by Jim Hinckley Transportation is the cornerstone for Kingman. In late 1882, Conrad Shenfield, a railroad contractor, established a construction camp at the current town site. As with the establishment of Fort Beale at nearby Beale Springs, an important oasis on the Beale Wagon Road and Mohave Prescott Toll Road in 1871, the construction camp depended on the water from numerous springs in the immediate area.
However, the railroad, as well as the Beale Wagon Road and Mohave Prescott Toll Road were a relatively recent manifestation of transportation in this valley. When Father Francisco Garces passed through the area on his exploratory expeditions in 1776, he followed a Native American trade route the connected the pueblos of the Zuni and village of the Hopi with tribes on the coast of California.
The rough and tumble town that evolved from the primitive railroad construction camp was named after Lewis Kingman a railroad survey location engineer. By the dawn of the 20th century, the dusty little railroad town served as the central hub for bustling mining camps in the Cerbat, Music, and Black Mountains, and ranching empires in the Hualapai and Sacramento Valley.
By 1912, a labyrinth of “highways” coursed from boarder to boarder, and coast to coast. Two of these crossed the newly minted state of Arizona; the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway and National Old Trails Highway. The latter was, as the name implied, a knitting of historic trails into a highway that provided automobilists, the name for adventurers who explored the country by automobile at the time, a single route that connected the east and west coasts.
At the time of its creation in 1912, the National Old Trails Highway traversed Arizona from Springerville to Yuma, where it connected with the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway. Recognizing the economic importance represented by the increasing tide of tourists traveling by automobile, the Mohave County Good Roads Boosters, including Thomas Devine, proprietor of the Hotel Beale and father of character actor Andy Devine, gathered in Needles to draft a proposal for rerouting the highway.
That proposal was made in a presentation at the 1913 National Old Trails Highway/Ocean-to-Ocean Highway convention in Kansas City, Missouri. Topping the list of pervasive arguments made for rerouting the National Old Trails Highway across northern Arizona were access to natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon that would bolster promotional initiatives, and access to the railroad in case of mechanical failure.
The National Old Trails Highway received a tremendous promotional boost the following year. The last of the Desert Classic “Cactus Derby” automobile races followed that highway from Los Angeles to Ash Fork, Arizona before turning south to finish at the state fairgrounds in Phoenix. As the race included legendary drivers Barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet, it garnered international media attention.
On her adventure in 1915, the subject of a best selling book entitled By Motor to the Golden Gate, Emily Post discovered that the railroad was a necessity for pioneering tourists. Her vehicle suffered catastrophic mechanical failure in eastern Arizona and had to be shipped to California for repair.
Indicative of the economic importance the rerouted highway meant to Kingman are the number of visitors to the Panama Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915. Of the thousands of attendees, more than 20,000 arrived from out of state via automobile. A majority of these followed the National Old Trails Highway to enjoy the natural wonders of the southwest.
Counted among these travelers was Edsel Ford who traveled to the event with college friends. From Ford’s journal, “Williams, Arizona, Thursday July 15, 1915 – Bought some gas and oranges at Seligman. Stutz broke aother spring about 15 miles out and returned to Seligman. Cadillac and Ford went on to Kingman, arriving at midnight, Brunswick Hotel.”
In November 1926, the National Old Trails Highway from Romeroville, New Mexico to Los Angeles was incorporated into the new US highway system with the designation US 66. As they say, the rest is history.
Today, Route 66 is, arguably, the most famous highway in America. There are Route 66 associations in Europe, Japan, and South America. Companies that specialize in Route 66 tours operate in five countries. At a recent dinner in Pasadena, California to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Route 66, more than sixty people, from six countries, were in attendance.
The resurgent fascination with Route 66 has spawned a renewed interest in its predecessor the National Old Trails Highway. This bodes well for the promotion of Kingman as pristine segments of both roads run through stunning, quintessential western landscapes.
In fact, Kingman is centrally located on the longest uninterrupted section of Route 66 remaining, 160-magical miles of smiles. Have you explored this adventure wonderland in your backyard lately? If not, I think you will be quite surprised by how the renaissance of the Main Street of America is transforming this storied old highway.