Place

OK Ranch Historic District

Overview of OK Ranch Historic District showing several buildings and large rock outcroppings in the
OK Ranch Historic District

Photograph by Pat Stein, courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Quick Facts
The OK Ranch Historic District, situated on the north side of Red Rock Crossing (aka Baldwin’s Crossing) on Oak Creek, a perennial tributary of the Verde River, less than one mile outside of Sedona, in central Arizona was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. The ranch buildings, structures, and agricultural fields of the OK Ranch Historic District represent decades of agrarian use starting in the 1880s. 

The property was one of the earliest ranches in the area and today is one of its best-preserved, conveying a sense of Sedona’s agrarian roots. Through sequential owners, the ranch evolved from a subsistence homestead to a successful commercial farm; in this respect, it exemplified a pattern of development experienced by several ranches in the area. What sets this ranch apart is its unusually good state of preservation. As the value of Sedona-Oak Creek real estate skyrocketed during the modern era, causing ranches to give way to housing subdivisions and commercial centers, this property retained its historic integrity.

Prescott, Arizona, cattleman John H. Lee acquired the 160 acres of land circa 1880 under the Homestead Act. Lee made improvements to “prove up” his claim: he built a dwelling, installed an irrigation ditch, and cultivated several acres on which he grew grain for his livestock. Lee called his homestead the OK Ranch, a brand he used on his cattle.  In August of 1896, Lee and his wife, Lenora, sold the homestead to Elizabeth Ragsdale Howard. Elizabeth Howard had resided along Oak Creek for approximately 15 years when she bought the Lee homestead. She was the widow of Abraham James, a squatter who died in 1881 before being able legally to claim his property in what is now central Sedona. In 1891 the widowed Elizabeth married Charles Smith Howard, a pioneer better known as Bear Howard for his hand in decimating the bear population of upper Oak Creek Canyon. Legend states that the 54-year-old widow quickly tired of the 74-year-old hunter and his three large bear dogs. She particularly objected to his practice of giving away her cattle. Within three months of their marriage, the couple separated. Elizabeth kept her cattle, and Bear kept his dogs. Elizabeth Howard owned and resided at the ranch from mid-1896 to early 1902. She ran cattle there while serving as the local midwife. Her major improvement to the property was the construction of a barn. A modern slump-block building now occupies the site of that building.  

The property was sold a couple of times from 1902 to 1905 when it was purchased by Henry Schuerman and David E. Dumas. Under Schuerman and particularly Dumas, the property would thrive under stable ownership and steady agricultural growth during the next fifteen years. The men established vegetable gardens and orchards of peach, apple, apricot, and plum trees. Water came from John Lee’s old ditch, which Dumas rebuilt and kept in good repair. Dumas’s and Schuerman’s success had a catalytic effect on agriculture along lower Oak Creek. Neighbors including planted orchards of their own. By early 1916 the Red Rock district of lower Oak Creek included approximately 15,000 fruit trees. The Dumas-Schuerman property was considered the heart of the district. The ranch further stimulated local agriculture when a cannery opened on the ranch in the 1910s. Canning made it possible for farmers of the Red Rock district to market their produce beyond Jerome and the Verde Valley. 

The property and its orchards slipped into decline while rented to various parties during the Great Depression. Andrew E. Baldwin’s purchase of the ranch in 1936 brought new life to the property. A key part of Baldwin’s master real estate development plan involved the construction of a ranch house that would project an image of western refinement to potential clients. He chose the Phoenix firm of Lescher & Mahoney to design his home. By the time Lescher & Mahoney designed the Baldwin ranch house in 1939, the company had completed many noteworthy works, including the Orpheum Theatre (Phoenix, 1927-1929), Brophy College Chapel (Phoenix, 1928), the Phoenix City Hall (1928-1929, with Edward Neild), and the Phoenix Title and Trust Building (1931).  

Baldwin, and his foreman, Jones, installed a much larger water wheel farther down Dumas Ditch. This device and its pumphouse brought electrification to the ranch; made it possible to store water for fire suppression, laundry, and landscape vegetation; and pumped irrigation water to a peach orchard. The structure was a Fitz Steel Overshoot Water Wheel. Fitz wheels were characterized by: their all-metal construction; curved buckets for receiving and discharging water; and “overshoot” design that delivered water (usually via a small flume) into nearly the top vertical center position of the structure. This combination of traits made Fitz water wheels highly durable and efficient.

The new owner in 1953 was Lois Kellogg Maury. Since 1941 the Connecticut heiress had resided seasonally at her Pinnacle Peak (Scottsdale) ranch, where she ran a finishing school for debutantes and rented cabins to visitors. Her ranch manager, and later, husband was Nick Duncan. Lois Duncan gave the ranch the name by which it is commonly known today, Crescent Moon.  Nick Duncan’s desire and that of his late wife was to preserve their Crescent Moon Ranch for public use and enjoyment. Mr. Duncan sold the ranch in 1980 to the Trust for Public Land. The Trust deeded the property to the USDA Forest Service later that year. The property is now a Forest Service day-use recreation area, while the Duncans’ former home (Baldwin ranch house) can be reserved overnight through the Forest’s Cabin Rental Program.

The agency made a commitment to preserve the core resources. The Forest Service began to implement preservation at the ranch by sponsoring a HABS-HAER study, followed by the stabilization and repair of several resources. The agency further sought to preserve the property by limiting public access: today only the Fitz water wheel, a nearby well house, and the lower bench fields are included in the portion of the ranch that can be accessed by the general public as a day-use area, while the Baldwin ranch house can be rented overnight through the Forest Service Cabin Rental Program. The remaining cultural resources are located in areas closed to the public. 
 

Last updated: November 17, 2021