Just a few blocks off Bucket of Blood Street, in an aged neighborhood of truncated streets and weathered houses of an indeterminate ages, stands the long shuttered Higgins House. This forlorn relic is an historic treasure, a tarnished gem. It has an association with territorial Arizona history, the National Old Trails Road, Route 66, and WWII, and just may be the oldest building in Holbrook.
Records are a bit fuzzy but the main structure was built in 1881 or 1882 by Pedro Montaño. Holbrook, the Navajo County seat, was officially established in 1881 as a siding and supply center on the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. Its namesake was Henry Randolph Holbrook, a chief engineer for that railroad.
Additions were made in 1883. Then shortly after sale of the property to James and Maggie Higgins in 1884 additional rooms were added and it operated as a boarding house. It sold again in 1889, and with further expanison became the Brunswick Hotel. The upper floor also served as a dance hall and saloon that was pressed into service as needed by the local Masons. For a brief period of time it even served as the Holbrook hospital.
With establishment of the National Old Trails Road in 1913, the hotel was given a boost. That pioneering highway crossed the Little Colorado River and entered Holbrook from the south. An ever increasing flow of traffice flowed right past the door. It is reported that in 1915 more than 20,000 people followed the National Old Trails Road. Counted among those travelers was Edsel Ford and his college buddies, and Emily Post.
The property underwent a series of changes under a variety of names. As the Arizona Hotel it was listed in the AAA Hotel, Garage, Service Station and AAA Club Directory published in 1927. Then it was renamed the Rancho and Arizona Rancho.
A wing was added at some point around 1930, and even though Route 66 flowed through town north of the railroad tracks, the motel complex still did a brisk business. By 1940, however, with construction of more modern auto courts along the Route 66 corridor a precipitous slide began. During World War II the property was leased by Fullerton Junior College to house pilot candidates training for the U.S. Navy at Park Field in Holbrook. After the war it again served as a motel, but only for a few years.
The building served a variety of purposes after the motel closed. After a small fire in the late 1980s, the building was shuttered. Neglect, time, and a lack of maintenance have taken a toll. The future of this endangered treasure is uncertain. Giving it a new lease on life would require a major investment of time and money, as well as vision and ambition.
Would a return on investment be possible? Well, the old hotel is only a few blocks from Route 66, and the beauty of the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest are only a few miles from town. Can you picture this tarnished gem as small resort hotel complex?
A Jim Hinckley’s America feature