The White Rock Court on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona is a manifestation of Conrad Minka seizing the day.
Dusty gems abound along the Route 66 corridor (Andy Devine Avenue) in Kingman, Arizona. Each is a tangible link to the glory days of this storied highway. Each tantalizes the imagination. With thought given to the fast approaching Route 66 centennial, each quickens the spirit as one envisions the town beoming a living time capsule where the past, present, and future blend seamlessly.
As with Route 66 and the automobiles that traveled that highway, the motel evolved with the passing of time. In the era of the National Old Trails Road and the infancy of Route 66 railroad hotels remained a popular option. Free public campgrounds and primitive cabin camps were also popular lodging choices. In spite of the Great Depression by the mid-1930s many travelers wanted modern amenities such as hot and cold water in the room and radios.
This was the era of the auto court, motels with garages between the rooms. In the post war years as traffic on Route 66 grew exponentially, and larger cars become more popular, the garages were viewed as wasted space. And so, motel owners often transformed them into additional rooms or used them to enlarge existing rooms.
Then in the 1950s chains such as Holiday Inn, Ramada, and Hiway House increasingly made it difficult for the mom-and-pop motel to compete. With a decline in profits, maintenance was deferred, the property was abandoned, or the motel complex was converted into low rent apartments.
The World Monuments Fund recently listed Route 66 motels as some of, quote, “America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.” Counted among the rarest of surviving motels are those with their prewar auto courts. But the rarest of all are the auto courts that were listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book.
The White Rock Court is counted among the rarest of Route 66 motels. It is a prewar auto court. And it was the only motel in Kingman to be listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book. There was at least one other motel, Hoods Auto Court, that would provide lodging to African American travelers. But for reasons unknown it was not listed in the guidebook.
The White Rock Court in Kingman is counted among the rarest of historic buildings with a direct Route 66 connection.
The White Rock Court with owners’ home was built of locally quarried stone by Conrad Minka in 1935. Purportedly he was a former hard rock miner. That would explain his innovative approach to besting the competition.
On the hill below the Sleeping Dutchman rock formation behind the motel he dug an air shaft, and then a tunnel connecting it to the utility corridors carved from the rock under the complex. At the bottom of the shaft, he installed a tank that he kept filled with water. Sheets of burlap hung in the water acted as a wick. Fans pulled the cooled air into the rooms.
As a result, while other motels suffered a lower occupancy rate in the moths of summer due to heat, the White Rock Court was always full. This and the provision of service to African Americans fueled rumors. Decades later there were legends that Minka had run a still under the parking lot and engaged in voyeuristic activities.
The White Rock Court was listed in A Guide Book to Highway 66 published in 1946. The 1952 edition of the American Motel Association Guide with a logo of Sleeprite, Eatrite, Travelrite provided a detailed summary of the motel. Quote, on Highway 66 east end of Main Street, 15 modern cottages, conveniently located. Short distance to ideal fishing and hunting. Seventy miles to Boulder Dam. Our motto is always courteous. Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Minka. The motel remained operational into the 1970s.
My latest book, Here We Are … On Route 66, released at the end of January is not a travel guide. But I am confident that it will inspire a road trip or two. And I am going to give away an autographed copy to the first person who can solve a Route 66 puzzle.
Here is how the contest will work. One clue will be provided on each episode of Wake Up With Jim, our interactive audio podcast that is broadcast on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, 6:30 MST. A clue will also be provided on our interactive Sunday morning travel podcast, Coffee With Jim.
The first clue will be given on the March 25 program. Each clue is a random letter taken from the name of a business and the town where it is located. To win the contest you will need to provide both the name of the business and the Route 66 community.
The programs are archived on the Jim Hinckley podcast page on Podbean if you miss an episode. But these are interactive programs so grab a cup of coffee and join in on the fun.
A program schedule with summary is shared on the home page of this website. It is updated on a regular basis to allow listeners an opportunity to schedule time to listen to programs of particular interest.
In a nutshell this book is a series of richly illustrated community profiles that together portray Route 66 as a direct link to centuries of American history, and even to the future. At this juncture I should note that not all communities along the hghway corridor are profiled. To include each town, village and city would result in a book to large and heavy to fit in The Beast, our one ton 1951 Chevy panel truck that is being converted into a rollinig Route 66 information center.
Still, I am quite confident that you will find it interesting. Aside from history I share information about some of my favorite restaurants, motels, and museums.
The contest is just one of the exciting projects under development at Jim Hinckley’s America. Phase one of the narrated, interactive self guided Kingman historic district walking tour being developed by Kingman Main Street is complete. The thirty points of interest tour is scheduled for debut during the National Road trip Day proclamation festivities in Kingman, Arizona on May 27. Local car clubs and the chamber of commerce in Seligman are working on plans for a fun cruise along Route 66 on Saturday, May 28.
A rendering of the proposed Hinckley Plaza, a component in the historic district walking tour project spearheaded by Kingman Main Street.
