By Dave Salge
San Tan Historical Society
Businessman and philanthropist William Clement Stone once said, “Everyone who achieves success in a great venture solved each problem as they came to it. They helped themselves and they were helped through powers known and unknown to them at the time they set out on their voyage. They kept going regardless of the obstacles they met.”
Few faced more obstacles or achieved more entrepreneurial success in the early years of Queen Creek than Leo Ellsworth. It wasn’t until the 1920s that our little community, referred to then as Rittenhouse, first offered employment and services for its residents of farmers, homesteaders and migrant labor workers.
The community was founded on an agricultural future with products that included dairy, beef, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, potatoes, cotton, grains and alfalfa. Leo, then an employee of a Mesa bank, recognized its future potential and seized on an opportunity to manage his own success when he learned that Charles Rittenhouse’s Queen Creek farm and small grocery was struggling financially. He took over and established the Ellsworth Bros. brand with brothers Larence and Donald, to manage a multifaceted business operation.
Other business owners of diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences soon followed, despite the hardships of the depression and remoteness of our community at the time. Money was scarce, so the Ellsworth Brothers paid their laborers, many of whom were immigrants of Mexican and Filipino heritage, with unique coins created in their shop. The coins were accepted for products and services at their store and with other businesses in the community.
When the economy improved, the Ellsworth Brothers built the first packing shed in the area, not only packing and shipping their vegetable crops, but also other farmers’ produce in the community. The first cotton gin was located on the corner of Ellsworth and Rittenhouse roads. Products were shipped in and out, using the Rittenhouse and Queen Creek railroad sidings.
Leo Ellsworth built most of the roads near the town and made an agreement with the county that he would build a wooden bridge across the Queen Creek wash on Ellsworth Road, if the county would put in a good road to Higley, the nearest community with a post office.
There was a huge fire in 1945 that burned the Ellsworth Bros. service station and store. According to a newspaper article from that time, a driver of a Signal Oil Company truck was filling the station’s gas tank when a spark from a small pump, used to pump the gasoline into the tank, ignited the fumes, causing the gas truck to explode. Afterward, a newly built Wrights’ Market and Dory’s Tavern became major hubs for social and economic activities.
In 1947, the Queen Creek Post Office was established. Queen Creek was now officially a community with a future of growth and development. This was a time of what was then considered “explosive growth” in the community.
Ellsworth Bros. supplied the town with domestic water on a free-will basis until a utility franchise was secured at the request of the Arizona Corporation Commission in 1952. More and more families moved to the area, leasing farm land from Leo Ellsworth while living in homes along the main thoroughfares. Many of those homes near Town Center still stand today, some having been converted by small business owners, ensuring that our community continues to change with the times, while also celebrating its history.