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?
The historic El Garces depot and Harvey House in Needles, California is a blank slate.
The monthly meetings organized by Mohave County Economic Development and Tourism are always fascinating. Aside from opportunities for networking, to learn about regional tourism developments and to build cooperative partnerships the meetings also foster a greater awareness about area history.
Yesterday’s meeting in Needles, California included a tour of the historic El Garces complex and the Needles museum. Our knowledgable guide shared the history of the building and Needles, and he also provided some personal history. His family’s association with Needles began with his grandmother, a Harvey Girl at the El Garces.
Named for Father Francisco Garces, a Franciscan missionary that explored the area with the DeAnza expedition in the 1770s, the El Garces opened in 1908. Indicative of its size, a walk around the circumference of the building on the upper mezzanine was more than one mile.
Aside from stylish lobby and dining room, there were sixty four rooms for guests and the Harvey Girl staff. The searing summer heat was tempered with an innovative system that was linked to the nearby ice plant that produced 300 pound blocks for the cooling of produce being shipped by rail.
Aside from the railroad, the hotel and restaurant served travelers on the National Old Trails Road and the first alignment of Route 66. These roads passed in front of the El Garces as they circled the plaza.
During WWII the El Garces and Needles boomed. The hotel and depot complex was a stop for troop trains. It was also used by the command of the Desert Training Center, the largest military training area in the history of military maneuvers. During this period General Patton was a frequent guest.
Route 66 in Needles, California as seen from the El Garces mezzanine Joe Sonderman collection
The hotel closed in 1949. But as Needles was an important center for Santa Fe Railroad operations, the building was used until 1988. A section at the east end of the complex was razed to create a parking lot for railroad employees. After years of abandonment and vandalism it was slated for demolition. A last minute reprieve came with formation of Friends of the El Garces, and acquisition of the property and Santa Fe Park by the City of Needles.
Aside from some original tile flooring, the building is largely just a shell with new windows and doors. There is an excellent conference room, and rooms available to rent for events. Increasingly it is booked for weeks at a time. In February the Route Info Fair will take place at the El Garces.
The El Garces figures prominently in the history and development of Needles. Now it is figuring prominently in the city’s future.
This meeting was the kick off for the second phase of my annual fact finding tour. Phase one was the trip east to the Miles of Possibility Conference, and meetings with tourism officials in various Route 66 communities. It will continue with a trip to the Los Angeles area.
Cooperative partnerships are key to community development and revitalization. They are also instrumental in the transformation of a region or community into a destination. I am eagerly looking forward to the meeting series in 2023, to moving projects toward fruition, and to seeing this region transformed into a destination.
Introducing a Dutch tour group to the intricacies of driving a 1923 double T Ford truck. Photo Daniel Kuperus
Awhile back a 76-year old fellow contacts me and says, “I listen to your podcasts, and think that you need to talk with my dad. He started his truck drivinig career on Route 66 in the Mojave Desert.” Needless to say, he had my undivided attention.
Even though his memory was a bit fuzzy in places, I was mesmerized by his tales of driving a big Moreland truck from Los Angeles over Cajon Pass and across the Mojave Desert on Route 66 to deliver produce to markets and cafes in Victorville, Barstow, Newberry Springs, Ludlow, Amboy, Chambless, Essex, Needles, Oatman and Golroad.
He started driving for his father’s company at age 16. At first he drove large one or two ton Ford or Dodge trucks into Oatman and Goldroad delivering produce to the Central Commerical markets. A year or so later his dad bought a used six wheel Moreland with large Hercules engine. The following year he bought a new Moreland with a Hercules diesel engine.
That was the birth of his career as a truck driver. With the exception of the WWII years, he spent nearly fifty years drivinig the big rigs from coast to coast, border to border and into Canada. His stories of exploits behind the wheel of a B model Mack brought back a lot of memories as my first attempts at driving a big rig were in one of these beasts outfitted with a Quadbox.
The stories I tell are a rich tapestry woven from colorful thrteads collected over the years. Books have been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. Travel journals such as By Motor To The Golden Gate that chronicles Emily Post’s journey along the National Old Trails Road in 1916 fill the office library.
And I have long been a listener. That has led to some inspirational conversations, unexpected friendships, and a rare opportunity to see history as seamless. It has also provided me with a different perspective on history.
Years ago I was working in Winslow, Arizona, and was a regular at that city’s premiere dive bar, White’s Cafe. It was there that I struck up a conversation with an assuming older Navajo fellow that I had met through my work at the hardware store. As it turned out, he had been one of the legendary code talkers during WWII.
National Old Trails Road
While working in the garage on a car lot in Arizona, I met Johnny. He was an unassuming retired fellow that worked part time running errands, sweeping floors, and cleaning the restrooms. Asking him to breakfast one morning turned out to be a portal into a forgotten chapter in American history, and the beginning of a long friendship.
