The Litchfield Park Historical Museum’s newest exhibit, Rolling on Rubber, opened Oct. 3 and shows how the rubber tire industry impacted the town’s development from the 1900s to early 1960s.
The new exhibit explains how the town was practically founded on it. From automobile tires to blimps and spacecrafts, rubber made the town what it is today.
“It’s something you just don’t think about,” said Nancy Schafer, historical society president. “You get in your car and take off, or you’re on a plane and you never think about the tires on a plane. There’s a lot more to it than people would think.”
The exhibit starts from the very beginning, back when Goodyear Tire had rubber plantations in the area in 1917. The exhibit continues by chronologically displaying how the company grew, adapted and advanced. Photos show early setbacks to trucks carrying transportation, workers tweaking the chemical formula for perfection, and the introduction of assembly lines. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. became the world’s largest rubber company by 1926.
As a junior executive, Paul Litchfield started out with 16,000 acres to farm long-staple cotton for use in tires. He was promoted to company president in 1926 and had 33,000 acres by the end of the decade. That much land required a lot of hands, and Litchfield worked to provide a company town for the employees, complete with housing, churches, schools, stores and what is now known as The Wigwam resort. Thus, Litchfield Park was born.
The Litchfield Park Historical Museum has items from the first stores in the town, including the desk and tools from Bob McMillan, the first dentist, and items from the first drug store.
“It’s really neat that we have all this memorabilia from people who actually started out here at the town and grew with the town and then their family stayed here. And it’s in such good condition,” Schafer said. “I mean, this stuff is in really pristine condition, which is amazing, you know? So, you can imagine children love to come here and see all the neat stuff and learn all about it.”
The museum only has space for four exhibits, with two permanent and two rotating. However, Schafer said the organization has two storage facilities packed with historic items, and a full-size carriage from The Wigwam. She added that about 90% of the photos they have were donated from people in the town.
The dental set came from McMillan’s son, while the Litchfield family donated furniture. The society has an antique golf bag from The Wigwam, too.
“For many of them, it’s something that’s a treasured item that has found a home and isn’t going to sit around in the garage and be tossed when they’re gone,” Schafer said. “That means so much to so many people. I’ve seen people in tears, ‘Oh, thank you for taking this. It meant so much to my great grandmother. I’ve just hung on to it, but I don’t know what to do with it now and the kids don’t want it.’”
As its collection has grown, the Litchfield Historical Society looked for a way to better display the town’s history. Plans are underway to renovate the Litchfield’s old winter home and turn it into a heritage center that will have a museum, archive, research library, gift shop and public programming areas. The foundational structure will remain largely the same as a historical tribute, but the inside will be remodeled to maximize space with about 11,000 square feet.
The society has reached about $2.25 million out of its $3.5 million goal. Schafer said COVID-19 has slowed their progression, but people have still been generous with their donations and have stuck to their pledges. Once the finances are obtained, construction on the project is expected to take six to eight months to complete.
“We’re hoping by the end of 2022, we’ll have all the money to immediately start refurbishing the building, because it’s a residence right now and we are turning it into a commercial building. We figure about a year, sometime in 2023, we should have it completed and opening up.”
If You Go...
WHAT: Litchfield Park Historical Society and Museum
WHERE: 13912 W. Camelback Road,
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month.
INFO: 623-535-4414, lphsmuseum.org