June 22, 2005 - Ducked under the shade of a blossoming peach tree, Marana Mayor Ed Honea stops to pluck a low-hanging fruit as he passes around the side of the recently refurbished Heritage House.

With one taste of the cool treat, memories of his youth come rushing back as Honea turns to an old bunkhouse out back where he once spent summer nights with his cousins.

His aunt and uncle, Bernice Honea and Duncan Hinton, built the old farmhouse in 1953, soon to be the new home of the Marana Arts Council, which is expected to move in by Aug. 1.

Past the heavy, solid mesquite door that guards the entrance to the Heritage House lies a welcoming common area decorated with Mexican-tiled floors and several new cabinets that line the walls.

A mud adobe facade has been added to the building's exterior, with decorative stonework lining its base. The house also has a new roof and porch with sturdy wooden posts supporting a new overhang.

Per requirements, the house is equipped with ADA-accessible ramps, and some partitions have been removed to create space for the arts council. The kitchen also has been renovated, and there are talks of adding a kiln for firing pottery.

"The house is complete. We've just got some site work we have to do," said Tom Ellis, Marana's parks superintendent, who has taken a lead role on the project. "We've still got some parking lot improvements to do, some landscaping, lighting. It's not open for the public just yet."

The Heritage House is the first piece of a much larger project aimed at preserving Marana's heritage along the Santa Cruz River. A 75-acre Heritage Park, still in the planning stages, is expected to showcase the rich agricultural history and contributions of people who have lived in the area.

The town bought the 75 acres at the foot of the Gladden Farms development in 2003, paying Marana resident Dan Post $180,000 for the land and the buildings on it. In an area where master-planned communities such as Gladden Farms are sprouting, the Heritage Park property remains in relatively good shape for what the town hopes to accomplish.

Despite a move-in date originally targeted for July 1, the roads are still torn up near the entrance to the Heritage House. The town abandoned Sandario Road in April, leaving Gladden Farms Drive the main route down to the site.

"Hopefully, if all goes well and the creek don't rise, we may be able to get in by the first of September," said former Mayor Ora Harn.

Harn, who helped initiate the idea of preserving Marana's heritage several years ago, has been hired by the town to help plan the museums that will go on the site. Recently, Harn has been visiting other museums, getting ideas for the facilities that will be a part of the Heritage Park, which will feature Marana's cotton farming, ranching, mining and cultural history.

Within the next year and a half, the town is expected to begin reconstructing two mud adobe buildings, which are now on Sandario Road near the Marana interchange. There, remnants of the old Producer's Cotton Gin still stand.

With the old buildings soon to be demolished, the town has documented and taken pictures of the historic fixtures, hoping to recreate them behind the Heritage House. The old Producer's Cotton Gin warehouse will be used as a demonstration area, and the old office building will serve as a cotton museum, Ellis said.

Harn said the news several years ago that the cotton gin was going to be torn down sparked her interest in preserving Marana's cotton-farming history. Even long before migrant farm workers came to pick cotton in Marana after the turn of the century, cotton farming has flourished, and still does, in the Marana area.

"Marana has a 3,000-year history of growing cotton and that can be proven by archeological studies," said Harn, adding that she has a host of ideas to preserve Marana's fading memory of cotton farming, including selling souvenir cotton bails at the Heritage Park.

"I've always wanted a large bronze statue of a cotton worker with the old cotton bags that they had that went over their shoulder and dragged around their feet on the ground," she added.

Although most of the town's 300 employees recently moved into the new Marana Municipal Complex, Harn works tucked away in a town-provided office behind bars and a barbed-wire fence on Sanders Road, where the town stores heavy equipment. An old closet close to Harn's desk shows evidence of where criminals were once detained by the town in the 1970s.

Harn has been hard at work acquiring an extensive collection of photos, early town records and even old newspaper articles pertaining to Marana - all of which she keeps neatly categorized and stuffed away inside acid-free boxes. Digging through a file cabinet, Harn chuckles as she pulls out the minutes from a Jan. 28, 1977, meeting where 10 area residents, including Honea and his father Ray Honea, gathered to choose Marana's first five-member "interim community council."

"Ray Honea made the motion and seconded it in one breath that Lorraine Price will also serve as the interim secretary," the two-page document concludes. Two months later, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the town's incorporation.

