Its origins are as a remote auxilliary Kingman Army Airfield landing strip on the shores of Lake Havasu that morphed into a rustic camp for fisherman in the post war years. In 1963, Robert McCulloch, owner of McCulloch Motors, chose the site for a planned community and a factory where his outboard engines could be tested.
In 1964, there was only one unimproved road into the envisioned city. McCulloch was a visionary. So, he developed an air charter service to fly in prospective land buyers that wanted a fresh start or an escape from harsh winter climates. Between 1964 and 1978, 137,000 potential land buyers flew to what would become Lake Havasu City. In 1978 the town was incorporated. By 1981 the modern community built on the hills above the shimmering lake had a population of 17,000 people.
From its inception the city recognized the value of tourism. There was an understanding that tourism was more than just heads in beds. It was an opportunity to showcase the community to prospective residents and business owners.
Agressive marketing, leadership that developed cooperative partnerships within the community, a focus on the development of events that support the business community, and utilization of all available resources have paid dividends. Even though summer temperatures often reach 120 degrees or more, Lake Havasu City consistently rates as one of the top destination cities in Arizona. On the city’s tourism website the calendar of events illustrates the community’s marketing success.
Sixty miles to the east is Kingman, Arizona, a town with an astounding array of diverse attractions. The towns link to Route 66 has ensured international name recognition. And yet as a destination it remains relatively obscure.
In recent years the Colorado River Area Trail Alliance has developed an expansive series of hiking and mountain trails in the Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area. The scenic trail system that includes an array of historic sites is located less than two miles from the historic district and Route 66.
There is a thriving arts community and the historic State Theater is being renovated as a performing arts center. Chillin on Beale, held on the third Saturday afternoon of each month, April through October, adds a colorful vibrancy to the historic district that is in the midst of a slow motion renaissance.
At the west end of the historic business district along Route 66 are two delightful parks, one of which is shaded by towering tress. As they are located adjacent to the Powerhouse Visitor Center and Mohave Museum of History & Arts, they are ideally suited for the hosting of events such as the Kingman Festival of The Arts, and for vendors during the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona sponsored annual Route 66 Fun Run. But, oddly enough, the annual Kingman Route 66 Fest is held in a park located miles from the historic heart of the city, and nearly a mile from the nearest restaurant.
Kingman Main Street recently spearheaded development of an innovative narrated self guuided historic district and Route 66 corridor walking tour. Phase one will be completed in a few weeks, and yet it is already becoming an internationally recognized attraction.
Hualapai Mountain Park is located a mere twelve scenic miles south of Kingman. This pine forested island in a sea of desert is is a true oasis. Hualapai Lodge and pictuersque stone cabins built by the CCC, and rustic camp sites, provide a wonderful option to chain motels. And there are miles of shade dappled trails that climb through the forest to scenic overlooks.
Lake Havasu City. Kingman. Needles, California. Bullhead City. Western Arizona is a destination for a memory making holiday filled with adventure in any season. Telling people where to go, it’s what we do in Jim Hinckley’s America.
Pontiac in Illinois is a town where the lick and promise approach isn’t good enough, and it shows. Photo Jim Hinckley’s America
The articles are a few years old, and the downturn in tourism that resulted from COVID related restrictions blunted the near vertical growth in tourism, but the evidence is still valid. “Atlanta (IL), sales tax revenue jumped 43 percent last year during the peak tourism season of April to August compared to four years ago.” From Waynesville, Missouri, “The city’s sales-tax revenue rose 7 percent last year.” Similar stories can be found about Pontiac, Illinois, Williams, Arizona, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
A simple Google search shows similar results in a number of Route 66 communities over the course of the past ten years. Further research indicates that the success in each of these communities has several common denominators.
Leadership that builds cooperative partnerships, that inspires and that educates. Leadership with vision. Capital investment by city government in historic district infrastructure to enhance a pedestrian friendly environment and beautification to make the area more inviting for visiotrs as well as investors. An understanding that tourism is not just heads in beds.
