by Jim Hinckley
In 1776, the expedition of Father Garces camped at a desert oasis that we now call Beale Springs. Following in his sandal prints over the course of the next century were a legion of surveyors, soldiers, fortune seekers, and pioneers.
One of these was the namesake for the spring, Lt. Edward Beale, a legendary adventurer and explorer of the mid 19th century that had accepted a presidential commission to survey a road from Ft Smith, Arkansas to the Colorado River in 1857. As if the survey and construction of a road across miles of desert wilderness wasn’t daunting enough, Beale was also tasked with testing the viability of camels for use as military supply transport in the desert southwest. As an historic footnote, the Secretary of War who initiated the experiment with camels was Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Confederate States of America.
Travelers on the Beale Wagon Road, and the Mohave-Prescott Toll Road that connected Hardyville on the Colorado River with Prescott often camped at the springs on their journeys. The springs as well as those in Johnson Canyon and Railroad Canyon were a primary reason that a construction camp was established at the site of present day Kingman while the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad continued laying rails westward toward California.
Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, Good Roads associations formed throughout the country to petition state, county, and local governments for funds and assistance in creating highways suitable for automobiles.
Tom Devine, proprietor of the Hotel Beale and father of character actor Andy Devine, was a member of the local Good Roads Association in Kingman. Recognizing the prestige and economic impact of having a major highway pass through Kingman, Devine and fellow association members in Kingman and in Needles crafted a powerful presentation that showed the merits of having the National Old Trails Highway routed across northern Arizona, and along the railroad that had followed the Beale Wagon Road. They presented this at the 1913 National Old Trails Highway convention in Kansas City, Missouri.
Their sound arguments swayed committee members and the National Old Trails Highway that had coursed from Springerville to Yuma and the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, was rerouted across northern Arizona, through Kingman, and into California. US 66 would follow much of this route upon certification in 1926.
There is a common theme to this history, Kingman was a stop on the way to someplace. It even became famous as a stop on the way to someplace when the song about getting your kicks on Route 66 sung by velvet voiced crooner Nat King Cole rocketed to the top of the music charts in 1946.
Obviously a few people did more than pass through town. In A Guide Book to Highway 66 written by Jack Rittenhouse in 1946, it was noted that Kingman had a population of 2,200 people and offered an array of lodging options including the “… hotels Beale, Brunswick, and Commercial; tourist courts Akron, Arcadia, Wal-A-Pai, Williams, Kit Carson, Gypsy Garden, Stony Wold, Bungalow, White Rock, Lambert’s Gateway Village, Bell’s, Stratton’s, Kingman, El Trovatore, and Challenger.” Kingman in the 20th century, as with Beale Springs in the 19th century, was a stop on the way to someplace.
The moderate climate, the stunning natural beauty of the area, and the moderate climate led many a traveler to stop, and to call Kingman home. And so, Kingman continued its pace of slow, steady growth into the 21st century.
Kingman is still a stop on the way to someplace as evidenced by the high average occupancy rate of motels and the fact that in the coming months construction will commence on new facilities. Travelers by the thousands stop every day in Kingman for a burger, for gas, and perhaps, for a good nights rest.
Even with the resurgent interest in Route 66 that has generated a tsunami of international travelers along this storied highway, Kingman is often little more than a stop on the way to someplace. This, however, is the dawn of a new era and Kingman is on the cusp of becoming a destination for travelers, and for people looking for a place to raise families, to retire, and to open businesses.
Miles of scenic hiking and mountain bike trails, the world’s only electric vehicle museum, the renaissance of the historic business district lit by colorful neon, the embryonic Route 66 walk of fame, Beale Celebrations and Grand Event Center, events such as Chillin’ on Beale and the Route 66 Fun Run, and 160-scenic miles of historic Route 66. Kingman is centrally located; sixty-miles to Grand Canyon Caverns, seventy-miles to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, forty-five miles to Peach Springs and the only road to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. White water rafting, a WWII airfield, and ghost towns, Hualapai Mountain Park, Desert Diamond Distillery, and great restaurants.
Destination Kingman, a vacation paradise –
Lt. Beale and Beale Springs courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts
National Old Trails Highway in Kingman, Hotel Beale lobby, and National Old Trails Highway brochure courtesy of Steve Rider collection