It was a distinct pleasure to work on this project. It seems a bit surreal to think that I was selected as the narrator.
On the website you will also find a schedule of upcoming appearances. Two of particular interest for visitors or locals are walking tours, one in downtown Kingman and one at historic Beale Springs. These are two of the community education programs that I developed for Mohave Community College.
The issue with our Facebook account is still unresolved. And so we are still working on alternative ways to share the adventure and to tell people where to go.
And we also have a new series of programs that are ideal to enhance a conference, festival, fund raiser, or for use at an educational venue. To schedule a program please contact us. I should note that the spring schedule is filling fast.
I would be remiss if it were not noted that Oatman is world famous for the semi wild burros that roam the streets. For people trying to simply drive through town they are a source of frustration. For me the sight of the donkeys standing on Route 66 in the shadow of the Oatman Hotel that was built in 1902 is somewhat comforting. They remind me that not all the asses are in Washington or state capitals.
Even though his position is an honorary one, Walter is a unique politician. Yes, he is an ass. But unlike many of the folks that profess to be politicians today, Walter unites rather than divides. When he comes to town, people smile.
Now, I knew about Walter but we had never met. And I knew that he was quite popular, but had no idea that he was a bonafide celebrity. He currently has more than 350,000 followers on his Facebook page. That really shouldn’t be a suprise when one considers how popular some politicians are, and, well, as noted most of them have something else in common with Walter.
My association with Oatman dates to the mid 1960s. But as with the awe inspiring section of Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman that twists and turns its way to the summit of Stigreaves Pass and down the other side, much has changed in that old mining town during the past fifty years.
Oatman was a whisper away from becoming a true ghost town when I was a kid. Today it is a quirky destination for legions of travelers, Route 66 enthusiasts, snow birds, and folks from Kingman, Bullhead City, Needles, Laughlin, and Lake Havasu City that are looking for a unique and memorable day trip, or some place special to take visiting relatives.
My dearest friend and I made the drive early Saturday morning, grabbed a bite to to eat on “the patio” at the historic Oatman Hotel. I savored an excellent buffalo burger, some sweet potato fries, and a good cup of coffee, and listened to the excited chatter of visitors.
Then I signed books at Jackass Junction, answered Route 66 questions, and assisted with travel planning assistance using materials provided by the City of Tucumcari, sponsors in Cuba, Missouri, and from other Route 66 locations. We wrapped up the event by the meeting with Walter, and walking down to sign books for April at Fast Fanny’s. Before starting for home we enjoyed a cold bottle of sarsaparilla at the Oatman Hotel, and marveled at the crowds of smiling happy visitors. The old town is but a shadow of what it was in the first decades of the 20th century, but with teeming crowds on the sidewalks it was hard to think of Oatman as a ghost town.
I never tire of the drive to Oatman. But this trip was special as it was my first official book signing in Oatman. Carol and Bill at Jackass Junction rolled out the red carpet and made us feel like old friends. You can bet that we will be back again, perhaps to help celebrate National Road Trip Day in May.
And you can bet the bottom dollar we will be visiting with Walter again.
An article published by the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2010 detailed a discovery that confirmed a local urban legend was in fact true. Quote, “That bodies are buried under a high school football field and adjacent parking lot is more than folklore. Many long-term residents have known that part of the Kingman Unified School District campus was built over the top of the partially relocated Pioneer Cemetery. That was the primary burial ground from 1900 to 1917 for the city, which is about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas.
Earlier this week they were reminded that some of the bodies are still there. Human bones and suspected coffin fragments were unearthed Wednesday as construction crews dug a trench in an effort to install a new sewer to serve the campus and portions of the downtown area. Fifteen to 20 bones and bone fragments were found in a four-foot stretch of the trench near the football field where games have been played for decades.
The disturbed remains were no longer confined to wood caskets that apparently deteriorated into dust long ago according to Oz Enderby, director of construction for the school district. The Mohave County medical examiner was called to recover the remains and work was stopped as required by law. The coroner, school district representatives and county officials huddled Thursday to determine what should be done with more than 100 feet of trench left to dig across the former cemetery plot.”
This was not the first-time gruesome discoveries had been made on school grounds. During construction of the high school in 1959, human remains were unearthed. These were placed in containers beneath a monument built next to the student parking lot. Then in 1972 during expansion of the Kingman High School, more bones were unearthed.
The football field is the site of Pioneer Cemetery, Kingman’s third cemetery that was used from 1900 thru 1917. After the opening of Mountain View Cemetery on Stockton Hill Road in 1917, most bodies were relocated from the old cemetery for a fee. Bodies not claimed by family or friends, and bodies in unmarked graves, were left behind in the Pioneer Cemetery that was officially abandoned in 1944.
The number of people that were left at the Pioneer Cemetery is unknown. Records were not kept for all burials, or they were inaccurate. Compounding problems associated with identifying graves were the pre 1909 death certificates that seldom noted a burial location or that had misspelled names. And there were also graves used for multiple unidentified bodies over a period of time.
