When considering early settlers of Mesa and Lehi communities, we might be inclined to imagine such personalities as those depicted in American Gothic. But is that fair when we haven’t ventured anywhere in their shoes or ships? The Stapley name may be familiar; however, details of this family’s journey to settle here may be less familiar.
George Sirrine (pronounced sir-rhine) is considered one of four “founding fathers” of Mesa, memorialized in a statue in Pioneer Park. Born in Putnam County, New York, on December 6, 1818, to Isaac Sirrine and Sarah Garrison, George showed promise in his unique aptitude with machinery. By sixteen, his father had given him full responsibility of their family mill.
After joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, George left his home state on the ship Brooklyn, sailing from New York around South America’s Cape Horn to San Francisco in 1846. A fellow passenger on the ship, Emmaline Lane, caught George’s attention and the two were married by Samuel Brannan soon after their arrival to California. Legend has it their marriage was the first ceremony performed in the English language on the Pacific Coast.
While in California, Emmaline gave birth to their daughter, Sarah Ann. Tragically, Emmaline died before the child was a year old. Later, George married Esther Ann Crismon.
George helped settle the area that is now San Bernardino, and he was tasked by the Church with taking the San Francisco subscription, which he had helped raise, to San Diego. En route to San Diego, George outwitted two sketchy characters who were after the cash. George duped the would-be thieves by putting the money in some old boots in his tool chest and, in full view of the crooks, removing everything from the chest and being sure to clean and polish his boots. The two, apparently convinced they’d followed the wrong man, disembarked at the next port.
George arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1858 from California, bringing with him the first load of honey which he “sold at a very good price.” Eight years later, he moved his family to Paris, Idaho, to help colonize the Bear Lake area. He helped construct and run the first grist mill and saw mill and opened a mercantile store.
Brigham Young called George to help colonize Arizona eleven years later. On September 10, 1877, they headed south, joining nine other families, totaling in all seventy-two people. When they reached Lee’s Ferry at the Colorado River, George helped others to safely cross the perilous river.
Once they arrived at the Salt River Valley, the party learned of ancient canals and determined to bring water to the mesa from the river. George set to work planting orchards, helping to organize a Zion’s Cooperative as well as building the first flour mill in the locale, as detailed in Patricia A. Pyper’s Our Pioneer Heritage. According to George’s great-grandson, Ronald Sirrine, settlers learned to build with adobe from the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indians.
The Sirrine House, located in downtown Mesa, memorializes the building spirit of this pioneer family. The town’s only Victorian Era home still standing became a museum in 1986. Tours are available on Fridays and Saturdays at 53 N MacDonald, (480) 644-2230, or you can visit the Mesa Historical Museum website.