Flagstaff: The Skylight City Was On the Beaten Path
This northern Arizona city in the pines exists because it is on a convenient transportation corridor spanning the continent. Between 1857 and 1859, Army troops under the command of Lieutenant Edward F. Beale built a wagon road across the Colorado Plateau following the “middle route” between Santa Fe and Los Angeles. Staying close to springs and abundant grass for animals, Beale’s road was shorter than the Old Spanish Trail through Utah and safer than the Gila Trail through the blistering desert frequented by Apache raiders. Travelers on the road would have sight of the landmark San Francisco Peaks for more than 75 miles in either direction and could water at Leroux Springs at the southwest base of the mountain.
Even before completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 plans called for two more, one to follow the Gila Trail and another taking the 35th Parallel middle route with Beale’s road. Knowing the Atlantic & Pacific railroad would build close to Leroux Springs a few sheep ranchers and two immigrant parties from Boston arrived at the base of the peaks in 1876. The second Boston party arrived in Antelope Valley on July 4th and made a pine tree into a flagpole to celebrate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence. Finding the clearings between the copious Leroux Springs and the meager Antelope Spring 12 miles south a disappointing location for farming the Boston parties moved on, but their patriotic flagpole was the talk of the territory. When a government surveyor arrived two years later he found one of the sheep men living at the “Flagstaff” ranch not far from Antelope Spring.
As soon as it became clear that rails would pass by Antelope Spring, very early in 1881 a Prescott merchant and his nephew established a store on the side of the hill where water trickled out of the ground. That April Atlantic and Pacific Railroad surveyors staked out curves along the hillside and a group of Mormon entrepreneurs settled close to Leroux Springs to grade roadbed and cut ties all along the line. By the time rails were laid to Canyon Diablo west of Winslow the following year, a Chicago businessman was already hauling a complete steam powered sawmill by wagon train to Antelope Spring with a contract to supply the A & P. A primitive line of tents, log cabins and board buildings soon graced the hillside with a post office named Flagstaff in the general store.
This is a small portion of the 20-30 commercial buildings that first lined the single street of Flagstaff, pictured by Albuquerque photographer Ben Wittick, probably in March 1883. There is a telegraph line and across the street out of view, railroad tracks and the spring. In the center is a sign that says “Monarch (Mercantile?), P. B. Brannen (Prop.?).” Next door is the “Arizona News Depot” with a canvas roof. Then another store, then the two-story Beal’s restaurant and Pioneer Hotel and finally John Drain’s saloon. To the left of Brannen’s store is the Log Cabin Saloon and then another saloon and dance hall. These buildings would burn 22 July 1884 and be replaced only to eventually become “Old Town” as commercial development moved east.
After struggling to bridge the devil’s canyon, the railroad arrived at Flagstaff August 1, 1882 and 18 days later the sawmill boiler was fired and its steam whistle echoed through Antelope Valley. But the silence had already been broken by more than a dozen saloons serving railroad workers 24/7. Like every other town on the railroad front, Flagstaff was a dangerous cauldron of male exuberance supported by hefty railroad paychecks. “Cattle rustling was rampant and only conquered by stringing the culprits to a limb of a tree and riddling the bodies with bullets. Many were the shootings in the town. . . . They write about Tombstone and other early settlements, but Flagstaff was as bad as any of them” (p.37, Charles C. Stemmer, A Brand From the Burning, 1959).
The railroad put a water tank for their thirsty steam locomotives and a couple box cars for a depot in a relatively flat part of the valley about a mile east of the town on the hill. The general store and the larger saloons moved to a site opposite the depot in 1883 and built substantial buildings. This was “New Town” and Antelope Spring became “Old Town Spring.” Most of the money flowed into the orderly stores and rowdy saloons, giving their owners almost total control over the community.
