Mary Leighton is a scrapper when it comes to preserving our Western heritage.
Let a developer threaten to bulldoze a historical building in order to accommodate a new Wal-Mart or another McDonald’s and Mary girds for a fight. This native of Maine didn’t really appreciate the West until she and her husband Charlie moved to Willcox, Arizona, in 1970. But when the Southern Pacific Railroad threatened to demolish Willcox’s old train station, Mary successfully fought to preserve it, even getting the sheriff to stop the wrecking balls when the railroad sent in a demolition team. Her efforts also led to many of Willcox’s old downtown buildings—including the train depot—being placed on the National Historic Registry and earned her the Arizona Governor’s Preservation Award in 1985.
After being contacted by Willcox native and former singing cowboy Rex Allen, Mary founded the Rex Allen Museum to showcase “his stuff.” The museum opened October 1989 and is the centerpiece of the town’s annual Rex Allen Days, which this year will be held October 1-3. In addition to an open house at the museum, the festivities include cowboy poetry and music, a Rex Allen film festival, a banquet, parade, rodeo and concerts by Rex Allen, Jr.
So come fall, point your vehicle toward Southeastern Arizona and get ready to have some fun. Just don’t try condemning any old buildings.