A 1909 ad in Flagstaff’s Coconino Sun newspaper enticed readers to take a break at the lovely Lolomai Lodge in Oak Creek Canyon. The lodge was one of several in the canyon, all catering to those seeking a respite from hectic days. The ads boasted premier fishing in Oak Creek, miles of trails to explore, and the opportunity to “sleep like boyhood used to bring.” Even the prospect of jolting stagecoach travel to reach the remote area was touted as a link to the past and something to be appreciated.
Mrs. Fred W. (Mary) Sisson, opened Lolomai Lodge after her husbands’ death. Mary and her husband moved to Flagstaff in 1886 where Fred worked for the Riordan-owned Arizona Lumber and Timber Company. It’s likely the Sissons’ and Riordans’ knew each other in their home state of Illinois. Sisson eventually became treasurer of the company and the two families enjoyed a close relationship. However, after Fred Sisson’s 1908 death, serious mismanagement problems emerged that took the Riordans’ years to resolve.
The Riordans assisted Mary and her two children by paying for legal and financial services to sort out her husbands’ estate. She was also offered use of the Riordan-owned Flagstaff home for one year following Freds’ death. But, soon Mary began complaining about the people hired to support her and how she wished access to the house on a part-time basis for several years. A divisive breach between Mrs. Sisson and the Riordans widened.
To separate herself from the Riordans, Mary moved to a bungalow she had built in 1906 in Oak Creek Canyon and converted it into Lolomai Lodge. Deeds indicate that the Sissons’ purchased this land in Oak Creek Canyon near West Fork – perhaps with Arizona Lumber and Timber Company funds. Lolomai Lodge catered to Flagstaff residents and the 1909 room rates were from $3 to $3.50 per day with meals extra. The lodge was open during June, July, and August. Western writer Zane Grey supposedly penned one of his more famous novels, Call of the Canyon, at Lolomai Lodge.
For July 4, 1910, Lolomai guests received a souvenir menu card with a photo of the lodge and a hand-engraved menu, according to the Coconino Sun. The newspaper described Lolomai and Oak Creek Canyon ‘prettier than Yellowstone Canyon’.
In 1911, Mrs. Sisson opened the lodge in May instead of June to accommodate the numerous guests. The newspaper continuedto write glowing articles about Lolomai with phrases like “a month’s visit to Lolomai Lodge will do more toward restoring one to normal than all the medicine of the ages.” It also noted when Mrs. Sisson was in Flagstaff to purchase lumber for building improvements to Lolomai. To encourage fishing, 10,000 trout were put into Oak Creek in June 1911 under supervision of the game commissioner.
Mrs. Sisson leased the lodge to Mrs. I.F. Wheeler about 1912. The Lolomai Lodge from this era is described as a ‘spacious and comfortable log house’ with a dance floor and stone fireplace, upstairs porches large enough for people to sleep on with one porch reserved for men only, good home cooking with fresh vegetables grown on the grounds, “freedom from conventionalities of life, meaning that dress suits and evening gowns are not desired,” fine fishing, swimming pools, and trails to explore. Lodge rates were still $3 per day; half-price for children 3-10. A stagecoach from Flagstaff carried visitors three times per week down into the canyon where the road crossed Oak Creek several times. The fare for the stagecoach was $3 a person.
A 1920 Coconino Sun article mentioned that manager Mrs. L.R. Hall was operating dining facilities at both Lolomai Lodge and the Weatherford Hotel in Flagstaff. She offered a special Sunday dinner at Lolomai to encourage day visitors.
When Mary Sisson left Arizona, she gave the Native American rugs and baskets used in the lodge to family members. By 1922, Mary Sisson and her two children were living near San Francisco near where Mary died in 1942. The Lolomai Lodge site was abandoned, vandalized, and a late 1970s fire burned whatever was left. The U.S. Forest Service now owns the property.
All that’s left of Lolomai Lodge are traces of stone foundations and irrigation channels. Lolomai Springs Resort operates today along Oak Creek near Page Springs.
— S.D. Olberding The author thanks Nicole Lober of Riordan Mansion State Historic Park and Linda Cravens for their help with this article. Photo courtesy of the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park.