Heritage Square: Starring the Beautiful Victorian Rosson House

The Rosson House at Heritage Square

Heritage Square, also known as Block 14 of downtown Phoenix, is the only remaining residential block of the original Phoenix townsite developed in the late 1800s. Today it is surrounded by various commercial and civic-related buildings that have been built up around it over the last century. In the 1970s, this block of homes almost fell victim to progress and growth as it was targeted for demolishment. Fortunately, former Phoenix Mayor John Driggs led a community effort to save the Rosson home, as well as the others on Block 14. The result is a now beautifully restored block of historic homes that preserves this era of Phoenix’s history.

The Rosson House

Block 14 was one of the first original townsites laid out in 1870, just a year before Phoenix was named the Maricopa county seat.  This block was purchased for $80 in 1879 by Margaret A. Richardson, who was Flora Murray Rosson’s half-sister. Flora Rosson, then, purchased the property from her half-sister in 1882. The prevailing thought is that the property had an adobe home on it where the Rosson’s initially resided.

According to the Arizona Republican, in September 1894 architect A. P. Petit completed drawing up the plans for the Rosson’s new house. Shortly after that, the contract was awarded to H. C. Baker & Bro. for $7,500 and the home was completed in early 1895. The Arizona Republican indicated that the Rosson’s new home would be “the handsomest and most expensive within the city limits” (Arizona Republican, October 23, 1894).  The Rosson House was indeed not only a beautiful home but also one of the most technically advanced in the city at the time.

The Queen Anne Victorian styled home was approximately 2,800 sf and equipped with extraordinary detail in design, electrical wiring and lighting, hot and cold running water, built-in closets, and an indoor bathroom upstairs. The windows in the home are designed not just to provide excellent ventilation, but some also serve as walkouts. The window frames for those walkouts stretch to the floor and designed so that when opened, a person can walk out onto either the 1st or 2nd story porch. The same applies to the screens for those windows. No expense was spared in the interior design as well. According to the tour guide, the staircase was custom-built and shipped to Phoenix. The high ceilings have intricately designed tin tiling and a beautifully restored wood floor. The wood trim and wallpaper throughout add an exquisite touch for this magnificent home.

Living room of the Rosson House at Heritage Square in Phoenix, Arizona.
Living room of the Rosson House at Heritage Square in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Rosson Family

Dr. Roland Lee Rosson first came to the Arizona Territory (Tucson) around 1876 as an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army. Upon leaving the Army in March of 1879, he spent a short time in Yuma serving as a Medical Officer for the territorial prison before establishing a practice in Phoenix.

Newspaper accounts show Dr. Rosson and Flora Murray attending the same social events within a short period of time, however, do not specify if they were a couple or not. General accounts I have read indicate that Dr. Rosson and Flora Murray were married in August of 1880, but I have not yet been able to verify the exact date. The tour guide indicated they had a total of seven children, five who lived to adulthood.

Dr. Rosson was also involved in local politics after settling down in Phoenix. His involvement included becoming the Coroner and Public Administrator in 1884, then being elected to Treasurer in 1890 and again in 1892. Shortly upon moving into their new home in 1895, Dr. Rosson was elected mayor of Phoenix. His stint as mayor did not last long, however, and he resigned in April 1896 due for reasons that are not precisely clear.

The Rosson’s lived in their new home but for what appeared to be a few months. In November 1895, they rented it to Whitelaw and Elisabeth Reid for the winter. The Reid’s, who hailed from New York, rented the home again the following winter as well. The Rosson’s then sold their beautiful Victorian house on June 10, 1897, to Aaron Goldberg for $10,000 and relocated to Los Angeles. Dr. Rosson passed away from gastroenteritis on May 12, 1898, at 47 years old. Flora passed away in 1911 when she was 52.

Subsequent Owners of Rosson House

Aaron and Carrie Goldberg, who purchased the home from the Rosson’s in 1897, were also prominent citizens of Phoenix at the time and left their mark on its history. They had three children named Hazel, Selma, and Chester (Chet). Aaron Goldberg came to Phoenix in 1877 and became a well-known clothing merchant. He owned the firm Goldberg Brothers with his brother, Dave.  Aaron Goldberg was well-liked among his peers and was politically, socially, and civically active. He was elected as a councilman for the First ward on May 2, 1893, as well as to the House of Representatives for the 19th Arizona Territorial Legislative Assembly in 1897. He was then elected to the Council in the 20th Arizona Territorial Legislative Assembly for 1899. On September 7, 1904, the Goldberg’s sold their home to S. W. Higley for $14,000 and moved to another location in Phoenix.

