Surprise Women's Heritage Trail

Flora Statler
Seventy-five years ago Flora Statler purchased, platted and began marketing lots in a development she named “Surprize.” This square mile became the first neighborhood in our modern-day Surprise, an area that today we refer to as the Original Town Site (OTS). And it is this historic area in which the Surprise Women’s Heritage Trail was dedicated in April 2013.

The Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail (AWHT) accepted Statler into their prestigious system which recognizes women who’ve made a significant contribution to the state’s history. This recognition paved the way for the Surprise Women’s Heritage Trail.

The self-guided trail will consist of stops to the north and south sections of the OTS, honoring many of the women that helped build our community. Some of the actual structures have been demolished, but the history remains.

Surprise Women’s Heritage Trail Maps are available in the lobby of City Hall, the City Clerk’s Office and at the Visitors Center in the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce or download a printable version.
South side trail sites

On Butler’s Corner (13071- 13073 NW Grand Avenue Frontage Road) visitors will learn about the history of General Forney Oden’s service station and how his daughter Nancy Butler worked alongside her husband Joseph to transform her father’s business into a thriving café, grocery store, automotive supply shop over the years. Butler belonged to the Surprise Women’s Club, worked as a reporter for the Peoria Times and was the first treasurer of the First Baptist Church. 

First Baptist ChurchThe First Baptist Church, 12987 W. Market Street, is also a featured stop on the trail. Later renamed the First Freewill Baptist Church, this was the community meeting spot for years and the host site for the twice-monthly town council meetings. The church is now known as Iglesia Reestructurada Del Espirito Santo since 1997. 

Surprise Womens ClubWilliams Market, 13001 NW Grand Avenue Frontage Road, established in the 1950’s was the place Surprise residents went to shop for groceries and for decades it also served as the town’s polling place. While Bill Williams held office as the town’s first mayor, his mother Agnes Williams, served as the first president of the Surprise Women’s Club.

Saylors' Root Beer Stand, 12731 W Grand Ave From 1965 until 1973, this building served as the town hall. Originally a root beer stand owned and operated by the Saylor family, town council members opted to lease and remodel the structure to fit their requirements. In addition to their root beer business, the Saylor family developed and operated several enterprises in Surprise’s first decades, including a skating rink and a trading post. Nellie Saylor played a critical role in establishing and running these endeavors. Saylor also reported local news for the Peoria Times. As a community activist, she served on the citizen’s committee that successfully fought the El Mirage Town Council’s attempt to annex Surprize and neighboring North El Mirage.

Surprise Womens ClubJulian and Maria Rosales worked as migrant farm laborers while raising 12 children at 15421 N. Dysart Road. While the home no longer stands Maria is recognized in the Trail for her never-ending community service. She was a charter member of the Surprise Action Council, prepared food baskets to residents in need, lead clean-up events and by her own hand made the children’s costumes for the Founder’s Day Parades.

North side trail sites

The Fulcher Family Home, 12533 W. Santa Fe Drive, was among the first homes established in what was then called North El Mirage. The home was built using rocks collected from the Agua Fria riverbed in the 1940s. Jennie Merle Fulcher raised 15 children in the home, while engaging in many community service activities, including donating homemade quilts and volunteering. 

A stop at the former Town Hall site, 12604 W. Santa Fe Drive, will feature the story of Lovena Luttrell, who served as the Town Clerk from the late 1960’s until 1988. Outside of her duties recording council business, Luttrell was an active leader in putting on Founder’s Days events, carnivals and rodeos.

Norma Blackenship, working with her husband Don, built a home and the DoNorma RV Park, 15637 N. Norma Lane. She served as Town Clerk and ran for Council in 1969. She successfully led a 1965 petition drive protesting the Council’s decision to reduce police coverage in the town. She was a member of the Surprise Women’s Club and Surprise Sheriff’s Posse.

A visit to the Community Center, 15832 N. Hollyhock Street, (now the Senior Center) will introduce you to the members of the Surprise Action Council. This group of women worked tirelessly to raise funds to build the community center and recalls their working with Council to secure Community Development Block Grants that resulted in a 1981 grand opening. 

Harold and Leona Morgan built a home, lumberyard and a tabernacle for revival meetings, at 12838 W. Paradise Lane, The first town council held early meetings at this location. In 1961, this was the meeting spot for the Surprise Women’s Club. 

Leon’s RV Park, 12939 W. Elm Street, served as the home of Fidel and Ruth Leon, who operated a cotton contracting business that employed most of the town’s residents of the day. Ruth ran a lunch wagon preparing the meals for the field workers. She was also a charter member of the Surprise Women’s Club and served on the town’s election board.

In 1975, Elizabeth Statler Wusich and her husband Nick donated the land that would become Bi-Centennial Park, 16705 N. Nash Street. Upon the death of her mother town founder Flora Statler in 1953, Elizabeth assumed her mother’s business developing and selling lots on the north and south sides of Grand Avenue. 

Learn more about the City’s first woman mayor Joan Shafer as you stop by the former City Hall location, 12425 W. Bell Road (currently the AZ TechCelerator). Under Shafer’s 12-year reign as mayor the city added the Surprise Recreation Campus, became a Cactus League community and welcomed more than 70,000 new residents. 

Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, 15631 N. Jerry Street, was established in the early 1950s and served as a social and cultural center for the town’s African American community. 
Clara Fisher Davis Marshall and her husband Chester were instrumental in founding and maintaining the church. 

Alejandra Lopez raised 10 children in her family home at 12327 W. Greenway Road. Throughout her life she helped feed residents in need providing food from her own garden. She also provided medical assistance to women with limited resources and served as a midwife. She assisted Dr. Konick in opening a make-shift clinic in the home. And she was always at the ready to make costumes and piñatas for the town’s festivals and parades. She also formed Folklorico and Matachine dance groups at Santa Teresita Church.