Cotton was a vital material in producing pneumatic tires. In the early 1900s, an infestation of boll weevils on East Coast cotton farms combined with German U-boat attacks had left supplies scarce.
An executive with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company named Paul Weeks Litchfield was tasked with finding farm lands in Arizona. In 1916, Litchfield secured 36,000 acres of land in the Salt River Valley — five thousand acres of that purchase would become Litchfield Ranch, later renamed Litchfield Park.
For the past 46 years, Mr. Litchfield, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and endless cotton fields have been the backdrop for the Lee family and their home.
From farm to city to Litchfield Park
Linda Cheatham grew up in Laveen as the daughter of dairy farmers, attending South Mountain High School. She admits being horrified by her mother's design style and their black, white and red kitchen, to the point that she was embarrassed to invite friends over.
Linda later went to Brigham Young University to get a teaching degree. There, she met Bob Lee.
They married in 1963 and moved to California, where Bob had grown up, while he finished graduate school at Stanford. An employment opportunity in New York dictated a move across the country. The couple settled into a rental house in Connecticut and welcomed their first two children, Rob and Erin. Bob commuted daily into the city, while Linda settled into a life much different than she knew as a child.
Five years later, placing family before a career in New York City finance, Bob understood Linda longed for her family and the dusty desert, so he moved the family to Arizona and put down roots.
While contemplating where in the Phoenix area to live, Mesa beckoned the devout Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members. But Linda's mother suggested the small community of Litchfield Park for its wide-open spaces bordered by endless cotton fields and dirt roads.
Building a house for a growing family
Litchfield Park eventually won out, and in 1971 the couple purchased a half-acre lot for $8,500 in a quiet neighborhood just east of Litchfield Road, then a two-lane road that extended from Luke Air Force Base to the Goodyear Tire plant.
Linda's mother connected the couple with a friend who had a floor plan ideal for the growing family. They'd had a third child, Ryan, following their move from the East coast.
The Lees passed the floor plan to their builder, Merle Ball Construction, and broke ground on the day their fourth child, Brittnee, was born. Nearly a year later, in 1972, the family moved into its 2,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bathroom house.
Linda describes their nest as the perfect size to raise a family, and now to retire in.
House changes with its family
The neighborhood leading to the Lee home near Bird Lane is one of the oldest in Litchfield. It is distinguished by sprawling houses on large lots and grassy islands containing statuesque Aleppo pine trees through the center of neighborhood streets.
Bob’s two favorite rooms of their home are the kitchen and office. Linda’s favorite are the family room, kitchen and front- and backyards.
Over the years, the Lees have renovated their house. The kitchen remodel was extensive. An eating peninsula was removed and replaced with an island, then a second revision a few years later enlarged the island. Dark cabinets were replaced with white. Wallpaper gave way to fresh paint and custom country draperies now frame double French doors, formerly a slider.
The kitchen now displays a Viking gas stove, Sub-Zero refrigerator covered in matching cabinet panels and double ovens. Popcorn ceilings were removed, and the lighting has been updated.
The kitchen flooring has been replaced twice. It now has engineered wood to flow with the rest of the house.
And remember that black, white and red decor that Linda hated as a child? She's now embraced the color trio throughout her own home.
A trio of black-and-white checkered MacKenzie-Childs accessories rest on the stove top beneath a fire-engine-red vent hood.The living areas have red couches, and a bedroom has a white metal bed frame and black and white toile fabrics.
The family room off the kitchen is sunken by a step, and features a quartz fireplace and hearth nearly covering one wall. Family photos from the Cheatham Dairy in Laveen, as well as the first in Duncan, Arizona, lend to the history and farm décor throughout the home.
Each of the three full bathrooms has been updated with flooring, tile, new vanities and showers. The dark wood vanities are a striking complement to the natural stones and tiles, and in one bathroom set off a deep clawfoot tub.
Outside, a large diving pool was added. Lush landscaping and mature trees that began as five-gallon twigs surround the property. A gorgeous steel and glass entry door is a stunning addition.
Community roots grow deep
The Lee family’s impact on Litchfield Park over the years has been significant.
When the couple moved there, they helped establish a 10-family congregation and worshiped in a rented double-wide trailer. Now, the small congregation has grown to include 12 separate wards.
Bob and Linda are the sole remaining members of the original 10 LDS families in the area.
Linda, now retired, also taught in the Avondale Elementary School District for many years.