"I've just got documents and papers everywhere, and for me it's just like, 'Ah! Where do you start?'" said Harn, who's trying to preserve every piece of history she possibly can.

With the Heritage Park, town officials hopes to create a place where visitors will be able to explore the evolution of Marana's rural landscape through educational programs, arts events, artifacts and interactive exhibits.

"What we're doing now is putting together a basic plan, kind of a long-range plan, of what all we need to preserve because this area has a proud history of farming, of cattle, of mining - I mean, there just is a whole array of strong ties that this town has had to the whole area," Harn said.

Harn has been working on putting together posters highlighting different years in Marana history, which will be incorporated in the heritage museums. So far, posters for 14 years have been finished and will be part of a near-future presentation to the town council.

"We're really trying to put together some interesting factual material about the town," she said. "The neat thing is that we still have a few people around like the Honeas who have been here a long time and have memories of the town and what it's all about."

Harn has lived in Marana since 1960, when her husband took a job at the Silverbell mines. She was a bus driver for several years before getting involved with the town after it incorporated in 1977.

"Really, all of our concerns are to take the time now, while we still have people around who are concerned about the history of our community, and try and put this stuff together," she said.

For the first phase of the project, Ellis said the town is working on master-planning the main 25-acre area surrounding the Heritage House. Conceptual plans drawn up in late-2003 are currently being reworked to determine actual locations for the concept structures.

Harn said it's been tough to come up with a comprehensive plan that accomplishes all of the town's goals but a long journey always starts with the first step.

"At this point, the two areas we're looking at to begin is the cotton farming and the ranching," she said. "You can't start everywhere, so somewhere we're going to start is with the moving of the two mud adobe buildings."

Horse stables behind the Heritage House also will soon be the new home of the Marana Police Department's mounted patrol unit, including three horses, which are expected to move in within the next six months.

Near the already existing stables, the town will be fixing up a studio apartment where one person will live onsite as a caretaker. The town will provide the apartment rent-free and will cover utility costs, but the caretaker will be responsible for feeding the horses and other daily chores, Honea said.

The Marana Chamber of Commerce is expected to move into one of the buildings on the property, but the details of that are still being worked out, Honea added.

Developers of Gladden Farms also will be contributing a 25-acre park with their development, complete with baseball diamonds and other types of active recreation. That park will blend with the Heritage Park and the Santa Cruz River linear park, connecting to a larger system of trails the town plans to develop.

"Our Heritage Park will be contiguous to the Santa Cruz River lineal park and almost totally contiguous with the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail," Harn said. "So you can see that, where we're putting it, the historical value will be more than just when the town started."

Town officials envision the site becoming both a local neighborhood destination and a tourist stop. Concept plans show agricultural fields used for demonstrating historic methods of farming and equipment as well as agricultural exhibits.

Three large silos near the Santa Cruz River, where Stan Gladden once stored feed for his cattle, are being left on the Gladden Farms property as part of a development agreement with the town.

"We're going to have some demonstration farm plots. We'll be growing cotton and some of the crops they grew when Marana was starting out and have equipment displays," Ellis said. "We want to make it so it's a destination place for people to come and get educated about what the beginnings of Marana were like."

Two train depots and a loop track that would take visitors on a ride around the park also are shown in conceptual plans. The track circles around a large manmade lake that would serve as a storage basin, while also providing aesthetic and recreational opportunities.

Further east, another area would serve as a venue for community events and festivities, while a large open space nearby would offer more passive recreation opportunities with picnic areas and a fenced dog park.

Town officials say the park is intended to honor the achievements of early settlers in the area, including natives who farmed along the Santa Cruz River, Spanish and Mexican ranchers, and farmers of the 20th century. In the future, the town plans to incorporate some American Indian culture into the museums, given the history of Pascua Yaqui and Hohokam tribes in the area, Honea said.

"As we talk to people in other communities, everyone's very excited about what Marana's doing because a lot of them didn't make the move to save (their history) before they paved everything over," Ellis said.

For Harn, preserving the town's history is a way of letting the next generation know its roots before large-scale developments replace the farm fields still prevalent in Marana.

"The young people who live in Marana have a very rich, wonderful history," she said, "and I want them to be proud to say, 'I'm from Marana.'"

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