The history of St. Michael's Church building is a fascinating story, strongly related to the Casa Grande Ruins National Park and the history of Coolidge. 

Here's what happened: 

1900 – Frank Pinkley, 19 years old, came to Casa Grande Ruins and later became the monument's first superintendent. 

1920s – Pinkley initiated a number of efforts to attract visitors to the ruins.

1924 – with the completion of Coolidge Dam, the City of Coolidge was founded.

1929With Pinkley's encouragement, Walter and Theodora Smith, Episcopalians who attended Christ Episcopal Church in Florence, began building the Vah Ki Inn complex. Porches and open arches in the Mexican hacienda style were important architectural themes.Vah Ki Inn exterior

Early 1930s – the Inn was becoming a guest ranch with swimming, horseback riding, tours to nearby attractions, tennis, fishing, hunting and golf. Guests at the Vah Ki Inn included many well-known persons including Duncan Hines who is said to have listed the Inn as among the best places to eat in the Unites States! The Inn was also featured in Sunset Magazine.

After WWII – the Inn was leased to a man who ran a first class bar and restaurant. Interestingly, the Bunk House (which later burned down) was operated as "a full-service" facility.swimming poolswimming pool

1954 – 13 members of Christ Episcopal Church inFlorence, in cooperation with the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, established St. Michael's Episcopal Church. (Much later, Christ Church merged with St. Michael's.) The first service of Holy Communion was held on St. Michael's Day, September 29, 1954. Its first Senior Warden (lay leader) was Ross W. Steck. (See his full account below.) On that day the Bishop of the Missionary District of Arizona signed a letter establishing the mission congregation. It began regular worship at the Women's Club.  

Tea Room

1957 – Walter and Theodora Smith transferred the deed for the Inn to The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. It became known as "The Vah Ki Inn Episcopal Center," used for retreats, workshops, and conferences.

1958 - St. Michael's, still housed at a different location, became a self-supporting parish.

1963 – Fire destroyed the roof of the historic tea room (current parish hall). Fortunately, the original adobe walls were not damaged and are still visible.

1971 – the Inn became the home of St. Michael's parish. At first the faith community worshiped in the tea room (the "sunny dining room" above).

1980 – the current worship space, entry hall, expanded dining room, and kitchen were completed.

1986 – Rhoda Anderson, a member of St. Michael's, applied to the State Historic Preservation Office for historic designation. Unfortunately, exterior changes disqualified the structure for this honor.

2013  –St. Michael's seeks to more fully reclaim its heritage as the original Vah Ki Inn for the benefit of the community of Coolidge.

 

A delightful history of St. Michael's as told by Ross Steck, one of St. Michael's founders, to Rhoda Anderson, about 1986: 

 
Before I came to Coolidge, I was teaching in northern Iowa and there was not a church in the town. I had been brought up as an Episcopalian. In Iowa I had to drive either sixteen miles in one direction or thirty miles in another to go to church. I did that for fourteen years and I decided that the next place i would go to would have to have a church in it - an Episcopal church.

I had acute bronchitis and had gone to the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) and they told me that I had to come to Arizona, and, specifically, to Coolidge. Dr. Mayo and his two brothers had, after the first World War, spent a couple of years going through Arizona, trying to determine where the best location was for treating certain lung diseases, because that is what they were specializing in. They had decided that, within a four or five square mile radius of the Casa Grands Ruins was the best place for the type of bronchitis I had.  

Coolidge wasn't really "here" then, when the Mayos were here during the first World War. The Vah-Ki Inn was there, and I think that the Mayos stayed there when they visited the area. That is why they had a good enough chance to scout around Coolidge, because there weren't that many places to stay, in central Arizona then. So when they recommended Coolidge, then I thought "the first question I am going to ask is about the Church." So, in 1950, I applied for a job in Coolidge. While I was waiting to get in to see Jack Belzner, Mildren Keinnman visited with me. I liked her immediately, and we were talking about everything under the sun, and I said, "By the way, I don't intend to come to a town that doesn't have an Episcopal Church in it." 

 

"Oh, we have one here," she said. "We have most every church."  
 
She went and got the paper and said, "Here, it's Christ Church on Florence Avenue."  

I wasn't yet familiar enough with the town to realize that Christ Church was in Florence, rather on Florence Avenue.  And I didn't look at the ads. I just thought, "Well, she's lived here all her life so she ought to know." So I signed the contract. 

When I officially moved to Coolidge in the Fall of that year, I had an apartment. Jim and Mary Manship had brought me out from Iowa that summer and stayed to see whether I was going to get well or not. And I did. After a few months, I was fine and had started to gain my weight back. I had only weighed 121 pounds when I came to Coolidge.  

When I felt able to be up and around, I found that there wasn't a church here. I decided that since Florence was only nine miles away, it was better than it had been, and there wouldn't be winter snows to contend with. I was in for a shock the first Sunday I went to church. They had old wooden theater seats, and there were no prayer benches, no kneelers. The altar was plain, the service was Morning Prayer, and there were only about seven or eight older people there. I remember thinking, "This will never do." 

