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?
In 1915, Edsel Ford and his college buddies set out on an epic adventure from Michigan to the Panama Pacific Exposition. Photo Historic Vehicle Association
Kingman, Arizona, Friday July 16, 1915 – Stayed around town all day until 4:30 on account of heat. Met party in Stutz from St. Louis – Mr. and Mrs. Scott and 3 children, also Mr. Hillerby. Arrived at Needles 8:30 P.M. after being informed that highwaymen were along the road. Heat very oppressive. Slept on porch of hotel. Stutz crew half hour after ourselves. Day’s run 72 miles.
In the summer of 1915, the then 21-year old Edsel Ford and some college buddies, H.V. Book, R.T. Gray Jr. and J.H. Caulkins Jr. set out on a grand adventure from Dearborn, Michigan. In Indianapolis, Indiana they met up with other friends, Frank Book and William Russell. Their destination was the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Their convoy consisted of a new Ford, a new V8 Cadillac and a Stutz. As with countless tourists in the decades that followed them, they chose a route through the southwest to see sites of wonder such as the Grand canyon and Painted desert. They followed the National Old Trails Road through New Mexico, Arizona and across the desert in California. In 1926 much of this early highway would be incorporated in U.S.66, iconic Route 66.
Edsel kept a meticulous but succinct illustrated journal that chronicles the challenges of pioneering motorists. In spite of the many obstacles encountered on cross country road trips, in ever increasing numbers peoples were exploring America by automobile. In 1915 more than 20,000 people from outside of California attended the Panama Pacific Exposition by driving to the event. (more…)
Marty and one of the horses that trailed us as we sought out remnants of the National Old Trails Road
What do you call a day that includes a Route 66 road trip, an awesome possum breakfast at a classic Route 66 restaurant, exploring not one but three historic highways and seeking out Arizona railroad history, and a shared adventure with an old friend? Well, in normal times you would call it a great day. In the era of COVID 19 you call it a very rare treat.
It was to be a short run of just 200 miles round trip but being seasoned desert adventurers, and as the Jeep is now 23 years old with an unknown number of miles (a story for another day), we packed a shovel, water, a few edibles, cameras, a few quarts of oil and basic tools. And as the quest was to find remnants of the National Old Trails Road west of Seligman, Arizona, I also carried a copy of the Arizona Good Roads Association guide book to roads in Arizona and southern California that was published in 1914.
After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and berries, we hit the road at first light before the sun had chased the shadows from the Hualapai Valley east of Kingman. The conversation was lively as we are both story tellers, hadn’t had a visit for a spell and have aged a bit, and we both had desert adventures to share. The pace was slow as there were things to point to in the brush and desert along Route 66.
A link that enabled dating the car shell.
The first stop was just east of Grand Canyon Caverns. Some years ago Marty had found traces of what may have been an early alignment of the National Old Trails Road, the fast fading remnants of a building that had most likely once served as a garage and livery stable, and the picked bones of an old car. On a previous stop at the site Marty had found an ancient piece of iron with ornate Cadillac script. This and some of the trash at the site enabled us to pin down a rough date for the car as well as the former business – pre 1910. I suppose some of us never out grow the childhood excitement that comes with a search for lost treasure, and discoveries that spark the imagination.
The next stop was a few miles to the east. As we followed the faintest trace of old road through the dry grass and the junipers, confirmation that we were on the right track appeared in the form of a stone masonry culvert. That quickened the spirt as I reflected on Edsel Ford’s travel journal from July 16, 1915 and the notes he had made after driving this very road. Here was a tangible link to more than a century of transportation. Was this the alignment followed by Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield during the 1914 Desert Classic automobile race that had followed the National Old Trails Road east from Los Angles to Ash Fork, Arizona?
The second breakfast, a brunch of sorts, at the one and only Road Kill Café in Seligman included a visit with Debbie and her husband, the owners. The awesome possum breakfast was delicious and the conversation lively as they had spent most of their lives in Seligman or the immediate area. They were able to fill a few holes, point us in the right direction, and inspire plans for the next adventure before even completing the first one. And after breakfast we explored the back streets of Seligman in search of automotive treasures.
We continued east along Route 66 past the old Crookton railroad overpass, and then followed an older alignment to a long forgotten rest area. From here we set off on foot to follow the earliest alignment of Route 66, and segments of the National Old Trails Road. As an added bonus we found an even older road and vague hints that this was most likely a trace of the 1850s Beale Wagon Road. By this time the temperature was closing in on 100 degrees and the sweat was rolling into our eyes, but we pressed on speculating, sharing discoveries found under the junipers or among the rocks and discussing plans for a return excursion when the weather cooled during the fall.
On the return trip we made a couple more stops. One was to explore an interesting section of old road bordered by two concrete curbs near the Crookton overpass. Route 66? National Old Trails Road? Little discoveries raised more questions than they answered; remnants of a telegraph pole with threaded wooden dowel for the insulator, a weathered railroad tie with 1948 date nail, a broken Coca Cola bottle with Needles, California stamp. A herd of horses let curiosity overcome concerns and became our travel companions as we followed the old road across the high desert prairie of dried grass.
The last stop was at the 19th century railroad siding at Pica. The depot gave every indication that it would soon be little more than a forgotten relic and a pile of dried lumber amongst the grass. The big steam driven pumps and pump house that was hereon the last visit are gone. The towering water tanks that dated to the late 19th century and the era of steam engines still stood tall. Surprisingly, a graffiti artist of extraordinary talent had used them as his canvas creating a masterpiece or two. The things you find in the most remote of places, amazing.
The drive home was a leisurely discussion of discoveries made, tall tales heard and shared, and savoring the vast landscapes that have soothed my soul for nearly sixty years. Even in these trying times, the best medicine is still a road trip, or even better a road trip on Route 66, old friends, good food, a desert adventure and discoveries that provide a tangible link to another time.
Bicycles were all the rage. For the manufacturers of bicycles, bicycle
parts, and accessories it was a gold rush. In just four years bicycle ownership had increased by an astounding 250% and clubs organized tours that were hundreds of miles in length. The League of American Wheelmen became a powerful political force that lobbied for better roads. Astute businessmen such as Orville and Wilbur Wright were quick to capitalize on the
In the shadows of bicycle mania, a new technological wonder was being prepared for its debut. Ransom E. Olds mused on the advantages of a horseless carriage in an interview published by Scientific American in the 1880’s. In the early 1890’s the Duryea brothers became the first to begin manufacturing these horseless carriages, and Montgomery Ward noted that they were a sight to behold, something that every parent should take the children to see before the fad passed. Barnum & Bailey Circus gave a Duryea Motor Wagon top billing over the bearded lady AND the albino. (more…)
In my world the past and present blend seamlessly. There are
days when I spend hours reading century old journals, perusing old newspapers, and then write about a trip across the Mojave Desert in 1915. In my office, all around me are tangible links to an earlier time that stand in stark contrast to the computer and keyboard. I even start my day by shaving with a circa 1940 razor (do you know how hard it is to find simple double edged blades today?). There are rare occasions when a bit of the future gets tangled into the mix, such as when I work with the members of the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation and their ongoing efforts to establish a dedicated museum that will chronicle the evolution of the electric vehicle.
On occasion, when there is time for meditation on a long morning walk, I envision my work as the crafting of a time a machine. As an example, on our premium content crowdfunding site, I am launching a new series. Every Saturday morning, commencing on March 10, I will be sharing one entry, verbatim, with original photos where possible, from Edsel Ford’s daily journal written during his adventure to California along the National Old Trails Highway during the summer of 1915. (more…)