Signs of the past: Meet the remarkable R.P. Davie

Posted 12/23/22

Born in 1867, Robert Parsell Davie grew up on a farm in Michigan and taught himself pharmacy.

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Signs of the past: Meet the remarkable R.P. Davie


Born in 1867, Robert Parsell Davie grew up on a farm in Michigan and taught himself pharmacy.

He moved to Cripple Creek, Colorado in 1888 when mining was at its peak. In addition to investing in mining interests, he opened a drug store there before moving to Colorado Springs in 1895.

At that time, he became interested in the real estate business and partnered with a successful realty business in Los Angeles to form the McKinnie-Davie Realty Company in Colorado Springs. The firm was influential in financing several enterprises in the Cripple Creek mining district.

Around 1905, the governor of Florida conceived the idea of draining the Everglades and reclaiming 100 million acres of submerged land. Somehow, Davie became interested in the Florida project and purchased 28,000 acres of reclaimed land. He became involved in a new town that attracted workers on the Panama Canal and their families. It was initially known as “Zona,” but within a few years took the name “Davie” in gratitude for the school he built and his other contributions. Today, Davie is a city of 110,000, west of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Back in Colorado, Davie had been busy with his partner, J.R. McKinnie, forming a company to take over a defunct sugar beet factory. In three years time, they turned it into an extremely successful business. In 1908, he repeated that success, taking over a failed sugar mill in Glendale, Arizona. He persuaded farmers to turn to sugar beets, and in the next few years turned the area into a successful sugar producing region.

The success of the Arizona Canal, completed in 1888, had opened up thousands of acres of desert land for farming and orchards. The canal ended at the New River and Davie began buying up land between the New and Agua Fria rivers, including two parcels owned by men from Marinette, Wisconsin, who had given a railroad watering stop the name “Marinette.” Davie would name his land development company the “Marinette Canal and Land Company,” and eventually acquired some 8,000 acres, which underlies Sun City today. He had a canal dug to bring water from the Agua Fria and dug several wells.

In 1912, Davie platted the Orchard Town of Marinette with the central part subdivided into 25-foot lots. A shows it located along today’s Grand Avenue between 99th and 111th avenues. Davie even managed to get a post office for his new town. Not surprisingly, the lots in the middle of nowhere failed to sell.

Much of the remaining 8,000 acres was divided into 10- and 40-acre plots, which he hoped to sell to farmers. While sugar beets were a common crop in the Glendale and Peoria areas, for some reason Davie planted sugar cane on his holdings. He was successful in converting the mill in Glendale to process both sugar beets and cane. It was the only mill in the country to do so.

Davie formed the Marinette Olive Company and planted a 160-acre olive and peach grove to the north of today’s Sunland Memorial Park, 15826 N. Del Webb Blvd. It showed prospective farmers the variety of crops that could be grown on irrigated desert land.

Davie’s plans for the area never came to fruition. Few farmers bought the 10- or 40-acre plots. Only a handful of the more than 2,000 lots in his Orchard Town of Marinette were sold. His sugar cane plantings only lasted a few seasons before it became apparent that the soil was not right for sugar cane.

In 1920 Davie sold his 8,000-acre Marinette holdings to the Southwest Cotton Company for $1 million. He moved on to Los Angeles, closing this chapter in the history of Sun City.