4th in a series
by Jimmy Jans
After a slow start and with the completion of the Benson underpass in 1941, east Benson’s growth took off in the 1950s. Gone were the turn of the century Smelter, the railroad round house and the cattle shipping pens. Now, with the paving of highway 86, which cut 80 miles off the trip east to Lordsburg New Mexico the building of east Benson began.
In 1941 all that existed in east Benson were two motels, the El Cochise motel, the Monterey motel, the Riverside Texaco, the White Kitchen café, the Benson Furniture store, and the Sierra Vista (Dixie) gas station. With the completion of the underpass and the paving of highway 86 east Benson growth took off. White Kitchen Café became Benson Café, Riverside Inn was built and run by two women Katy and Jean. A trailer park was built east of the Monterey and El Cochise Motels and later Garnet Barker built a roller skating rink. Sometime in the 1940s the Benson Furniture store became a grocery store and it burned. It would be rebuilt in the 1960s and become Richardson’s Mortuary. Between the Riverside Inn and the Riverside Texaco a new café, the Riverside café (later Ruiz’s Café) would be built. Dick Lopshire would move the B. F. Goodrich store from up town between the San Pedro Motel and Louie Dyer’s Texaco to next to the Riverside Inn and his brother Dale would build Lopshire’s Ford next to that which would require Kimbrough Trucking to move across the street. What was the location of a long closed Union gas station became Lopshire’s Ford’s new car lot. Also a Chevron gas station was where the present day lower Circle K is located.
Vern Arnold would start development of east Benson starting with the construction of Wilson’s Cash Market and Gila Auto Parts. Next Vern created a lake out of an expanded water tank which served a chicken farm which he acquired and converted into a housing development, a trailer park, and a beauty and barber shop.
On the north Comstock housing development would replace Dayton Graham’s slaughter house with several new homes. On the south along with Scott’s Machine shop, Benson Lumber (which became Wilharm’s Lumber Company), were the Sierra Vista Motel and gas station, Plymouth sales, Bill’s Trading Post, the Holsum Bread depot and the newly relocated Kimbrough Trucking.
On the hill to the west the Scott brothers, Bill and George started a gravel and sand operation and to the north a concrete batch plant owned by Pete Wilharm was opened.
East Benson was limited in growth by the large hill on the west, the railroad on the south, the San Pedro river on the east and ultimately I-10, in the 1960s, on the north. I-10 also was also the demise of east Benson since it replaced highway 86 and bypassed Benson altogether. In fact Benson, as a thriving tourist town, quit growing and became a bedroom community for Fort Huachuca and Tucson after I-10 was opened.