Another Wittick photo likely taken in late summer 1883 documents the first buildings in New Town, down in Antelope Valley about a mile east of the spring. P. B. Brannen has moved his store and the Post Office into a masonry structure on the NE corner of what would soon be Railroad Avenue and San Francisco Street. Across SF Street is the new home of Black’s Bar owned by James Vail. Both of these buildings burned in 1886 and 1888, but the masonry walls of Brannen’s store survive today, while a brick replacement for Vail’s saloon is also still standing. Like almost every other town along the A & P railroad, there are no buildings across the street, only railroad tracks and the depot.
If anyone tried to make Flagstaff a nice town, they were plagued by too much fire and too little water. Old Town burned down in 1884, then New Town burned in 1886 and 1888. The sawmill, despite a supply of water pumped from a spring, burned in 1887. Then the business district burned again in 1889, taking the railroad depot too. The town had to ban wooden structures downtown, opting instead for sandstone cut at a quarry about three miles east. Soon after it opened in 1887, the quarry was shipping rail cars of stone all over the west.
Looking northwest toward Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks around 1893, the sandstone railroad depot built in 1889 is at left, with the commercial district behind it. You can see the steeple of the Methodist-Episcopal church completed in 1888 and the Babbitt Brothers store with awnings open over its first floor windows. At the right edge of the photo, sandstone walls are going up for the new courthouse completed in 1894.
Water supply has always been a problem for Flagstaff. Beginning in 1883, the railroad and sawmill pumped water from O’Neil Springs over eight miles to the south. What Old Town Spring couldn’t provide was hauled in barrels from Leroux Springs and sold on the street at exorbitant rates until 1896. It took a lot of money and much work to finally lay a pipeline in 1898-99 from springs high on the Peaks. Surface water had to be added from upper Lake Mary reservoir in 1941, followed by an ever increasing number of deep wells beginning in 1954.
Workers are stacking rough-cut lumber for air drying at the Arizona Lumber and Timber company mill in the 1890s. Chicago lumberman Edward E. Ayer sold his sawmill established in 1882 to D. M. Riordan in 1887. Rebuilding after several fires, it continued production under a number of owners until 1954. Old Town is behind the mill on the hill seen at left, while New Town is in front of the trees in the distance at right. Behind New Town is the hazy outline of Mount Elden.
In 1886, Flagstaff got a second big sawmill built about five miles east of town by the Greenlaw family. Then a third sawmill was located in 1910 on the southeast side of town called the Flagstaff Lumber Manufacturing Company. The “City in the Pines” had become the biggest forest products manufacturer in the state by far. This postcard view from about 1912 shows the Santa Fe Railroad mainline in the foreground, successor to the old A. & P. railroad. And the dirt road along the rail line is the National Old Trails Road, a major highway across the USA that would become Route 66. Today, Flagstaff has no sawmills and the county jail has been built on the site shown here.
Five Babbitt Brothers came to Flagstaff from Cincinnati beginning in 1886 and started the CO Bar cattle ranch, and a mercantile and Indian trading business organized in 1889. The locally quarried cut sandstone building had been greatly enlarged in 1891 and then again by the time this photograph was made in the early 1900s. By the 1960s, the business had expanded to include trading posts, a supermarket chain and lumber yards in towns across northern Arizona.
Flagstaff’s livelihood expanded over the years to include more than stone, cattle, sheep and lumber. By the 1890s the small town was publicizing its sunshine, pure air and mountain spring water. It became a lodging and outfitting point for tourists going to the Grand Canyon. The local cycling club blazed a trail and stages were making the trip three times a week by 1892. Silent film production crews came in the 1910s with Zane Grey scripts. When tourists started driving automobiles in addition to taking the train, Flagstaff’s middle route became a major cross-country highway, the National Old Trails Road beginning in the 1910s which became Route 66 in 1926. Arizona Snow Bowl ski runs opened in 1939, and expanded after the war. By 1957, the Black Canyon Highway connected Phoenix with Flagstaff, bringing more visitors for winter snows or cool summers.
