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Canyon Notes

White House

Mike Staples

   When traveling to Madera Canyon, you turn off Continental Road onto White House Canyon Road.  Have you ever wondered where White House Canyon is? Well, it is now called Madera Canyon. The name was officially changed in the early 1900s, but most locals continued to call it by its original name well into the 1970s.

   The White House was perhaps the first permanent structure built in the canyon. It is thought to have been constructed by a sheepherder named Walden in the late 1870s or early 1880s. Around 1882 Walden left and the two or three room house was taken over by Theodore Wellish and his family as a summer retreat. Wellish owned the White House Mercantile Company in Tucson. It is assumed that he was the one who painted the adobe structure a bright white. Two brothers, Atondo Paz and Rufino Paz also lived there at different times around the turn of the century. The White House was well known and very recognizable, so it became a reference point for determining the location of many mining claims in and around the canyon.

   After their marrage in 1911, Alcaro Morales, 61, and his bride, 27 year old Benita, moved into the White House.  Alcaro delivered their five children in the home. Tragically, both Benita and their fifth child died during childbirth in 1921. Morales and his children made their living by selling cheese, quesadillas, pine nuts, acorns and vegetables to area stores. Alcaro also distilled mescal which he used to trade with the miners and lumbermen. The family continued to live in the house until his death in 1940 at the age of 90.

   In 2002 the Forest Service and the Friends Of Madera Canyon conducted an archeological dig at the site. They were able to determine where the outside walls and the house’s door had been. Only a small portion of one wall remains standing. The site is just off the paved Nature Trail loop a few hundred feet above the Proctor Road crossing. There is a descriptive sign there along with a bench where you may want to sit and contemplate what life may have been like for Alcario and Benita Morales.

   FOMC and the Forest Service archeologist maintain the area on an ongoing basis in order to preserve this historical remnant. Benita and her son are buried further down the canyon. The Morales family continues to tend the gravesite.

   The book, ”A History of Madera Canyon”, published by the Friends,  provides more information about the White House and other historical sites and events in and around the canyon. It is available on this web site and at area bookstores and gift shops.

White House in the late 1880s

The adobe wall, all that is left of the White House in 2010

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