By Philip Haldiman
The City Council recently recognized the Varney community, adjacent to Peoria High School, as being historically and geographically significant.
Mayor Cathy Carlat said the neighborhood serves as a reminder of Peoria’s shared culture and heritage.
“It is so important for us to have a peak into our history. We have so much to thank all the settlers for,” Ms. Carlat said.
The city commissioned the Varney Historic Context Report to acknowledge the contributions and heritage of the longtime Peoria neighborhood. It includes a comprehensive history of the area and a series of oral interviews from longtime residents.
The Varney Tracts are two platted subdivisions named for William L. Varney and Lena J. Varney, a married couple who subdivided their property for the creation of residential subdivisions during the 1940s. The Varneys were farmers and, before the creation of the two subdivisions, they used the property for agricultural purposes, like many in the area at the time.
Planning Director Chris Jacques said it was one of the earliest subdivisions in the area, where long-time residents helped shape the city in important ways.
The report details the roots of the Varney Tracts, including influential community leaders who worked to gather signatures to incorporate the city.
Mr. Jacques said the settlement that would become Peoria was founded in 1887 by homesteaders and investors from Peoria, Illinois, who were attracted by the completion of the Arizona Canal in 1885 and Grand Avenue in 1887.
The Desert Land Act was passed by Congress on March 3, 1877. He said this fueled development of the Western states, allowing people to apply for up to 640 acres, requiring them to irrigate the land within three years.
As a result, about 600 people called the future Peoria home by 1920.
He said an initial drive to incorporate Peoria failed in 1952, but two years later incorporation was successful.
Varney was one of the last vestiges of the farming communities before the big housing boom after 1975, Mr. Jacques said.
“The tract is also important because it provided a lens into the evolution of Peoria after World War II,” he said. “The report looked at the transition as a town from a farming community to a full service community that we have today.”
The Varney Tracts are located near Peoria High School and generally bounded by 83rd Avenue to the west, Varney Road to the south, 79th Avenue to the east and Poinsettia Drive to the north.
The tracts are potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under the context of community planning and development for their association with the evolution of residential subdivision development in Peoria during the years 1945-1970.
Councilwoman Vicki Hunt was a teacher at Peoria High School from 1984 to 2000, where she taught many students who lived in the Varney Tracts.
She said it was a really warm area where people bonded and neighbors knew each other from working in the fields, and where the only businesses were ones that supported the farming community.
“Many of my students had deep roots (in the Varney Tracts), many of whom had farmed the area, and many of my students told stories of them not being able to play football at Peoria High School, which if you know anything about Peoria High, that is a big deal, because they had to go home immediately and pick the crops for their family,” she said.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697 or firstname.lastname@example.org.