A large sandstone building to house a reform school was constructed on the far south side of Flagstaff with a state appropriation in 1894. Money ran out and the community had to wait until 1898 before the building could get windows and doors. By then, community objections sent the reform school to Benson, giving over the Flagstaff building to the state’s third institution of higher learning, a Normal School to train teachers. When this photo was published as a postcard about 1910, the main building (at right), had been joined by a men’s dorm (Taylor Hall, 1905, center) and a women’s dorm (Bury Hall, 1908, at left).
The Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross were assigned to teach a parochial school in Flagstaff from 1899-1966. A small building for St. Anthony’s Academy was built on Cherry Street in 1895, with a convent added in 1899. Increased enrollment led to the addition of a larger school building on the block in 1903, then an addition shown here in 1911. The 1903 building is seen attached to the rear and then farther behind is a separate building, the 1899 convent which became the rectory from 1903-1958. The parish church was also in the 1911 addition until 1930. Everything seen here was torn down in 1956, replaced by a modern school building which is still in use. It’s now called St. Mary’s School.
An early promotional nickname was “The Skylight City,” referring to the 7,000-foot elevation. In 1894 Percival Lowell, attracted to the thin air at that altitude, picked a site on the hill above Old Town Spring to point a telescope through the skylight at the planet Mars. His observatory became an important scientific institution, and the site of the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Other scientists came to Flagstaff too. Fort Valley Experimental Forest was established near Leroux Springs in 1908 and is still teaching rangers how to care for trees. The Museum of Northern Arizona was created in 1928 to study the landscape and cultures of the Colorado Plateau. US Geological Survey established an astrogeology laboratory in Flagstaff in 1963 to train astronauts how to walk on the moon. There is a US Naval observatory to the west and a couple of university telescopes to the south.
Here is the same corner of Railroad Avenue and San Francisco Street seen above in 1883, this time photographed about 1920. Prohibition had been enacted in 1914 in Arizona, forcing Black’s Bar on the corner to become a pool hall and barber shop. Next door used to be the Senate Saloon, now a restaurant, next to Bender’s All-American Café. Next is Robertson’s News Stand that sold newspapers, magazines, postcards, tobacco products, candy and soda pop. The newsstand was the last surviving wood-frame structure downtown after an 1896 ordinance required fire-proof construction. The Ford sign points to Babbitt Ford two blocks north.
Along with the rest of the state, Flagstaff experienced a growth spurt after World War II. Sawmill production increased in the 1950s and the railroad built a marshalling yard in 1957 on the east side to ship materials to the Glen Canyon Dam construction site at Page. The population of the “City in the Pines” increased 138% in the decade of the fifties, helped by the annexation of 48 square miles in 1957-59. It had become a college town with increasing enrollment at what had been the normal school. In 1966, the college became Northern Arizona University. Through the sixties and seventies, Flagstaff struggled to attract higher paying jobs as the timber industry collapsed. Nor could it accommodate the increased automobile traffic that came with growth. In the eighties it had a makeover, closing the old cowboy saloons and creating upscale neighborhoods and trendy art galleries, boutiques and bistros downtown. But racial tensions and income inequities persist.
The Beale Road was eventually replaced by an automobile highway and Flagstaff became one long strip development of filling stations, motels, restaurants and parking lots. Tourism and the hospitality industry eventually made more money for the community than manufacturing forest products. The Texaco station seen here about 1948 used to be on Santa Fe Avenue (now renamed “Route 66”) at Humphreys Street. Lane Sharber operated the motel, which is still in business as the Parkside Town House, and I think Norman G. Sharber operated the gas station.
Route 66 was two lanes of concrete when this postcard was published by the prolific Bob Petley (1912-2006) of Phoenix about 1955. This particular section survives, though overtopped with asphalt, leading from Interstate-40, Exit 204 (Walnut Canyon) to Flagstaff Mall. That’s Mount Elden on the left with the snowcapped San Francisco Peaks on the right. There are a few billboards visible (click on picture to see large size). Motorists were greeted on either side of town by dozens of billboards advertising locally-owned small businesses. After a great deal of effort most billboards were removed. Now they are back, bigger ones advertising big nationwide chains.