As Bill Thomas of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership is fond of saying, “Not all economic development is tourism. But all tourism is economic development.” And a key component of tourism is a city that has invested in its future by ensuring that it is inviting to tourists as well as potential new residents or business owners.
Generally I discuss these things in generalities as they are issues that many communities deal with. Today I need to be more direct in the hope that my adopted hometown of Kingman will serve as an example on how to transform the city into a destination rather than as an example of how a community with tremendous potential can languish.
Opportunity is knocking in Kingman, again. I use the term again because we are on the cusp of repeating past mistakes. The past has value but only if we learn from mistakes made. To dwell on the past, to be paralyzed by prior mistakes is counter productive. Put simply, you can’t put crap back in the donkey.
The city has invested in a comprehensive study and funds have been allocated for the Downtown Infrastructure Design Project. The point of contention is that some folks are of the opinion that monies should be diverted to street repairs.
Street repairs are needed. And they will be needed again in two years, in five years and in a decade. But there is overwhelming evidence that investment in a project such as this will serve as a catalyst for long term economic development. And in turn that generates revenues need for street repair and other services.
I am optimistic. This time there is unified support for moving the transformative project forward. The Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce has launched a petition in support, and the passionate volunteers from Kingman Main Street have been working tirelessly to educate the community about the potential benefits. The Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona has announced their support.
Now, let’s just hope that I can make a positive and enthusiastic report after the next city council meeting.
The Powers Building on the corner of Fourth and Beale Street in Kingman, Arizona opneed just a few weeks before statehood. @Mohave Museum of History & Arts
It is one of the last territorial era buildings built in Kingman, Arizona. And its history chronicles the ebb and flow of prosperity in the historic heart of the city.
On September 2, 1911, an article published in the Mohave Miner noted that, quote, “M.I. Powers of Flagstaff based Citizens Bank was in Kingman for a few days getting acquainted with the people of the town. It is Mr. Powers intention to open a bank in Kingman about the 15th of November.” It was noted that construction was scheduled to commence within ten days.
However, shortly after the cellar was dug it was announced that Lovin & Withers, the contractors for the project, had altered the buidlings plans. Quote, “Lovin & Withers Company Thursday last announced that a second story would be added to the building to be built on the corner of Fourth and Beale Streets. The ground floor will be used for the new bank, the post office, and a store. The upper floor will be used for office purposes.”
The Powers Building, or Citizens Bank Building, was completed in January 1912, mere weeks before Arizona statehood. But it was spring before all the interior details were completed.
Then in 1917, corresponding to the construction of Central Commercial a full remodel of the Powers Building and Citizens Bank commenced. A brief article in Volume 18 of Coast Banker published that year noted that, “The Citizens Bank has taken possession of its remodeled banking room, and now has one of the most modern and best equipped banking headquarters in this part of the state.”
On February 11, 1921, announcement was made that Citizens Bank and Arizona Central Bank were merging with Valley National Bank. In Mohave County this affected the Arizona Central Bank branches in Oatman, Chloride and the location on the north corner of Fourth and Beale Street. The Citizens Bank branches affected included Oatman and Kingman.
In this announcement it was noted that quote, “for the present operations will be consolidated at the Arizona Central Bank. The Citizens Bank will remain open during regular banking hours for the convenience of safe deposit patrons until arrangement for moving the boxes is completed.” With consolidation the Citizens Bank clock that had figured prominently in advertisement was transferred to the Arizona Central Bank building on the opposite corner.
The Valley National Bank operated from the Powers Building until 1957. With relocation of that bank to the corner of Fifth and Beale Streets, the Powers Building was again remodeled and was included as a part of the Central Commercial complex. In 1978 the building was purchased by Babbitt’s and the façade extensively modernized.
It was restored to its original appearance after acquisition by the Ott family. The building retains numerous original features or features added during the 1920s remodel. This includes the safe, the leaded glass windows and tile work on the floor. As the ArtHub the old bank figures prominently in the historic district renaissance.
