By Craig Harris – Aug. 10, 2012 11:44 PM
The Arizona Republic
In 1892, 20 years before Arizona became a state, a pioneer family settled a dusty patch of desert along the Salt River near what is now Tempe Beach Park.
Through the decades, that land passed from one generation down to the next.
It goes without saying that they always believed it was theirs. But, after a seven-year battle with the state, that notion has been turned on its head — and it’s likely that their birthright tradition has come to an end. And as if to add insult to injury, the members of the Sussex family are now considered trespassers in the eyes of the law.
A Maricopa County jury this week ordered the family to pay the state $1,500 for trespassing on the oddly shaped slice of land that was determined to belong to the state, or more precisely, the Arizona State Land Department.
The only silver lining, according to 72-year-old Steve Sussex, is that the $1,500 is far less than the nearly half-a-million dollars in damages the state sought for the trespassing violation and lost revenue from the land.
“I guess we kind of, like, won because we only have to pay $1,500,” Sussex said. “But as far as losing the property to the state, I will never be happy.”
For more than a century, the small adobe dwelling at 302 W. First St., Tempe, has housed Sussex, his forebears and his children. Nestled against the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and Metro light-rail tracks, the neighborhood is home to the old Fiesta Bowl headquarters and the Sail Inn, a popular Tempe nightspot.
Photos: Tempe land dispute