Tucked away among the desert hills north of the Valley sits a tiny village grounded in Arizona history.
Walk through the gates of the Pioneer Living History Village and you might see a gunfight next to the Opera House or see a blacksmith at work, forging metal with little modern technology.
The village was founded in 1959 by a group of history enthusiasts including Barry Goldwater, Carl Hayden and Wesley Bolin. The idea was to create a place that preserved Arizona’s territorial history from the mid-19th century to statehood in 1912. There are 30 buildings in the village, including the Opera House where Lilly Langtry sang and a miner’s shack from Clifton, and occasional gunfights.
For all its intentions, the Pioneer Living History Village isn’t Tombstone. There are no kitschy shops selling Western trinkets, gunfighters keeling over on every corner clutching their guts or “shady ladies” hanging out in front of saloons.
Pioneer Living History Village is more museum than amusement park. Volunteers dressed in period costume sit outside the buildings answering questions and treating visitors to a bit of history.
“Can you guess which room is missing?” one volunteer asked visitors roaming about the Victorian House, which was originally located at Seventh Street between Thomas and Indian School roads in Phoenix.
The house is filled with furniture, something only an affluent family could have afforded in the 1890s.
“The bathroom is missing,” said one little boy after touring the house.
Not all the buildings are authentic. Some are copies. The Community Church is a replica of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Globe, and so is the bandstand.
Visitors who really want a Western experience can take advantage of the horseback rides at the rodeo arena. Gunfight re-enactments take place in a corral near the Opera House, but the schedule isn’t consistent, so call ahead.
If you happen to miss a re-enactment, walk up to the Town Cemetery and close your eyes. The sound of gunfire from the nearby Ben Avery Shooting Range should be enough to pique the imagination.
If you go
Pioneer Living History Village, 3901 W. Pioneer Road, Phoenix. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for students age 6-18. (623) 465-1052 or www.pioneerarizona.com.
Take Interstate 17 north to Exit 225 and turn left.