If you’re passing through the Queen Creek area, you’re bound to come across Rittenhouse Road – a northwest/southeast diagonal path that travels along the railroad tracks, taking you from Higley to near Combs.
So who was Rittenhouse and what landmarks are still remaining with the name?
In 1924, a land developer named Charles Rittenhouse established the Queen Creek Farms Company on 1000 acres of desert. He put in some of the first wells, wells that could pump 2150 gallons of water per minute. The availability of water made possible cotton, plums, apricots, alfalfa, grapes, and more. And soon, a little town began to develop around the railroad siding established to ship the produce and cotton. The town was called Rittenhouse until 1947, when a new post office was established under the name of Queen Creek.
Also in 1924, construction of a new schoolhouse began on Ellsworth Road, one half mile north of the Rittenhouse railroad siding. The new school, to be named after Charles Rittenhouse, would be a three room building, constructed of Arizona red brick with white trimmed transom windows. The wood floors were tongue and groove, and the blackboards were real slate. Two roll-down room dividers separated the three rooms and a small stage was equipped with an abbreviated fly loft. The Rittenhouse School served the community until 1982, and is now home to the San Tan Historical Society museum.
We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘Touch and Go,’ usually a reference to a precarious situation in which the outcome is doubtful. But for pilots training at the Rittenhouse Air Force Base during World War II, touch and go patterns were a part of their everyday routine; hopefully not a flirtation with disaster. The Rittenhouse Air Force Base, one of five satellite airfields supporting Williams Field, was located six and one half miles east of Queen Creek where Ocotillo Rd. intersects with Schnepf Rd. The airfield was used to conduct training in twin and four engine bombers and single engine fighters. It consisted of a set of four paved runways, the longest being 4,000 feet, arranged in a triangle. In the late 1960’s, the northwest/southeast runway was lengthened to 6,200 feet. It was apparently abandoned between 1966 and 1971, but still had an operating VOR beacon - a somewhat elaborate navaid configuration for an abandoned airfield.
The old Rittenhouse airfield got a new lease on life in 1999, when the Rittenhouse Army Heliport was once again listed with the FAA as an active military facility under the control of the Arizona Army National Guard. The only listed runway being a 1,500 foot asphalt section of Runway 12/30, which is described as having “potholes and loose gravel on runway.”The Rittenhouse Airfield was occasionally used until 2003 for training by the Arizona Army National Guard helicopter crew from Papago Army Airfield in Phoenix.