As it turned out, his grandfather had been a slave. Johnny had been the Navy’s black bantam weight boxing champion just before WWII. He had served with distinction in the Atlantic during the war, and had been involved in the civil rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King.
That comment about sharing America’s story was an apt descriptor. So, I added it to our promotional materials. Perhaps it will inspire other people to reach out, and let me share their story.
And that simple comment has also provided a bit of incentive. The goal for 2023 will be to expand the reach of the podcasts, to take the show on the road, and to collect stories. And so I am creating a new series of programs that tell America’s story through the eyes of ordinary people.
For the past few days I have had the distinct pleasure of enjoying a visit with old friends, and an adventure or two reminiscent of the pre apocalypse era. For a brief moment in time I was able to forget monkey pox, COVID related issues, murder hornets, meth gators, the surreal and bizarre political circus side show, the Ukrainian tragedy, the shortage of (fill in the blank), what it cost me to put two tires on the Jeep and fill the gas tank, and what seems to be a growing list of potential impending disasters.
It was a grand holiday. It was a delightful opportunity to reunite with old friends in shared adventures. And it was a very welcome respite from deadlines, schedules, setbacks on various projects, home repair issues, and from the issues that are linked to the announcement that my accountant of more than ten years is retiring.
My dearest friend and I have been sharing annual adventures on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean with Dries Bessels and his charming wife Marion, foudning members of the Dutch Route 66 Association, for more than ten years. And then along came the apocalypse, and a motorcycle accident. As a result we haven’t seen our friends since 2019.
Well, a few months ago Dries informed me that he would be in Kingman in mid July. As it so happened, this was the day before another very good friend, Wolfgang Werz of Route 66 Germany was scheduled to be in town with a tour group. Needless to say, with the slightest adjustment to Dries’s schedule, which gave us an extra day for crazy adventures, we were able to put together an epic reunion.
Route 66 may be the foundation for our friendship and countless adventures, but Dries and I also share a deep fascination for ghost towns, historic cemeteries and battlefields, interesting taverns and saloons, road trips, and interesting people. In two days we were able to add some great memories that blended all of these elements to the scrap book.
Dries has amassed quite a collection of historic photos that he generously shares on Facebook. As he has been assisting Leanne Toohey in her ongoing efforts to chronicle the history of the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona, that is where this series of adventures began.
Shortly before sunrise I met Dries and Leanne in Oatman. She had arranged access and transportation to the Oatman cemetery that is off limits to the public resultant of desecration. Surprisingly, I have been visiting Oatman for more than 50 years and had never been to the somber and forlorn old cemetery with the rugged west slope of the Black Mountains as a backdrop.
The next stop on our day of adventure was to hike a section of the National Old Trails Road in Sitreaves pass above the ghost town of Golroad. This section of the old road with its 28% grade that was bypassed in 1921 still has its post and cable guard rails. With temperatures rapidly climbing past the triple digits this outing was cut short.
We stopped by the homestead to cool off a bit, to pick up my dearest friend, and to show Dries The Beast. And that was followed with a superb lunch at Calico’s, lively conversation, and lots of laughs. And later that evening we continued the theme of laughter and good conversation but substituted beer and pizza for coffee and a sandwich.
The next day’s adventure commenced shortly after sunrise. The first stop was a short hike to historic Beale Springs. And the second was the historic cemetery in the old mining town of Chloride. And that was followed with exploration of the Pioneer Cemetery in Kingman, a tour of the fascinating Bonelli House built in 1915, and a demonstration of the new self guided, narrated historic business district developed by Kingman Main Street. And of course there was the obligatory photograph of me with the statue unveiled during the National Road Trip Day festivities this past May.
The day and our visit wrapped up with a wonderful reception hosted for Dries, Wolgang, and his tour hosted by the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona and catered by Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. Members of local car clubs provided transportation for the guests and as the event was open to the public, the showroom at the 1946 Dunton Motors Dream Machines dealership on Route 66 was soon packed.
But the evening and the fun didn’t end when the sun sank in the west. The tour group, my dearest friend and I, Wolfgang and Dries, and members of the car club moved the festivities to the Powerhouse Visitor Center for more lively conversation, laughs, and photo ops under the commerative arch.
It was such a delight to see old friends and to make new memories. And it was invigorating to see people embracing life with zest and enthusiasm.
Now it’s back to the real world that includes work, making plans and counting the days until the next visit and adventure shared with friends, a valiant attempt to stave off the seeming endless stream of bad news, and trying to find balance in life.
Over the course of the past couple of years we have been living through a seismic shift of epic proportions at every level from education and politics to technology and travel. As we all are painfully aware, these periods of tumult, uncertainty, and chaos can be very, very stressful.
But even in these times that try a mans patience, for anyone with a sense of humor, especially a dark sense of humor like I possess, there is much to laugh at. And, of course, in good times or bad, adventures shared with friends will always give reason to smile, for optimisim, and even fuel excitement for the future.
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…)