S. W. Higley, better known as Stephen Weaver Higley, was a railroad builder, landowner, businessman, and soon to be President of the Arizona Republican newspaper. He lived in his new home with his second wife, Jessie Freemont Howe, two sons (Thomas, by his first wife, and James) and daughter (Jessie). Higley’s first wife and a son both passed away years prior. Stephen Higley was employed with the Santa Fe Railroad when he worked with Frank Murphy to build the Crown King Railroad as well as the Phoenix and Eastern Railroad in the early 1900s. His railroad activities in the valley prompted the development of a community which was named Higley, after him. This community has since been annexed into the current-day city of Gilbert.

During his time with the railroad, Higley accumulated thousands of acres in the Territory and some reports he was involved in sheep ranching. He retired from the railroad in 1907, took some time off to relax, then purchased the Arizona Republican newspaper, along Mr. Sims Ely, on August 27, 1909. Higley served as the President of the paper for two years before selling it to Dwight Heard in October 1912. In August of 1914, Stephen Higley sold the home to William Gammell and eventually relocated to Oklahoma where he lived the remainder of his life.

William (Billie) Gammell was employed as a saloon proprietor. Unfortunately, very shortly after purchasing one of the town’s most prestigious homes, in November of 1914 Arizona voters elected to turn the state dry. This new law cost Billie his job, and he struggled to find ways to make a living. The following year he was charged with the illegal sale of liquor and was punished with ten days in county jail and a $300 fine. His wife was also fined $300 for the same crime. Due to their financial difficulties, the Gammell’s started taking in boarders by 1920. They continued to use their home as a boarding house until around 1948. The nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places indicate that the home was foreclosed on in 1936, but Georgia Gammell Valeer, the youngest of three daughters, indicates she lived in the home until 1948. From this point on, the house exchanged owners several more times and was converted into a rooming house.

Block 14 was subdivided into multiple lots after the initial sale of the Rosson house to the Goldberg’s. The vacant lots were sold off and, around the turn of the century, houses were erected on them. These new residences were built to be rental units and remained so through the following decades. After World War II the entire neighborhood fell into a state of disrepair. Other residential communities in the area were razed and replaced with commercial development. Eventually, only Block 14 remained.

The Stevens House (1901) at Heritage Square, Phoenix, Arizona
The Stevens House (1901) at Heritage Square, Phoenix, Arizona

Restoration of Rosson House & Block 14

In the early 1970s, there were discussions about the possible destruction of this last remaining residential neighborhood on Block 14. A group of citizens headed up by former Mayor John Driggs led a successful effort to save the neighborhood. In addition to these homes, the Burgess Carriage House and the Thomas House were moved here from other locations to protect them from demolition. The City of Phoenix bought Block 14 and its buildings and restored them, resulting in the Heritage Square we enjoy today.

Block 14 is now Heritage Square

Even though the Rosson house is the most prominent, each home in the Square has its own unique charm and history. Each contains within their walls stories of those that occupied them for more than a century, as well as those who owned them. Today, some of the buildings continue to collect stories as they are still in use as popular restaurants. The machine shop is now functioning as the Pizzeria Bianco; the Bouvier-Teeter house as the Nobuo at Teeter House; and the Silva house as the Anhelo restaurant. If you need a bit of a pick-me-up, the Teeter Carriage House also now serves as the Royal Coffee Bar & Roasting Co.

There is a parking garage on the corner of Fifth and Monroe Streets that has an entrance leading right into the Square. The parking fee can be discounted if you take your parking ticket to one of the museums or restaurants to be validated. Note: My understanding is that discounted parking is not available for special events, just regular visits only.

Heritage Square is in a prime location for a day (or more) of continued learning, education, and sightseeing. The Arizona Science Center is on the opposite side of the same landscaped area. It is also within minutes to a half-hour of the Wells Fargo Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum; the Japanese Friendship Garden, Pioneer & Military Memorial Park (only open Thursdays), and more.

Notes:

  1. A notable event occurred on February 12, 1912, the same day Arizona became the 48th state. In the expectation that this would occur Aaron Goldberg’s daughter, Hazel, arranged to be married to Joseph Melczer on that same day. According to the Rosson House tour guide, they waited until a rider raced up on horseback bringing them the happy news confirming Arizona had indeed become a state that day and they then proceeded with their wedding. Their ring bearer was none other than Barry Goldwater, who was just three years old at the time.
  2. The Arizona Republican was founded in 1890. It officially shortened its name to Arizona Republic on November 11, 1930.

Sources:

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here