Carefree Development Corporation
Thomas D. Darlington (1904–1969) was originally from Centreville, Idaho. After graduating from Stanford University, he worked as a publicity agent in Delaware, then became General Manager for Hillspaugh Ltd. in Sheffield, England. He became the plant manager for Garrett Corporation’s Air Research in Phoenix during World War II and decided to stay in Arizona after the war.
Kenyon Turner (K.T.) Palmer (1899–1976) was born in Columbus, Mississippi and came to Arizona in 1920 from Illinois, expecting to die of tuberculosis within four or five years. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Arizona, in 1934, he homesteaded a 640-acre ranch on the western slope of Pinnacle Peak. Palmer owned and operated the largest second-hand merchandise and gun store in Arizona, became a respected lawyer, ran for U.S. Senator on the Republican ticket and traveled the world.
In 1946, Tom and K.T. met at a Kiwanis luncheon in the Adams Hotel in Phoenix, where the seminal idea of Carefree was born. Years later, both men found themselves working in a Scottsdale real estate office and their previously monumental dream was rekindled. Despite their differences, they both lived by the ideals of thrift, industry, honesty and loyalty. They carried out many expensive joint ventures on a simple handshake.
In 1955, a 400-acre goat farm north of Scottsdale was found with an abundant well, and 2,200 surrounding acres were secured. K.T. named their joint business venture the Carefree Development Corp., and the name “Carefree” was regularly used to describe their vision of the Town they proposed. In 1958, the Darlington-Palmer building was finished in the downtown area (that building is now Town Hall) and in 1959, the iconic Sundial was completed.
1955 – Tom Darlington and K.T. Palmer open their first real estate office in Cave Creek, Darlington Palmer Realtors. They purchase the land that will become the Town of Carefree for $44,000.
1956 – The Carefree Development Corporation is created.
1958 – The Town’s whimsical street names come to life during a dinner party in Phoenix. Palmer mentioned to the group that they had not yet selected names for the streets, and party guests began providing ‘colorful’ names for the new Town. Easy Street, Ho Hum Road, Lazy Lane, Nonchalant Avenue and Wampum Way (among others) allow the new venture to generate publicity for the unique development.
1959 – Architect Gerry Jones designs and builds the first home in Carefree, the DeMille house (Lot 139) on Bloody Basin Road. Jones wrote the Architectural Guidelines for Mountainside Design, setting out building principles for the community. He is credited with developing the extreme mountain architectural style, used to build many of the homes on and around Black Mountain.
1959 – The Sundial is completed. Commissioned by K.T. Palmer and designed by solar engineer Dr. John Yellott and architect Joe Wong, the metal gnomon (shadow-casting arm) points directly to the North Star, measures 62 ft. long and rises 35 ft. off the ground. The Carefree Sundial is the largest in North America, and the third-largest in the world.
1961 – Skyranch Airport opens as the first Arizona airport to offer residents fly-in access to their homes.
1962 – Desert Forest Golf Club opens underneath Black Mountain. Designed by Robert "Red" Lawrence, it was the first desert golf layout in the Southwestern U.S., and the first course in the West to incorporate the desert itself into the course design, rather than imposing eastern designs onto the desert landscape.
1963 – Carefree International Restaurant opens. The 25-thousand square foot restaurant featured six dining rooms, each with unique cuisine options, a wine cellar, a central kitchen and a lobby. The concept was revolutionary, but was only open for two years.
1963 – The Desert Forest Inn (Carefree Inn) opens for business in December. Designed as a high-end resort with 125 rooms, it was marketed to out-of-towners and celebrities looking to move to the next “Palm Springs”. The hotel’s Aquamaids were a popular draw to the upscale resort.
1968 – Arizona Film Commissioner Fred Graham builds Southwestern Studios. The 160-acre desert property featured three state-of-the-art soundstages, edit bays, a 35mm screening room, make-up and production facilities, a Western street and a back lot. Stage 1 was used to film The New Dick Van Dyke Show, starring Town resident Dick Van Dyke.
1968 – Spanish Village, a commercial project in the downtown area, was built by K.T. Palmer and Rex Howard. While the building was under construction, Dr. Levy (first name unknown) a physician from Milwaukee, WI, asked if he could purchase the future enterprise. Not wanting to sell, the entrepreneurs came up with an outrageous sales price – well above market value. Dr. Levy accepted the bloated sales price without a counter-offer. Dr. Levy’s son managed the distinctive center and owned the Spanish Galleon and Cantina Restaurant.
1968 – Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni rents the home of Carl Hovgard, built into the side of Black Mountain, to shoot the MGM film Zabriskie Point. A replica of the mansion was built on the lot of Southwestern Studios for the special effect of blowing up the mansion.
1969 - Hugh Downs builds the first fly-in home at Skyranch Airport, designed by architect Gerry Jones.
1969 –Tom Darlington, while having dinner with friends, collapses and dies in the Spanish Galleon and Cantina in Spanish Village.
1970 – Gerry Jones designs the Slingman House, sited on three-and-one-half acres of boulders. He “bridged” the house over the boulders, creating the first bridge house in Arizona by moving one small boulder. His design saved thousands of dollars, as he used the boulders for bearing in lieu of a standard foundation.
1971 – Henry VanderHorst Berry joined Carefree Development Corporation as President and CEO. During his two years tenure, he completed the purchase of 160 acres from the State of Arizona to develop the planned mixed-use resort community “The Boulders”.
1974 – Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot pens the song "Carefree Highway", the second single released from his album, Sundown. In October, it peaks at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spends one week at #1 on the Easy Listening chart.
1975 – Desert Hills United Presbyterian Church is dedicated by Reverend Douglas Vance on land donated by K.T. Palmer in 1964.
1976 - On Friday, March 26th, the Carefree Sundial was donated to the Town by the Kiwanis Club of Carefree. Two days prior to the deed transfer, the Kiwanis Club moved to dedicate the Sundial area to the only living founding father of Carefree, K.T. Palmer. As it stands today, the area surrounding the Sundial is officially named "K.T. Palmer Sundial Circle."
1976 – K.T. Palmer dies in Scottsdale.
1984 – Concerned about encroachment by the City of Scottsdale, Carefree incorporates as a Town. Merritt Bigelow becomes the Town’s first mayor.
1992 – The Labyrinth at the Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center is completed. Located at 7415 East Elbow Bend Road, it is a part of a larger retreat center originally called the Estrem Center, as it was built upon land donated by Maybelle and Malcolm Estrem.
1993 – Thunderbird Artists hold their first Fine Art and Wine Festival in downtown Carefree.
1999 – Carefree Studios (formerly Southwestern Studios) is demolished and replaced with a retail center.
2001 – A dirt lot in the center of Town is transformed into the Carefree Desert Gardens, featuring walkways, bridges, water features and an amphitheater.
2008 – The Town’s new Fire Station No. 1 and Emergency Operations Center is completed. The building is designed to meet the future needs of the area, and aesthetically relates to its natural surroundings.
2009 – Carefree celebrates its 25th anniversary on Saturday, October 3. The Town’s motto is “Carefree. Where the sun marks time.”
2011 – Carefree Desert Gardens are renovated as a gift from Mark and Juanita Wdowiak of Desert Foothills Landscaping. Their contribution allowed for the addition of a greater variety of plants, identification signage and a tour map.
2016 – In April, the Kiwanis Splash Pad opens in the Carefree Desert Gardens. Featuring a unique water scorpion, the nature-inspired play area was donated to the Town by the Kiwanis Club of Carefree.
2021 – In September, the Hampton Inn by Mariott is projected to open in downtown Carefree.