This agfachrome by Bob Petley shows downtown Flagstaff in the 1960s. The turquoise blue, 5-story Valley Bank building is in the center. The 1889 railroad depot has a bright white roof, while the 1927 depot is the brown building at the left edge of the photo. Route 66 is the street paralleling the railroad tracks. You can see how the city is built up in Antelope Valley (name no longer used) between Mars Hill, the site of Lowell Observatory on the left and McMillan Mesa on the right. At left, below Mars Hill is a little blue pond in the trees, close by where the 1878 Flagstaff ranch was located.
Some sources: Platt Cline, Mountain Campus (1983) Platt Cline, They Came To The Mountain (1976) Marie D. Jackson, Stone Landmarks. . . (1999) Richard & Sherry Mangum, Flagstaff Past & Present (2003) Russell Wahmann, The Historical Geography of the Santa Fe Railroad In Northern Arizona (1971)
“For decades, school children in Arizona have been taught the five C's: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate. That's what I studied when growing up in St. John's and that's what my children learned growing up in Tucson. “The five C's have been the driving force behind Arizona's economy. They have traditionally been what made our towns and communities grow. They provided jobs and opportunities. The five C's gave economic security to past generations and real hope to future generations. "All that, however, is changing. Arizona, like the rest of the country, is undergoing an economic transformation. Whole new industries are being created, while others die or struggle to survive. Business as usual is changing. Arizona is moving from a mining and agriculturally oriented economy, to a high-technology and service based economy. This is changing the patterns of where Arizonans live and work." -- Congressman Morris Udall, "Arizona--Where We Came From, Where We're Going", April 1984 report to constituents.
That was 1984. Change continues in Arizona, across the nation and the globe. But historically, Arizona’s prosperity was rooted in the “C’s.”
Postcards for tourists have documented the Five “C’s” over the years. This photo by Hubert A. Lowman published by Fred Harvey shows a group just off a Fred Harvey tour bus at Hopi Point gazing in awe at the colorful erosions ca. 1956. Preserved by the dry climate, Grand Canyon National Park has long been a popular Arizona attraction.
The First “C” Was Copper and Mining
Beginning in the twentieth century Arizona has always been the leading copper producing state in the nation. Arizona mines produce over half the country’s copper, and the metal generates more value than any other mineral mined in the state. As inflation increased its value, copper made $1.1 billion in 1981, a recession year, then $2.2 billion by 1988. From 1860 to 1938, Arizona mines extracted 8.6 million tons of pure copper.
Arizona used to be nicknamed The Copper State when this photo by Jim Sexton was published around 1960. Since then it’s been The Grand Canyon State. The photo shows part of the Inspiration Consolidated Copper Company operation at Miami, Arizona, including part of the tremendous waste pile.
The Second “C” Was Cattle and Sheep
Native Americans in the southwest did not domesticate animals until Spanish missionaries taught the Pima and Tohono O’odam peoples to raise cattle about 300 years ago. Mexicans became skilled vaqueros and cattle ranchers. After Arizona became part of the US, Texas cowboys moved longhorn herds to the territory. Despite early setbacks from northern Arizona snow and widespread drought, the number of cattle increased from nearly 169,000 in 1883 to more than 491,000 ten years later. Herds peaked at 1.75 million head in 1918, falling to 750,000 by 1940 and then increasing again to 1.02 million in 2009. But Arizona still ranks only 31st in the US for numbers of cattle.
In the 1880s Texas cowboys really did rope Arizona mavericks for branding. Then cowboys competed in rodeos, and finally the rodeos and roping lessons came to the dude ranches in the 1920s when this postcard was made.
