On The Trail

The Watkins brothers drug store was on the corner at the left. It fronted the National Old Trails Road after 1921, and Route 66 after 1926. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts

SAN JOSE RESIDENT ENDS LIFE IN ARIZONA – William A. Watkins Commits Suicide by Shooting Top of His Head Off in Kingman. KINGMAN. Ariz., March 31, 1901—William A. Watkins of San Jose. Cal., brother of H. H. Watkins. who Is manager of the Arizona National Bank and a prominent business man of Kingman, committed suicide last night by placing a large caliber revolver In his mouth and blowing off the top of his head. No reason is known for the act. The dead man leaves a mother and brother In San Jose, where his remains will be shipped for interment.

The rather gruesome headline and brief paragraph was discovered while on the trail of the story of the building that houses the El Palacio restaurant in Kingman. As one of the oldest commercial buildings in the city, it will be included in the narrated historic district walking tour being developed by Kingman Main Street.

Born in California in 1858, Howard. H. Watkins came from hearty pioneer stock. His father, B.F. Watkins, had left New York state for California in 1847 and was a survivor of the infamous Donner Party. He was one of the first people to establish citrus orchards in the valleys west of Los Angeles.

After completing business college Watkins bid adios to his family and family business and set out for the Arizona Territory in 1880. He followed the Mojave Road across the Mojave Desert and after a brief stay in Hardyville set out for the mining boom town of Mineral Park in the Cerbat Mountains.

It was in that rough and tumble town, in partnership with his brother F.F. Watkins, that he established the first pharmacy in the northwestern part of the Arizona territory. A sign over the door read, “Drug Store, Watkins Brothers, groceries, dry goods, and notions.”

Sensing opportunity in the newly established railroad town of Kingman, he sold the business in Mineral Park. Then he established a pharmacy of sorts in his home. That was in 1883.

In 1885, shortly after the death of his father, Watkins returned to California to settle family affairs. And that was when he met Miss Jessie Tolman, of Watsonville, California. He returned to Kingman as a newlywed and within a few years the couple had two daughters.

For more than a century this was a local drug store in Kingman, Arizona. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts

Tragedy struck in 1888 when Watkins home and business burned. Undaunted, in partnership with his brother, the Watkins Brother’s Pharmacy, later the Pioneer Drug, was opened in a building on the corner of Fourth Street and Front Street in what would become the Luthy Block.

It was originally an adobe building with a decorative parapet, shaded front, and recessed doorway. After a fire in June 1907 devastated the block, it was rebuilt using brick and adobe. The current façade dates to a 1935 façade remodel.

Howard Watkins also built a new home on the northwest corner of 4th and Beale Streets. The house was razed in 1951 when construction of J.C. Penny’s, now Beale Celebrations, commenced.

At the new store the brothers sold a wide array of goods just as they had at the store in Mineral Park. An advertisement from 1901 notes that in addition to soap, sundries and pharmacy items, customers could buy assay and mill supplies, paints, oils, window glass, wallpaper, stationery, and Kodak supplies as well as cameras.

The Kodak supplies reflected Howard Watkins passion for photography. Many early 20th century photographs of Kingman were taken by Watkins and are today valuable time capsules.

A third brother, William A. Watkins, relocated from San Jose, California and assumed a position of branch manager in Kingman for the Arizona National Bank. For reasons unknown, on the evening of March 30, 1901, he committed suicide.

In 1920 the brothers sold the store. As the Kingman Drug Company and J.H. Knight had both made offers, the Watkins brothers chose to sell it to the highest bidder.

This screenshot from the Kingman Main Street walking tour website highlights the website with audio link, before and after photo and 360 degree photo illustrates the multifaceted nature of the project.

An article published in the Kingman Miner noted that with the sale to the Kingman Drug Company, Watkins was ending thirty-eight years of business in Mohave County. The article noted that the new owners would be closing for sixty days to remodel the store and add a soda fountain.

Kingman Drug remained a Kingman tradition for decades. In 1994 the building was again remodeled and the following year Kingman El Palacio opened.

Jim Hinckley’s America is all about shared adventures. This project allows me to share the adventure in a whole new way.

It is a distinct pleasure to be working on this innovative endeavor. The research, providing audio narration, and seeking old photos is an adventure in itself.