is also on display during the tour, whether it is a photograph of him with a large snowball on his head or the oversized Paul Bunyan baby shoes in the “Rendezvous Room.”

“     I came here because I love architecture. This is one of the best examples of Arts and Crafts style architecture in the area,” said Rus- sell. “But I volunteer because I love the family and the stories. They are amazing.”

     This is a recurring theme among volunteers. They visit for a variety of reasons: love of his- tory, Flagstaff, architecture. They stay because they love the family.

The Arizona legislature has swept away state park system earnings, leaving parks with no operation funds. Riordan Mansion State His- toric Park was slated to be closed on Feb. 22, but closure has been delayed until March 29. The Riordan Action Network (RAN), founded by Riordan Mansion volunteers, has been working with the non-profit group Northern Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society to keep the park open.

     “RAN is in immediate need of donations to show that we can keep this park open,” said Marilyn Ruggles, co-founder of RAN.

     RAN is hoping that the Northern Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society will be successful in developing a lease with the state to keep Riordan Mansion open.

“[The Riordan Mansion] is an amazing gift from an amazing family,” said Marilyn. “If it closes, we will be losing history.” FBN

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