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“Herbert M. Clagett, an Extraordinary Businessman and Fire Chief Bracey Curtis’s Right Hand Man”

Author Jose R. Garcia

Herbert “Herb” M. Clagett was born in Rockville, Maryland on December 30, 1870. Herb prepared himself to become a mining engineer and he ended up working at a copper mine in Durango, Mexico by age 21. Herb would later find his niche in Nogales, Arizona in 1902 when he landed a job with Roy & Titcomb Inc. He would effectively manage the company’s large hardwood mill near San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico for many years. Herb proved to be so loyal, hardworking, and knowledgeable of the company’s product line that he eventually became vice-president of the firm. He also became a director of the First National Bank of Nogales and a director of the Nogales Building & Loan Association to add to his prestige. Herb remained in the Line City for the rest of his days.

Herb was also the owner of the Nogales Jersey Farm ( he and his manager A. A. Hudgin had a large herd of prize-winning Jersey cows ) which provided dairy products to the local populace. Herb would later co-own a dairy-related business by the name of the Nogales Creamery Company.

To add to his list of interests and activities, Herb was a political animal of sorts who served as Mayor of Nogales between June 1916 and June 1918. He was also a member of the Nogales Chamber of Commerce ( he was their president in 1922 ), the Kiwanis Club, and the Nogales Club of the American Association of Engineers.

Herb married twice and lived at 527 Crawford Street. The tall, fast, and eagle-eyed Herb became a widower in 1934 when his first wife, Mrs. Cora Clagett (née Rathbun) died in an auto accident near Red Rock, midway between Casa Grande and Tucson. Herb and Cora were returning to Nogales from Herb’s brother’s ranch in the Salt River Valley near Litchfield where they had spent New Year’s. Cora was driving and the car hit a soft shoulder as she attempted to pass a produce truck. Cora would lose control of the vehicle and it turned turtle, killing her instantly. Herb was ejected through the top of the car and was rushed to a Tucson hospital for emergency treatment. Although he sustained minor injuries, Herb was banged up enough, both physically and emotionally, that he was unable to attend his wife’s funeral in Nogales.

Herb would eventually marry a physical education instructor by the name of Lorena “Dixie” Dixon. Herb gradually slowed his pace in business affairs and he and his wife would operate a small, quaint restaurant by the name of “Clagett’s” on Morley Ave.; it also served as a soda fountain and bookstore.

Herb was a very good choice to be on the Nogales Fire Department 1913-1915 Building Committee in that he was very business-oriented and loved being a firefighter. He was also Chief Bracey Curtis’s trusty First Assistant Chief at the time the 1914 Fire House and Town Hall Building ( also known as the “Old City Hall” Building ) was being erected. Because of this, Herb was keen to know what the fire department needed in terms of equipment and space. He surely knew what he was talking about when the committee met and made their decisions.

Herb also had the bragging rights of being an old fire hose racing crack whose team won the much talked about fire hose race on Thanksgiving Day 1907 in a record time of 43 seconds. The fire hose race between Papago Hose Company No. 1               ( Clagett’s team ) and Papago Engine Company No. 1 ( A. S. Noon was on this team ) consisted of pulling a fire hose cart about two hundred feet forward and connecting the hose to a fire hydrant. The Papago Engine No. 1 team was favored to win this race as they had done so on so many other occasions in that its members were predominantly hardier blue-collar workers in contrast to the frailer white-collar workers who made up most of the hose company. The Papago Engine Company No. 1 team would therefore lose the fire hose race that day much to their consternation when they clocked in at 45 seconds, being just a bit slow in connecting the hose coupler to the hydrant.

When Herb Clagett died on July 25, 1945, aged 74, Craig Pottinger, Sr. of the Nogales International, wrote a moving editorial about his longtime friend. Mr. Pottinger’s kind words talk about the man that was, not just any man, but a man with an extraordinary vision of what a community should look like and how to go about making it a reality. In other words, Herb was a go-getter and got things done. He was no obstructionist or knocker. The July 27 editorial went as follows:

So Long Herb… Herb Clagett, who passed away Wednesday, was the kind of person who helps build communities and institutions. He knew the legends and the talk of Santa Cruz County. He was never known to say unkind things about other people. He had his own convictions, and he was never one to surrender a point when it came to a good argument, political or otherwise. He exemplified the courage, the hospitable spirit and the kindly regard for other folks that all have gone to build our community into an enduring institution. Herb seemed to know about everybody in Santa Cruz County, and everybody who knew him liked him. That was because he was a gallant, courageous, kind, brave person. There will be countless hundreds who will miss him because he was friendly and helpful to so many people who entered his life only for a little while. Herb Clagett was a man who believed in Santa Cruz County and Santa Cruz County folks. He was a man who knew his community, and served it well. And the community now grieves for the loss of a man who lived here for 43 long years.

Herb was a lifelong Republican and a 32nd Degree Mason. He now rests under the trees in the Nogales Masonic Cemetery. He was buried alongside his beloved Cora.

For the curious, Cora’s name, C. R. Clagett, is etched on one of the two cornerstones that adorn the southeast side of the 1915 Nogales High School Building. Cora was a member of the Board of School Trustees of District No. 1, Nogales, Arizona, along with W. F. Chenoweth, as president, and T. J. Wylie, as clerk, at the time the high school was being erected.

Not to be overlooked, Cora was a gregarious, charismatic woman who acted as hostess of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Santa Cruz Club when they moved into the club rooms on the second floor of the newly erected Fire House and Town Hall Building in 1915.


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