//www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> Arizona Stories

The Riordan Family

The three Riordan brothers came to Flagstaff seeking professional opportunities and ended up helping to build a community. Starting out in the lumber business in the 1880s, their civic-minded enterprises helped establish some of the areas most important organizations and community services.

Read the complete transcript:

Narrator:
Flagstaff , Arizona , is a vibrant, eclectic community of about 50,000, with millions of tourists passing through each year and nearly 100 trains a day.

Narrator:
Before the very first train arrived, things were quite different. The valley that was to become Flagstaff transformed from untouched forests and meadows to a railroad construction camp to a booming mill town. This is the story of three brothers who came to Northern Arizona seeking opportunity, and ended up helping to build a community. With construction of the Santa Fe railroad line through Northern Arizona underway in the 1880s, Chicago businessman E.E. Ayer speculated that rough and tumble Flagstaff could sustain an ongoing lumber operation. It was, after all, situated in the middle of the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the World.

Kathy Faretta:
He said that if the railroad was the father of this community, then the lumber company was the mother because the lumber company is what provided the jobs here. It's why the town was established in this location, and it was the main economic engine in this community for well over 50 years.

Narrator:
Ayer hired Chicago native Denis "Matt" Riordan in 1884 as manager of the day-to-day operations. Riordan arrived with his wife, Celine, and their children and, quickly realizing his good fortune, he convinced his half-brothers, Michael and Tim, to move from Chicago to help him manage the mill. Matt purchased the Ayer Lumber Mill outright in 1887, sealing the deal with little more than a handshake. The Riordan-owned Arizona Lumber and Timber Company emerged.

Kathy Faretta:
There were other lumber companies here in town later, but the Riordan company was the biggest one in town and they provided most of the jobs, so at any given time, two-thirds or so of the people who live here work at that lumber company.

Narrator:
But life was more than just work for the two younger Riordan Brothers. With bright professional prospects ahead, the men seized yet another more personal opportunity.

Mary T. Riordan:
My grandmother, Riordan, and her sisters were first cousins of the Babbitt young men. When the Babbitts came to Flagstaff , the Metz girls came to visit them, and at that time, they met the Riordans. And two of them married the Riordans. Timothy married Carolyn Metz, and Michael married Elizabeth Metz.

Narrator:
Like most young couples in a new town, the Riordans set about making Flagstaff home.

Kathy Faretta:
The Riordans are Middle-Class people, so they wanted to have things here in Flagstaff that would benefit themselves and other people like them, and they wanted to make this a stable place, so they cared about the economy of the town.

Narrator:
The Riordans volunteered their time and resources to countless community-building endeavors:
starting a company hospital that served the lumber mill and the town, bringing electricity to Flagstaff, development of a community hotel -- known today as the Monte Vista -- construction of three Catholic churches, and aiding in the establishment of some of the most important scientific and educational institutions in the community, including Northern Arizona University, Lowell Observatory, and the Fort Valley Experimental Forest Station. Perhaps the most precious contribution of the Riordan family was something that sustains Flagstaff to this day.

Kathy Faretta:
Tim Riordan had an idea that we could put in a reservoir just south of town in a little valley. He had the company purchase the land and put in a test dam in 1903. The lake was named after his oldest daughter, Lake Mary , and today we still get one-third of our annual water from that lake. Tim considered the creation and conception of Lake Mary to be the greatest accomplishment of his life because of the legacy of water provided for our community.

Narrator:
Matt Riordan left the lumber business in 1897, selling out to his brothers. With business booming in 1903, the town coming into its own, and the Arizona Territory looking towards statehood, things on the Riordan home front took an interesting turn. The brothers commissioned architect Charles E. Whittlesey, who was designing El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon at the time, to build their family home.

Kathy Faretta:
What was designed is some people say the biggest duplex in town. It's a two-family home. Altogether, it's 13,000 square feet. Each house is about 6,000 with a 1,000-square-foot room in the middle that joins them together.

Mary T. Riordan:
Well, I didn't grow up in the house, of course, but I spent most of my life visiting in the house. We used to have Christmas at the house when I was a little girl. And as I grew older, I came to the house in the summertime and spent summers often and played with my cousins.

Narrator:
Throughout the remainder of their lives, the Riordan Brothers worked hard, traveled the world, and enjoyed close-knit family life. The mill stayed in the family until Tim sold it in 1933, just three years after Michael's death. Some of their children stayed in the area; life led others to faraway places. In the 1980s, the extended Riordan family made yet another gift to Flagstaff , the community that Matt, Tim, and Michael were so proud to help build.

Kathy Faretta:
So the houses came as gifts from the second generation so that they could be used as a museum by Arizona State Parks. So today, we have an opportunity to tell the story not just of the Riordan family, but of Flagstaff and the style of architecture, too. When they first moved into this giant house, Michael wrote a letter to his sister, and he said that they had already figured out that the important things in life weren't the kind of window coverings that you had, and that these new houses, while they enjoyed them, really only gave them more room to stretch in. It was more for him about family, about friendship, and about community, and that's the legacy they left here in Flagstaff and is why people here in town who are grandchildren of their employees walk around and tell nice stories about the Riordans 100 years later. And that's in my mind really what the Riordans are about.