Malfunction Junctions

Douglas TowneMarch 30, 2019
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Old Paths congregation dormitory, circa 1910s; Photo courtesy Glendale Historical Society
Old Paths congregation dormitory, circa 1910s; Photo courtesy Glendale Historical Society

The bygone Arizona hamlets of Hightown, Weedville and Norton’s Corner had unusual names – and even more unusual histories.

Stoners beware: Don’t head to Hightown or Weedville hoping to experience the ultimate buzz from Arizona’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry. Green-cross dispensaries are lacking in these historical Valley settlements, and their potentially misleading names are derived from decidedly less dubious origins. Hightown refers to elevated terrain settled by farm workers in the East Valley, while Weedville is a nod to the last name of the founder of a religious community in the West Valley. Names aren’t the only peculiar facets of these mostly vanished Arizona places.

Hightown, Weedville and Norton’s Corner, a rowdy roadhouse that doubled as a landing guide for military aircraft, are among the communities that never took off despite the Valley’s tremendous population growth after World War II. For every Scottsdale, Gilbert and Surprise success story, there are several would-be townships that fell prey to annexation, redevelopment or flooding. Despite their obscurity, each is a tiny island of unique culture that has contributed to the Valley’s diverse mosaic – and amused generations with its quirky name.

Located on the southeast corner of Chandler Boulevard and McClintock Drive, Hightown dates from the 1920s. Mexican-Americans and Yaqui tribal members employed on nearby farms settled here on small, narrow lots in a three-block neighborhood. Services were few in the hardscrabble community; residents had to collect their mail in Tempe, and electricity wasn’t available until the 1940s.

Nellie Ortega and Lucy Fimbres play ball in Hightown in the 1940s; Photo courtesy Douglas C. Towne
Nellie Ortega and Lucy Fimbres play ball in Hightown in the 1940s; Photo courtesy Douglas C. Towne

The community was initially segregated, with the ethnic groups living on opposite sides of a canal, according to a 1984 Arizona Republic article. Despite this, Hightown prided itself on its sense of community. Many inhabitants lived there for generations, and everyone knew each other. “I’ve never wanted to go anywhere else,” Juana Mori, a longtime resident, told the Republic. “It’s tranquil here – no fighting. We lived poorly, but we had everything.”

The settlement, however, wasn’t immune from encroaching urban sprawl. Hightown, with its 60 homes, was incorporated into Chandler in 1971. While it now has city services, paved roads and the lure of nearby Chandler Fashion Center, community closeness has ebbed. “Most of the neighbors around us we don’t even know,” longtime resident Lucy Ortega told the City of Chandler Public History Program in 2005.

Weedville was the nickname of the Old Paths religious community located at the northeast corner of 75th Avenue and Thunderbird Road. Ora Weed, its founder, moved his family from Kansas to what is now Peoria in 1911. Weed was a Methodist minister who found inspiration for his independent church and school from Jeremiah 6:16: “Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, which is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”

Weedville as depicted on the United States Geological Survey topographic 7.5-minute map for Glendale; Photo courtesy History Adventuring
Weedville as depicted on the United States Geological Survey topographic 7.5-minute map for Glendale; Photo courtesy History Adventuring

The group was supported, in part, by a broom factory. Harvesting broomcorn, a variety of sorghum, “was miserable work,” Daniel Weed, the founder’s grandson, told the Republic in 1993. “At the end of a row, we’d run across the road and jump in the irrigation ditch to wash the chaff and pollen off. Then we’d go back into the field soaking wet.”

Weedville had Arizona’s only broom factory for many years. “Men in prison were taught how to make brooms, so a lot of ex-convicts came to Weedville looking for work,” Weed said in 1993. “My grandfather had a time trying to convert some of those guys.” Brooms were delivered in an old Ford Model T truck christened “The Ark,” and were distributed in Arizona and California.

Ora Weed died in 1942. Nine years later, the Southwest Indian Ministries Center purchased the Old Paths buildings. Proceeds from the sale were used to create Phoenix Christian Preparatory School at 17th Avenue and Indian School Road.

Norton’s Corner was a much less staid place. For decades, this now-sedate borough between Chandler and Gilbert was the Southeast Valley’s epicenter of booze and revelry. The crossroads hosted a tavern dubbed “Cupid’s Command Post” for its hormone-driven mix of servicemen from Williams Air Force Base and local girls two-stepping to country bands. “Norton’s has probably seen the beginning of more romances than any place outside university campuses in the state,” Republic columnist Don Dedera wrote in 1967.

The hideaway was launched by Clarence and Willie Mae Norton, who farmed cotton on 40 acres at the southwest corner of Williams Field (now called Chandler Boulevard) and Gilbert roads. In 1918 the Nortons converted part of their house into a grocery store; a saloon was added in 1939.

The tavern was popular with both nearby residents and military personnel who appreciated the free-flowing liquor and go-go girls. Servicemen could only buy two cans of beer at the post exchange; there was no such limit at Norton’s Corner. The tavern provided another service to the military; pilots used the big arrow painted on its roof as a guide to land on the base’s runway.

Photo courtesy Chandler Museum
Photo courtesy Chandler Museum

The bar closed in 2002 and the property was redeveloped. “This is worse than losing a good dog,” one barfly lamented to the Republic. The tavern was reopened by the same owner as Norton’s Country Corner at Ocotillo and Ellsworth roads in Queen Creek. “I love the place because it’s still a honky-tonk, not a sports bar or restaurant,” Laurie Frost, who bartended at both locations, says. “I’ve learned more working here than I did going to college for four years.”

Small, distinct Valley communities being engulfed by urban sprawl is a trend that Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s state historian, is familiar with. “I started my life in 1939 on a farm in Kyrene, moved to Lehi, and then to Alhambra,” he says. “All three of my first residences were ‘absorbed’ by Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix, respectively.”

Afterward, Trimble’s family moved to Ash Fork, a lonely outpost on Route 66, where there were no such worries, but similar amusement at the colorful name.

Gone but Not Forgotten
Two more Arizona communities that dissolved with the sands of time: 

Located 2 miles southwest of Buckeye, the predominantly African-American community was founded in the early 1940s by migrant worker John Allen, who wanted to name it Lily of the Valley. Flooding from the nearby Gila River eventually forced its abandonment in 1978.

Located at Thunderbird and Cave Creek roads, this community attracted tuberculosis sufferers who migrated here for the dry desert air. Future country superstar Marty Robbins briefly lived here as a youth in the 1930s. The community was later annexed by Phoenix.

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