The land where Sprucedale is located was homesteaded by Hiram & Maryette Thompson of Springerville, AZ. There were several other ranches and farms in this area which was called Espero. Espero is Spanish for “hope, waiting, or expectation.” The post office for Espero was at the Thompson ranch. The Thompson built their homestead cabin (which is still in use), a large log barn and developed a well (still in use). They sold the property to Ernest R. & Bertha A. Patterson in 1921. Shortly after the Patterson’s bought it, some fishermen came by and asked if they had a place they could stay. They had been camping out and it had rained on them for several days and they wanted a place to stay where they would be dry and warm. The Patterson’s had a small cabin that they mostly used for storage and offered that to them. The fishermen had a great time and asked if they could come back the next year. From that simple request, the Patterson’s got the idea of building other cabins to rent out to other guests. Mr. Patterson had horses for his farm and started offering horse back rides to those who came to stay with them.
We don’t know for sure what year Mr. Patterson started his guest ranch, however, his great-great nephew, said they started the guest ranch shortly after they bought the property which would happened sometime in the early 1920’s making it one of the oldest guest ranches in Arizona.
Patterson was a carpenter and he built three other log cabins. He also built most of the furniture that went in the cabins. Mr. & Mrs. Patterson were hard workers and did a great job making Espero into a guest ranch which they later renamed Sprucedale. Sprucedale is nestled in a beautiful valley that is edged by large spruce trees, so it is a very fitting name.
Mr. Patterson’s health started deteriorating in the late 1930’s and in 1941, he and his wife sold Sprucedale to Walter and Faye Wiltbank, and their two children, Margine and Bud. These years were very lean War years. Walt also farmed and took out guests. Faye cooked for their guests and also sold butter, eggs and cheese to the CCC Camp just a few miles away at East Fork. Emer was born in 1943 and Ellis in 1960. Walt and Faye did a wonderful job of running Sprucedale and added seven more cabins. They ran the ranch until 1981, and then it was handed down to the Emer and Esther Wiltbank and their seven children. They in turn added three more cabins bringing Sprucedale to thirteen rental cabins.
Emer and Esther somewhat retired in 2004 and their children: Faye, Billy, J.J., Stephanie, Emer N., Whitney, and Tiffany all help out with the ranch. Whitney is the ranch manager. Ellis is the head wrangler. Cathy (daughter of Margine) Bawden and her daughter, Katy and Phyllis (Ellis’s wife) are carrying on the Wiltbank tradition of fixing wonderful homemade meals.
Sprucedale is rich in history and is built on a tradition of hard work and of knowing how to make a Sprucedale a great place for people to come experience ranch life in a beautiful and tranquil setting. All of the Wiltbank family is proud of their ranch and guest ranch heritage and are committed to keep that tradition going on to the next and the next generation!