Sheep ranching used to be popular in Arizona and even a few cattle ranchers crossed over to shepherd the wooly animals. By 1917, the number in Arizona peaked at 1.42 million head, then fell off during the depression years. After the 1960s, most sheep, and goats too, roamed the vast Navajo reservation. Total number in the state was 125,000 in 1997 and 150,000 in 2009. In 2007, Arizona ranked 11th in the nation for numbers of sheep and lambs.
Americans have long been fed both comedy and drama based on stereotypical portrayals of cowboys herding Herefords. If you want to ride a giant concrete rabbit, stop at Jackrabbit Trading Post on Interstate-40 a few miles west of Joseph City. Most color postcards from 1900 to 1940 were heavily “retouched” and colorized black & white photos, often at variance with reality.
The Third “C” Was Cotton and Agriculture
The third “C” for Cotton really represents all agricultural production, including the next two “C’s,” citrus and climate. Abundant sunshine in Arizona makes trees and flowers blossom in winter and crops flourish throughout the year, as long as you irrigate the thirsty desert soil. Virtually all crops in Arizona are irrigated from storage reservoirs or deep wells. With increased water production over the years, Arizona now ranks second in the country for acres of lettuce, second for lemons, third for duram wheat and third for both acres and value of vegetables grown, including melons and potatoes.
This postcard shows a lettuce harvest in the Salt River Valley in the 1960s. Iceberg and leaf lettuce is grown mostly in the west valley and around Yuma and picked by Mexican migrant workers.
“Cotton does well here,” reported an 1897 Phoenix Chamber of Commerce promotional booklet, “but owing to its low price and the fact that there are so many other crops that pay better, no attempt is made to grow it.” In just a few years that changed. The country moved to wearing more cotton clothing and driving on cotton cord tires. When boll weevils attacked the crop in the southeast, Arizona farmers turned to resistant Egyptian varieties, especially long-staple cotton. Prices went brutally up and down from 1916 to 1935, but mechanical pickers and crop dusters continued to boost production. By 1939, cotton provided $12.5 million to the state, more than 23% of the total cash income of Arizona ranch and farm production. It had become the largest industry in the Salt River Valley and the biggest cash crop in the state.
Children were along side parents in the fields when this view was photographed about 1939 in southern Arizona. In the 1930s, growers advertised widely for migrant hand pickers who sweated both in the fields and their tents or rude shacks. (Hope you don’t mind—I colorized this card to fit the mood. The original is a black & white “Real Photo Post Card.”)
And the best years were yet to come. Cotton planting peaked at 690,000 acres in 1953 but yield per acre continued to grow. Production peaked at 1.6 million bales in 1981, with the most per acre of any field in the US. By 2008, Arizona cotton farmers grew 2.24 million tons of fiber on 260,000 acres with a yield again leading the nation at 8.6 tons per acre. The state produced half the long-staple cotton in the US in 1969. In 2007, Arizona ranked ninth in the nation for value of cotton and cottonseed. In the 1960s, cotton was the number one crop in Arizona, but alfalfa grown for feed was second. By 2008, acres in alfalfa exceeded acres of cotton, returning to the ranking in Arizona of a hundred years ago.
The Fourth “C” Was Citrus
For the citrus industry in Arizona by the 1930s grapefruit was king, then oranges and finally lemons. In 1938, Arizona shipped the equivalent of 4,536 rail car loads of grapefruit, 672 carloads of oranges and 11 carloads of lemons to other states. Production of grapefruit peaked at 8.2 million crates during the 1946-47 season. In 1991-92, 5.6 million cartons of grapefruit were shipped, but by 2008 only 200,000. In 1940 only 600,000 boxes of oranges were sold, compared to a 1968-69 peak of 10.5 million. By 2008 the number was back down to 760,000 boxes. More than twice as much money is made growing oranges now as grapefruit ($2.7 million vs. $1.2 million in 2007). But 25-times the income from oranges is realized by sales of lemons ($49.1 million in lemon sales in 2007). Arizona ranks second in the country for production of lemons and fourth for oranges and grapefruit. Lemon production peaked in 1974-75 at 14.4 billion cartons, dropping to 3 billion in 2008.