There was only one person there who spoke to me, so I asked her why there were no kneelers in the church. She said that the Bishop had just purchased the church and there were only four people that were Episcopalians: three in Florence and one in Coolidge. The Coolidge Episcopalian happened to be Theodora Smith: she was the one I was talking to and she said the bishop had purchased the building from the Florence Christian Church, when that church closed. 

The "new" Christ Episcopal Church had only had services for a year or two, she said, and with such a few members, about all they could do was pay what would be a Vicar. He didn't get a regular priest's salary, but he had another church in Ray, Arizona,* and he came down to Florence every other Sunday. Again I thought, "This will never do!" 

I learned that there was an Episcopal Church in Casa Grande, so I went there the next Sunday. No one spoke. Yet again I thought, "This will never do!" Then I went to Mesa. St. Mark's Church was fairly friendly, but here again, it was a traveling situation. I soon discovered, after talking to Anna Christensen, that Mae Koehler was an Episcopalian and would like to find somebody that she could go to church with. Capitola Kaiser (mother of Sue Jo Dixon) was also an Episcopalian. I got hold of the two women. Capitola was, at that time, teaching at Kenilworth School, and suggested that we start a Sunday School in the Woman's club.  Anna Christensen looked into it for me. She was very nice and was originally from a Dutch community in Iowa. So Capitola, Mae and I started a Sunday School. Capitola and I would go around town and gather up kids that were not attending church. We got about thirty-five or forty that were willing to come every Sunday, if we would come around and pick them up, so that's what we did.  

Then we discovered Dave Hood was an Episcopalian, although not, at that time, too much interested in attending church. They were a young couple and they would go to Phoenix, or places like that, because he worked hard during the week and they had relatives all around the state. In a year or two, Fred and Marge Jackson moved to town and they were also Episcopalians, and the Hoods got active in the church as well. By that time, the Bishop had gotten a priest to come full time to Florence; he thought they needed that to get going. This priest was Father McMahan.

I said, "Why don't we petition the bishop to get the same priest for Coolidge, so that we can have communion?"

We did, and from there on, Father McMahan's first year was pretty good. We picked up a few more stray Episcopalians.  

As people started coming, we were still meeting at the Woman's Club. We felt that we were now strong enough, and got busy with the idea of our own church building. Theodora started to work with us, and eventually Helen Hood joined up as a Sunday School teacher. We developed a pretty good Sunday School. Tony and Ruth Harrington moved to town, and both of them were Episcopalians. Walter Smith (owner, architect and builder of the Vah Ki Inn) decided that we were strong enough, so he arranged with some friends of his to get an old barracks building in Tucson and get it moved up to Coolidge. We got the foundation laid, and built the church out of the barracks. Harry Musgrove also got an old barracks from Florence and the previous airport, and they were also used in the construction.  

This was about 1954, I think. Anyway, the Bishop then decided that we could have a church here. We petitioned to become a Mission, and the Good Lord did the rest of it: He sent us Father Mac Stanley and his wife Wanda. Both were outstanding in any way you want to look at it. Mac was an excellent priest, and both were accomplished musicians. Wanda, in particular, had a beautiful voice. Mac was the one who really began drawing people into the church. Benny and Pat Arnold, drawn originally because of Mac's musical ability, joined the church and were confirmed. That meant more kids in the Church School. Then a couple of other families with children moved to town, and we kept growing. 

When we were still at the Woman's Club, we started having the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. When we moved out to what was then called the "New Church" (now the Church of God) we built a small kitchen at one side of the church so we could continue the suppers.   

Eventually we had to add another side to the building because the church school was so large at that time. We were having an average church attendance of around 80 people each Sunday, and our building wasn't all that great. So, in two years, we were able to pay Mac's full salary and become a parish, and we have been a parish** ever since.    

It was under Mac's influence that, when the Vah-Ki Inn came up for sale, we bought it. The Smiths were going to lose it, so they lowered the price on it to where it was in a range we could eventually pay for. We got the old Inn part, and used the "Parlor Room" for a sanctuary. That room is still there. Now there's more to the building than when we first moved in, because the kitchen and half of the parish hall are new. They were not part of the old building. We got that part done, and have been lucky every since.

 

*Ray, Arizona, as well as Sonora and Barcelona, Arizona, was moved in the late 1950s to the newly established Kearmy, Arizona, so that the now massive copper mine could be expanded.

** In Episcopal parlance, a "parish" is a self-supporting congregation in contrast to a "mission" which is partially supported by the diocese.  

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The congregation's priests have included:
 

1954-1955

Allen G. McMahan
1955-1962 Mac R. Stanley

1962-1965

Floyd C. Medford
1965-1969 Robert L. Moore

1970-

Donald W. Monson
1982-   Donald D. Dunn

1987-

John Smith

          - 2002

Larry W. Weeks

2002 - 2006

Jack Smart
2006 - 2008 Brian McHugh

2008 - 2009

Ted Holt
2009 - 2010 Cynthia Spencer

2010 - 2011

Bob Kley
2011 - 2012

David Davidson-Methot 

Fall 2012

Ray Dugan

2012 - 2017

Carol Smith Holsen

2017 - present

Philip W. Stowell

 
  

 

  Tower House of the former Vah Ki Inn

 ST. MICHAEL'S LEAVES THE LIGHTS ON FOR YOU.