The Church at Litchfield Park
300 North Old Litchfield Road
Litchfield Park, AZ 85340
Page updated Sun Apr 17
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Click here for a brief version of our history.
Conceived of war. Born of cotton.
Owes its existence to a deal for a hotel bar.
Patterned after a gambling den. Built of mud.
The roots of The Church at Litchfield Park are conceived of war and born of cotton. It was WWI and the United States was unable to obtain from Egypt the long staple cotton for their new pneumatic tires and there was a boll weevil infestation in the south. Paul W. Litchfield (right), then vice president of production for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, came to this valley in 1916 because the sun conditions and soil were similar to Egypt. He initially bought 16,000 acres here in the West Valley. They set up their operation to grow the long-fiber, Pima cotton for their tires. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Litchfield laid out the town for the employees. He laid out the roads, erected the flagpole, and planted the palm and orange trees. He also set aside acreage for both an interdenominational Protestant church and a Catholic church that was built in 1920.
It can be said that the church actually began with the Padgetts in 1917. John Padgett was a surveyor for Mr. Litchfield and his wife Mabel came to join him and became the first school teacher for the new District 79. The Padgetts were devout Methodists, and together they started the Agua Fria Union Sunday School. The early meetings were held in the company cook-shack located east of the carpenter shop. For 18 years they provided the only permanent center for Protestant worship.
On March 27, 1938, under the chairmanship of Newell Kring, devoted members came together and formally organized a nondenominational church, which they named The Church at Litchfield Park. The members of this special committee were Arthur Zieske, John Padgett, James Peterson, W.E. Garber, Daniel Owen, and George Stewart. They adopted a constitution, and at a special meeting four days later they elected permanent officers with Mr. Zieske as Chairman of the Council.
Robert Sell (no photo available) was the first pastor and he came from the Methodist Episcopal Church, Arizona Conference. He was known by the Padgetts because he had been a “supply pastor” for their Methodist Sunday School. Without a sanctuary, Rev. Sell held services in the Litchfield Park Community Hall and Easter Sunrise Service at Mr. Litchfield’s La Loma Ranch.
The church organization was complete, but it lacked a church. Mr. Zieske took his building problem to Mr. Litchfield, where he found a sympathetic ear and a deep personal interest in the project. The timing was not the best for the company, though, as the Great Depression of the Thirties had drained the resources of the company. This is where we find the deal for the hotel bar. As it happened, the Wigwam had opened to the public as a resort hotel, but it lacked a bar. Mr. Litchfield adamantly opposed both the resort and the bar. The hotel management continued to press vigorously for a bar, which would make the resort more attractive to guests and be more profitable. Here, then, was an opportunity for a horse trade. Mr. Litchfield could have his church if he allowed the Wigwam Resort to have its bar. So, the deal was struck.
The story about the church’s design is this: Mr. Litchfield was in a gambling casino in Ensenada, Mexico. Just how a man of strict moral principles was there is not clear. Still, while he was there, he became so entranced by the interior of the structure that he spent the rest of the evening making a detailed drawing of it to be used as a model for the sanctuary of the church. Then he happened to see a newspaper picture of the early mission in Santa Barbara with architecture that so appealed to him (left) that he clipped it out and handed it over, with the casino sketch, to the Southwest Cotton Company’s engineers as a basis for their construction plans. Time has lost the name of the architect who drew up the plans, but it’s definitely Mr. Litchfield’s initials in the corner. It is perhaps appropriate that the architectural credit go to him.
Ground was broken on September 10, 1939, and the church was constructed by the Southwest Cotton Company’s engineering crew. The dirt dug out to create the foundation was used on the site to make the adobe brick for the walls (below).
Mr. Litchfield brought the bell for the tower from an old mission in San Diego. The church blended ideally into the village that its founder had planned, combining a reverence for the past with a practical outlook for the future. The church was done in the graceful style of the early missions of the Southwest; still, it was spacious enough to accommodate the entire population of Litchfield Park and hotel guests, which then numbered about 200.
On November 6th the cornerstone was placed, containing a Bible, the church roll of 70 charter members, and copies of the constitution (below).
Pictured above, left to right: Arthur Zieske, council chairman; Cecil Palmateer, charter member; Kenneth McMicken, council trustee; Daniel Owen, council member; unknown; Newell Kring, council member; George Stewart, council member; John Padgett, council treasurer.
On December 10, 1939, the congregation held their first service in The Church at Litchfield Park and dedicated it to the glory of God and the good of all mankind. For a quarter century thereafter it stood as the only Protestant church in the community.
The first Sunday bulletin in the church's archives is dated October 6, 1940. In it are announcements from two women's groups; the women were organized and involved. The Women's Missionary Society was electing officers and planning a bazaar, but there is no further documentation. The Electa Owen Sunday School Class was taught by Electa Owen (right). Electa ran the gift shop at the Wigwam; her husband Daniel was the ranch foreman. There are minutes for the Electa Owen Sunday School Class showing they met Sundays for Bible study and the first Monday of the month for fellowship. They had bylaws, minutes, elected officers, and attendance as high as 50. Their work was for the church, the community, and the world. They made goods for an annual bazaar and they used the proceeds to purchase hundreds of items for the church and their community and world philanthropies. They created the Women's Guild as a sister organization. Minutes for the Guild also speak of bylaws and elected officers. Their primary purpose was service: cutting and sewing of baby gowns, baby quilts, wrapping blankets, and making scrapbooks for children. However, by 1965 both groups had trouble filling their officer positions and disbanded.
John Cyrus (left), second pastor, graduated from the University of Chicago Divinity School and came to this church from the Park and Prospect Christian Church, Milwaukee.
Myron Settle (right), third pastor, was ordained by the Disciples of Christ. Prior to entering church ministry he had served as the General Secretary of Kansas Council of Christian Education and is well known for pioneering the Week-day Religious Education Program in the Kansas school system. In the early 1900’s there, the students spent a fourth of the day in religious education.
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