On May 8, 1915, a published detailed a gruesome discovery near Burn’s Ranch in the Blue Ridge Range. Quote, “They found the remains in a deep canyon, and while the bones were somewhat scattered, they were nearly all recovered. Nearly all the equipment of a prospector were found, but the blankets and canvas had rotted. An axe handle and rotted tool bag had the initials W.H.F. It is believed that the remains are those of W.H. Bill Fitch that disappeared from Burns Ranch in August 1905. If so, he would have been about age 73 at his death. The remains will be brought to Kingman and buried in the paupers’ graves at the cemetery.”
The first Kingman cemetery was located at Fifth and Spring Streets. Indications are that this site was used briefly before a more formal cemetery was established along what is now Kier Street on the south side of the railroad tracks.
Work on Mountain View Cemetery commenced in early 1916. A legal notice published in the Arizona Republican dated May 29, 1915, noted that a claim had been filed with the Department of the Interior Untied States Land Office for property to be used as a cemetery. The notice listed Mrs. J. P. Gideon, wife of Sheriff J.P. Gideon, as president of the Mountain View Cemetery Association.
In 1948, the 7th and 8th grade classes were moved to the new Kingman Junior High School near the high school on First Street and adjacent to the former cemetery. The complex has evolved over the years and as a result the historic abandoned cemetery was buried which gave rise to the urban legend.
A persistent part of this legend, however, has not been verified. According to some sources, when the junior high school was being constructed on the cemetery land, headstones that could not be read clearly were bulldozed into a nearby wash or were used as fill. Others were removed and stored at the county barn.
A monument dedicated on May 20, 1963, with a bronze plaque below a representation of an open Bible in marble, encased in stonework, dedicated by the Daughters of the Pioneers Group illustrates the confused history of Kingman’s early cemeteries. The plaque reads:
“WE HUMBLY DEDICATE THIS GROUND THE SITE OF KINGMAN’S FIRST CEMETERY IN MEMORY OF THE FOUNDING PIONEERS WHO WERE INTERRED IN THESE HALLOWED GROUNDS 1861-1920, ERECTED May 20, 1963.”
The cornerstone for Jim Hinckley’s Americais our talent for telling people where to go. THe walking tour project has allowed us to do that in a whole new way.
Scott Dunton, Route 66 Association of Kingman president, and employees from Legacy Signs work to retrieve a vintage Packard sign stored at the Old Trails Garage for decades.
The Old Trails Garage dates to 1915. It was built by J.W. Thompson for M.G. Wagner who had operated the original Old Trails Garage on South Front Street, now Topeka Street. It is one of the oldest remaining auto repair facilities in Kingman and retains an unaltered façade appearance. Jasper Brewer, a Mohave County Sheriff, and state representative was the second owner.
The building between the Brunswick Hotel and the garage was built in 1912 by J.W. Thompson and originally housed the Arizona Stores Company, a general mercantile business that also specialized in mining supplies as well as Navajo rugs and similar Native American crafts. A few years after the garage opened it was modified, and for the next several decades was used to support the garage. At different times it served as an auto parts store, a showroom and sales office, and parts room for the various dealerships that operated from the garage.
The garage itself was affiliated with numerous automotive franchises. These included Buick, Cadillac, LaSalle, and Mack Trucks. In the late 1950s and 1960s it was also used as a repair facility for U-Haul trucks.
Façade renovation that included adding the logos of various auto companies in correct script was a joint project between property owners and the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona. This included the renovation of the circa 1930 Packard sign.
The signs origins and association with the garage is a mystery. It appears in historic photos on the front of the Packard dealership and garage that was located between Sixth and Seventh Street on Front Street, now Andy Devine Avenue. In later photos it appears on Duke’s Garage, a Packard facility, located on Second Street between Front Street and Beale Street.
The sign was placed in storage at the Old Trails Garage at some point after WWII. This was he period when Duke’s relocated to this facility. However, the evidence that the Old Trails garage was associated with Packard is scant at best.
For more than forty years almost every issue of the Mohave Miner carried an advertisement for the Old Trails Garage. There is no mention of an association with Packard aside from the mention of general tune ups such as, quote, “We tune up all cars including Packard, Cadillac, Dodge, Chrysler and Studebaker.”
The registry of Packard dealerships has an address for the three different facilities in Kingman, Arizona, but there is no listing for this address. However, Elmer Gravers who owned the property many years and who had worked in the garage in his youth had a single matchbook that shows the Old Trails Garage as a Packard sales and service facility. Speculation is that there were plans to use the facility as a Packard dealership, but these were never finalized.
Research needed for development of the narrated, self guided historic district walking tour being spearheaded by Kingman Main Street has turned up some interesting tidbits. And it has solved a few mysteries. It has also raised questions, some that just don’t seem to have answers. Welcome to Jim Hinckley’s America.