Lets start with the Route 66 trivia of the day. As I am gathering momentum for an in depth exploratory tour of the Mojave Desert section of Route 66, and portions of the National Old Trails Highway, later this month todays trivia pertains to one of the ghost towns along that stretch of the venerable old highway, Essex.
As with most communities along this portion of the highway Essex began life as an isolated siding and water stop for the railroad. In an effort to promote automotive travel and the need for good roads the Automobile Club of Southern California dug a well here in the teens and promoted free water.
The establishment of a garage, market, and filling station in the following years reflected the growing importance of this highway as well as the changing face of the nation as America took to the road. The addition of a small school and post office enhanced the sense this was more than a pit stop in a sea of desert wasteland.
During World War II, rationing of gasoline greatly curtailed travel and traffic on Route 66 slowed to a trickle. Other remote communities dependant on the highway suffered immensely but Essex was a minature boom town, the result of massive war games that engulfed vast tracts of the Mojave Desert, the largest in history, under the guidance of General Patton. In addition, three miles to the north the Essex Army Airfield was established as well as a POW camp for Italian military personnel.
The brightest spot in the dusty wide spot in the roads history came in 1977 during the waning years of U.S. 66. In that year a feature story in the Los Angeles Times noted Essex was the last community in the lower 48 states without television service.
Johnny Carson picked up on the story and issued an invitation for the entire town of 35 residents to attend his program. This publicity led a Pennsylvania company to donate the equipment needed and Essex entered the modern era.
Today the post office and small school remain as the last active institutions in town.
Okay, new business. I officially began writing Ghost Towns of Route 66 this past weekend. To say the least, I am finding the project to be most interesting.
In the next few posts I will introduce you to the forgotten wonders and surprising history of Goffs, Goldroad, and a few other places that have vanished from the map in recent decades. I think you will be very surprised.
This isn’t really Route 66 related but I found this book to be quite fascinating. American Road is an interesting snap shot of the challenges involved with automotive travel in the closing years of the teens. It is also a delightful introduction to a forgotten footnote to American history.