Frank Pinkley was 19 years old in 1900 when he arrived in Arizona on a train from Missouri. He was scheduled to stay six months to recover from a mild case of tuberculosis. He never left.
Within two years he was the caretaker at what today is known as Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. He lived in a tent and dug his own well. When the location was designated a national monument in 1918, Pinkley took over as resident custodian, and by 1924 he was the superintendent of 14 monuments in the Southwest, according to the National Park Service.
Eager to attract visitors, Pinkley wanted a place for people to spend the night near the Ruins. He encouraged area residents Walter and Theodora Smith to build an inn, which would be called Vah Ki Inn. Construction started in 1929 and featured Mexican hacienda-style architecture.
In the early 1930s the inn opened as a guest ranch, offering swimming, horseback riding, area tours, tennis, fishing, hunting and golf. Coolidge was growing after being founded in the mid-1920s as the dam was completed.
After World War II, according to St. Michael’s Church’s website, the Smiths leased the inn to a man who ran a restaurant and bar. At some point, the inn stopped operating as a guest ranch, and in 1957, the Smiths sold the property at a discount to the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. The church used the property for retreats, workshops and conferences.
The Smiths attended Christ Episcopal Church in Florence when they built the inn and helped form St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in 1954.
In 1971, St. Michael’s took over the inn as its home. Eight years earlier, a fire had destroyed the roof of the historic tea room, which today is the parish hall. The original adobe walls were not damaged. The church added a worship space, entry hall, expanded dining room and kitchen in 1980, according to St. Michael’s.
Although the church’s application for historic designation was denied because of exterior changes, the property is still significant as one of the first buildings in Coolidge and an early guest ranch in Pinal County. It is located at 800 W. Vah Ki Inn Road. | PW