Built between 1909 and 1910, the old Mohave County Jail is a rare tangible link to the closing years of the territorial era in Arizona. It is one of the last free-standing jails built before statehood. Surprisingly it remained in use until 1965 when a new jail in the courthouse basement was completed. Currently the building is used for storage but plans are for the Mohave Museum of History & Arts to open it for tours.
As an example, the Pauly Jail Building Company of Missouri was awarded the construction contract for the cells. As an interesting historic footnote, still in business this company was established in 1856. It remains as the oldest single family-owned correctional facilities contractor in the United States.
The history of prior jails in Kingman, and former county seats in Cerbat, Mineral Park, and Hardyville, now forgotten ghost towns, is vague. During research for the walking tour one of the earliest references I found was in a published article dated January 1884 that noted funding approval in the amount of $1,400 for jail construction in Mineral Park.
There is ample evidence that incarceration in the Mohave County Jail after the dawn of the 20th century was considered a joke by outlaws. And it was an absolute embarrassment for the county.
Published in the fall of 1907 was a particularly comedic story. “Because all the prisoners in the Mohave County Jail, grown tired of the sameness of the menu, and their surroundings, walked away a short time ago. All of the fugitives face additional charges for the jail break. None of the escapees have yet been caught.”
An article published in September 1908 noted that, quote, “Sometime yesterday afternoon two prisoners slipped through one of the jail gratings and made their escape. They were two boys held for robbing the section house at Berry. The continual escapes are similar to the early days of Yuma when prisoners were wont to take a dinner knife and fork and carve their way to freedom through the adobe walls. Anytime a husky fellow wishes to desert the Mohave County Jail all he has to do is put his back to one of the cages and shove a hole through the walls of the buildings. But most of the prisoners are more considerate and only pull out the frame of one of the gratings and squeeze themselves through.”
But ongoing issues pertaining to incarceration were not the only crime related news stories to garner headlines in papers throughout the territory of Arizona, or even nationally. At 2:00 in the afternoon of January 19, 1907, C.C. Leigh was hung in the yard of the Mohave County Jail. This was the culmination of a two-year legal battle that had often been the subject of national headlines.And to the best of my knowledge, it was the only hanging on the square at the Mohave County Courthouse.
On September 8, 1905, Leigh had murdered Jennie Bauters, his mistress, in Goldroad, now a ghost town along Route 66 in the Black Mountains. Bauters was an immigrant that had profited greatly from running a house of ill repute in the mining town of Jerome. And she had also become well known, and even respected, in the territory for her boundless genoristy.
When Leigh’s appeals had been exhausted and the date of execution was set, his mother sent a wire to President Theodore Roosevelt and Territorial Governor Kibbey seeking clemency or a stay of execution. Neither one responded.
Throughout his trial and the subsequent appeals Leigh had played the tough guy and shown no remorse. Reportedly at several times during the trial he smirked and even laughed when testimony against him was given. He spent the morning of his execution writing letters to family and friends. But when the death warrant was read to him in the corridor of the jail, his bravado vanished.
But it was reported that when the jailer bound him, Leigh fainted and struck his head on the cell. The gash bled profusely. But he was bandaged and led to the scaffold in a nearly unconscious state. He had to be held up as the cap and noose were adjusted.
After years of scathing editorials, public arguments, and frustration with the county’s deplorable jail, on May 15, 1909, the county published an announcement that work on a new, modern jail would begin soon. John Mulligan was awarded the contract for the concrete work on the jail, and that the expected date of completion for the project was September 1910. Mulligan was well know in the community and had been the primary contractor for the Brunswick Hotel and Hotel Beale, both of which still stand along Andy Devine Avenue, Route 66.
In July 1909 an article published about the project noted that Mulligan and a fellow named Pendergast was commencing work on the foundation, and that construction of the jail was to begin within sixty days. Interestingly, the article noted that a covered bridge was to be built between the jail and courthouse.
It is not known if the bridge was built. If so, it was removed when the courthouse was moved to the west as construction on the new courthouse began.
A persistent urabn legend in Kingman is that with completion of the new courthouse, the old building was moved to Front Street, now Andy Devine Avenue, across from the railroad depot, renovated and operated as the Commercial Hotel until the early 1950s. However, apparently this courthouse was demolished.
