Although he was called “judge” in Tucson, Alfred John Emery had no legal training and never sat as a judge. The title was honorific.
In fact, Emery was a dairy and poultry farmer all his life, and a man with a profound vision. He moved to Tucson to found a poultry cooperative and planned community which at its height consisted of approximately 100 families and was one of Arizona’s major industries.
Emery was born in Butler County, Pennsylvania, received a degree in poultry and dairy husbandry in 1889 from Pennsylvania State College, and went to work for seven years operating a dairy farm in Pennsylvania.
In 1901, he married Elizabeth Shields in Pittsburgh. The couple would have six children.
Emery and his wife soon headed west. First Oklahoma, where Emery received an appointment as state dairy commissioner, and then, in 1913, to California, where he established one of the largest poultry farms in the state.
He finally arrived in Tucson in 1927 and founded the poultry cooperative.
Within three years, the enterprise was one of the major industries in the state and was receiving widespread and enthusiastic praise in farming publications both in Arizona and nationally.
Emery Park, which consisted of about 2,000 acres of land, was an independent community consisting of “attractive homes for the colonists, a school, extensive poultry buildings and green farm lands,” according to a publication called Progressive Arizona and the Great Southwest, which featured the community in a story.
All of the community land was platted into two and a half acre parcels with access to electricity for light and power, telephone service and water. There were graded streets, a park, a Southern Pacific railroad station and a post office. Families also had access to communal fruit orchards and pecans from trees planted in the poultry runs.
Each of the colonists was responsible for his two and a half acres and for 2,500 laying hens. He also was expected to raise a vegetable garden. It was estimated that each of the hens earned $2 per year in egg money, out of which a percentage went to Emery.
Emery claimed that Tucson’s soil was ideal for the chickens, and the vegetables for the family table.
The enterprise was governed by a board of directors elected from the members of the cooperative with Emery as president and his daughter, Camilla, as treasurer. The Emery Finance Corporation, located at 41 S. Sixth Ave., oversaw the cooperative’s financial expenditures. The cooperative also was able to purchase supplies, poultry equipment and other commodities at a good price.
Emery described his vision for farmers this way: “Men are beginning to realize that life on the land must be revolutionized; that to have small acreage near the heart of cities, used intensively and scientifically, is much more profitable than big holdings in lonely places.”
In addition to running the cooperative, Emery was active in Tucson business circles, joining Tucson Kiwanis, the Tucson Real Estate Board and the Tucson Chamber of Commerce. He also was a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is unclear whether his enterprise survived the Great Depression. And we have been unable to locate an obituary of this unique early Tucson businessman.
— Photo and research by Jane Eppinga. ©Arizona Capitol Times.