Spring Break: Taking a trip through time in Casa Grande

Dear Students,

On our way home from Tucson yesterday, the afternoon lay ahead with no plans. I took the chance and drove through the towns of Eloy and Casa Grande on the way home to have a look around. Eloy is famous as a mecca for skydivers so we kept our eyes peeled for parachutes and were rewarded when we saw three wee chutes tick-tocking down from the blue sky.  I relied on my GPS to point out a destination for me, spinning through the options presented in the “Historical Attractions” feature, landing on the Casa Grande Historical Society.

Downtown Casa Grande improved the outlook for the afternoon considerably. We parked at the Art Museum (closed that day) and enjoyed the beautiful bougainvillea that rioted along the wall. We walked across the street to the Casa Grande Historical Society and found it open and staffed with friendly faces.

Number two child cooperates happily for the picture. Number one child was refusing to cooperate.

The Casa Grande Historical society has rooms that display old fashioned kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms, farm equipment and school rooms. It has ample signage and displays characterizing different aspects of the collection. It was a large, clean, well lit and attractively arranged museum. I was not surprised by the collection but I was impressed by the setting and the grounds–the fact that the museum is as lovely as it is speaks volumes about the regard Casa Grande has for it’s community, past and present. I encourage you to visit your own historical society so that your children can get a view into how technology and our way of living has altered as time goes by. Admission for the boys was free and my admission was $5.00. A docent toured with us inviting my boys to use a telegraph to transmit a Morse code and turned on the model train for my little one. The morse code was a big hit with both boys as it was attached to a speaker and had laminated examples of the code at the ready so they could tap out messages. We’ve used a telegraph at the Wells Fargo museum in downtown Phoenix, but this is the first time I’ve seen one attached to a speaker. Neat-o.

The Telegraph display allowed the kids to transmit messages. Very nicely done.

Outside we found the Rebecca Dallis schoolhouse open for touring. My boys sat in the desks and wrote on the chalkboard. We talked a bit about how this narrow room held all eight grades. When no high school was available, high school students took lessons on the porch (imagine the heat) from her husband.Later when the boys tackle Brown v. The Board of Education, I know right where I want to take the boys for a visit.

The caption by Dorothea Lange reads: Eloy, Pinal County, Arizona. Truckload of cotton pickers just pulled into town in the late afternoon. Fresh from Arkansas, “We come over to help folks pick their cotton.”

My favorite part of the museum was the farm implements–because that is where I made a wonderful discovery. This display was artfully arranged to elevate the confusing array of lethal looking instruments against a backdrop of photographs. It astonished me that iconic American photographer Dorothea Lange visited the Eloy/ Casa Grande in the 30’s as part of her work documenting the Dustbowl and the plight of migrant farmers. After my desolate drive through Eloy on the way to Casa Gradne, it was great to see it through her eyes. When I came home I pored over articles about the dustbowl and looked for more Dorothea Lange photos from Arizona. This  student essay ties together the farm equipment I saw at the museum with reality of the dust bowl. If you admire Dorothea Lange and want to learn more about her work from her voice, this interview is invaluable.

I’ll close with a series of photos from Dorothea Lange, taken in the Casa Grande area.  All captions are Dorothea Lange’s original remarks.

From inside a DeLorean,
Mrs. Kenney

South of Eloy, Pinal County, Arizona. Ten-year-old migratory Mexican cotton picker. He was born in Tucson. He is fixing the family car. He does not go to school now, but when he did go was in grade 1-A. Says (in Spanish) “I do not go to school because my father wishes my aid in picking cotton.” On preceding day he picked 25 pounds of Pima cotton.

Eloy District, Pinal County, Arizona. Water supply for migratory cotton pickers in FSA mobile camp just established in Eloy District.

Eloy District, Pinal County, Arizona. Cotton pickers, Mexican children, in ditch bank at the edge of grower’s camp. Boy at left picked 50 pounds of short-staple on preceding day.

Near Coolidge on Highway 87, Pinal County, Arizona. Migratory white cotton pickers stopped by engine trouble alongside the road. Related family groups frequently travel like this, in pairs or in caravans of three or four.

On Arizona Highway 87, south of Chandler, Arizona. Grandmother and sick baby of migratory family camped in a trailer in an open field. They came from Amarillo, Texas, to pick cotton in Arizona.

Near Coolidge, Arizona. These families are picking their own cotton. Mainly they are members of the Casa Grande cooperative farm.

Eloy District, Pinal County, Arizona. Mexican irrigator on duty preparing field for flax cultivation.

On Arizona Highway 87, south of Chandler, Maricopa County, Arizona. Children in a democracy. A migratory family living in a trailer in an open field. No sanitation, no water. They came from Amarillo, Texas. Pulled bolls near Amarillo, picked cotton near Roswell, New Mexico, and in Arizona. Plan to return to Amarillo at close of cotton picking season for work on WPA.

Near Coolidge, Maricopa County, Arizona. Young girl works in cotton field on Saturday morning. Her father is member of the Casa Grande cooperative farms.


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