The legend is rotted in the story of the first courthouse in Kingman, the Taggart House, a hotel and office complex on Beale Street. It was this building that was moved to Front Street, and remodeled as the Commerical Hotel.
By the end of January 1910, the walls of the new jail were complete, and the forms removed. On October 27th of that year the structure was inspected by the county’s special committee. Except for a lack of gratings on the lower windows of the sheriff’s office and main entrance, and the need for a steel door between the main corridor and the sheriff’s office and residence, they approved the project.
The jail and other points of interest on the square, including the courthouse that dates to 1914, are just a few of the dusty gems awaiting discovery with some urban exploration in Kingman, Arizona.
A 3,900 mile road trip through the heartland. Visits with old friends. The loss of a few friends. The making of new friends. A visit with Jay Leno. Opportunities to tell people where to go, and to share America’s story. A dream project made manifest after six years of effort. A National Road Trip Day celebration that was historic, at least for me. The launch of a new podcast. The publication of my 21st and 22nd book. Delays and frustrations with The Beast (the 1951 Chevy panel truck). These were a few of the high and low points of 2022.
I have never been a fan of the New Year’s resolution. I am, however, a fan of looking back on a year. That gives me insight about what needs to be fixed or improved so I can make new mistakes rather than repeat old ones. It also provides balance and perspective. And that in turn provides a foggy glimpse of the year to come. With this reflection and evaluation comes a blend of excitement, eager anticipation, and a hint of apprehension.
The excitement and eager anticipation about the new year was fueled by the past few weeks. For the first time since the dawning of the apocalypse we resumed our December book signing at Auto Books Aero Books, a venerable old store that opened its doors in the 1950s. And just like old times Jay Leno popped in for a quick visit.
Discoveries made in small town America, a highlight of 2022
About two weeks ago I received an unexpected email. It was from a cousin not talked with since 1974! But what made that note and the subsequent phone call even more surprising was that I had been informed years ago that he had passed away.
Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Stephanie Stuckey, CEO of Stuckey’s, the classic roadside business famous for pecan logs, and a board member with the Society for Commerical Archeology. We had met at the Miles of Possibility Conference where she was the keynote speaker. At that time I had shared information about the new innovative self guided, narrated historic walking tourin Kingman, Arizona that had been developed by Kingman Main Street and invited her to Kingman for a guided tour.
The walking tour project had first been proposed after an interesting presentation about QR codes at the 2014 International Route 66 Festival in Kingman. Selling the idea took more time than the fund raising, research and development of phase one.
Apathy. A lack of leadership and vision. Factions. Failure to build cooperative partnerships. These were just a few of the obstacles that we had to overcome to transform an idea into a reality.
The issues encountered with this project aptly illustrate why some communities with limited resources or attractions successfully utilize tourism as a catalyst for economic development and historic revitalization, and others with nearly unlimited opportunity languish. That was the focal point of my presentation at the Miles of Possibility Conference.
And in 2022, for the first time since 2019 we embarked on an epic odyssey of nearly 4,000 miles through the heartland. Aside from visiting old friends and speaking at the Miles of Posibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois, and we did some research and exploration along Route 66 as well as in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.
To plagiarize a bit of classic literature, that trip was the best of times, and it was the worst of time. Issues with renting car, a new reality, an injury sustained by my dearest friend, soaring gas prices, and a nightmare motel experience in Russellville, Arkansas are counted among the low points.
Highlights included discovering new restaurants, motels, museums and highways that we can recommend. There were some long overdue reunions with friends. We met some interesting people, were introduced to some new ideas and technologies, and had the opportunity to tell people where to go as well as share America’s story. And just as with BC (before COVID) era, there was ample opportunity to start booking engagements for the new year.
With few exceptions 2022 was a good year for the Jim HInckley’s America team. As always there was room for improvement, and that is one reason I evaluate the old year as a new one dawns.
So, here we are on the cusp of a new year filled with new opportunities. Are you excited?