[Source: Bonnie Bariola, Florence Reminder & Blade Tribune] –The Historic William Clarke House was saved for future generations to enjoy, thanks in large part to the Heritage Fund. The William Clarke house was built in 1884 as the home to newlyweds, William and Ella Clarke. The house was furnished with elegant new furniture from California. Except for three years, 1885-1888, the Clarkes resided in the Clarke House on Main Street in Florence. Ella first taught school and later became the postmistress while William worked in prospecting and mining.
During this time the Clarke House gained social prominence when the Clarkes hosted many tea parties, ice cream socials, musicals, and concerts. The last of the Clarke relatives passed away in 1956 at which time all the fine furnishings were sold at auction.
This territorial adobe house was abandoned for three years. The first real preservation effort in Florence began in 1959 when a group calling itself “The Go-For-Broke Associates” purchased the Clarke House from the estate of the last member of the Clarke family, for the purpose of “preserving it for its historic interest.” Unfortunately, this group was unable to rehabilitate or make an attempt to preserve the building.
Over the years rain caused the adobe walls to become unstable. Because of the potential danger to the public, the Town Council began discussions of condemnation of the building. In 1973 Miss Shirley Weik, Extension Agent of the Cooperative Extension Service at Casa Grande, paid to have a new iron fence constructed around the entire perimeter of the property. At that time portions of the roof were in serious need of repair yet the basic fabric and interior detailing remained intact.
The house remained abandoned until 1994 when the town attorney, with assistance from Realtor Joe O’Betka and Ophelia Padilla, were able to gain title to the building and grounds from the descendants of the original twelve Go-For-Broke investors. At that time the town’s grants writer applied for and received a Heritage Fund grant for $105,000 to begin rehabilitation of the Clarke House.
With title to the property and a Heritage Fund Grant, the town was looking for someone to take over title and provide the match of $45,000 to begin rehabilitation of the property. Fortunately the owner of the Casa Grande Valley Newspapers, Donovan Kramer Sr., agreed to assume title to the property and provide the match for the existing grant and rehabilitate the property as home to the Florence Reminder and Blade Tribune.
In an agreement with State Parks and the town of Florence, The Florence Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization, agreed to be the sponsor and administrator of the grant. An additional grant was written by the Foundation in 2000 for $52,000 with Mr. Kramer providing match of $52,000. It should be emphasized that Mr. Kramer contributed far more money to this project than just the $97,000 match for the grants. The $157,000 Heritage Funds provided leverage for approximately $300,000 in private funds to be spent.
Proud to preserve history
Donovan Kramer, Jr., publisher of the Florence Reminder and Blade-Tribune, said, “Restoring the Clarke House as a home for the Florence newspaper was a project that was dear to the heart of my late father, Donovan Kramer Sr. He was proud to join many Florence residents in their quest to preserve the history of such a special town, so integral to the history of Pinal County and Arizona.”
This is yet another example of how the Heritage Funds were used to save a historic property in Florence. In 1990 the voters of Arizona voted to use $10 million of lottery funds for historic preservation, conservation, and trails. Due to difficult economic times, the Legislature deleted the verbiage from the Arizona Revised Statutes in 2010. HRC 2047 would send the Heritage Fund verbiage back to the voters to let them vote once again, to return them to the Arizona Revised Statutes. Please contact your legislators asking them to please support HRC 2047 to Restore the Voters’ Heritage Fund.
The passage of the Heritage Fund would create jobs in this difficult economy as well as help save more historic properties the same as the William Clarke House.