The Arizona Grapefruit Program Committee in 1951 was not above using sex appeal to sell its produce. The back of this Genuine Curteich Colortone card noted shipments began early in November and lasted well into July from two or three pickings.
Ranked by market value, beef cattle production was the top agricultural product in Arizona in 2007. The same year, Yuma County exceeded all other counties in the state for cash receipts from farm commodities, both crops and livestock combined. Pinal County was second with Maricopa county third. Both of those counties made more money than Yuma from livestock, but Yuma County earned more than twice the amount earned in Maricopa County from crops. Agriculture is still big business in Arizona, though less golden than in years past.
This postcard published by J. Homer Smith of Yuma and mailed from that city in 1915 shows orange trees interspersed with ornamental palms. I’m not sure how common this was at the time. The citrus groves I’ve seen around Yuma are monocultures.
The Fifth “C” Was Climate, For Health and Recreation
You would think the blistering desert heat in summer would make climate a liability for the Arizona economy, but such is not the case. Before the discovery of antibiotics and vaccines many tuberculosis patients were cured by living in tents, open huts and sanitariums with wide screened porches in the dry air around Phoenix and Tucson. Believing that much sickness was the result of polluted air in congested cities, many pioneers found the cold, dry, crystal clear air in northern Arizona “bracing” and “invigorating.” Natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, saguaro forests and ancient ruins were available to tourists not just because the railroads and highways brought them here, but also because the warm arid climate preserved these landscapes. Whether for health or recreation, climate attracted people to Arizona, supporting a significant portion of the economy. After the beginning of the Twentieth Century visitors started coming to explore, experience dude ranch life or soak up the winter sun at a resort. After World War Two trailers and RVs began bringing significant numbers of winter visitors, “snow birds” as they say. And with the development of air conditioning, permanent residents began to flock to Arizona for the southern suburban lifestyle.
The Climatic Hotel in Yuma was famous for promising free meals if ever 24-hours were to pass without a glimpse of the sun. They didn’t give away many meals. This card is postmarked 1912; another from 1908 shows it was the “Pilot Knob Hotel” then. I’m not sure about the “moving stairway.” (To fit the climate, I’ve added some more yellow tint to this yellowed black & white original.)
The Jokake Inn (pronounced “joe-CAULK-kee,” meaning “mud house” in the Hopi language) has been a popular winter resort since it opened in 1928. This 1946 postcard shows the pool and the main building of adobe bricks which survives as part of the massive Phoenician resort on East Camelback Road in Scottsdale.
The Five “C’s” Have Been Eclipsed by a Big “M”
Another “C” has been Computers and the high-tech electronics industry. Maybe Communications is another “C,” recognizing Arizona’s role as a transportation and communications corridor spanning the continent. Military “camps” might be considered another “C,” recognizing the role that military spending has played in the Arizona economy over the years, beginning with the first four forts in 1860, booming during the two world wars and finally spurring the manufacturing of weapons beginning in the 1950s. Following World War Two, Arizona retained three Air Force bases, a Naval Air Station, two Army bases and an ordnance depot, adding 18 underground nuclear missile silos in the 1960s.
This is an artist’s depiction of an intercontinental ballistic missile in its underground blast-proof facility at a once secret location in Arizona. The technology was replaced by submarines and cruise missiles. Now visitors can tour a silo near Green Valley preserved by the Pima Air Museum in Tucson. (I colorized this card red to fit the mood. The original is black & white.)
Ironically, the “growing” of trees and “harvesting” them with a permit from the US Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service is considered “manufacturing,” some say the earliest manufacturing sector in the state. With the largest continuous ponderosa pine forest in North America, the lumbering industry was an Arizona cash cow. Even after years of significant decline, the 19.4 million acres of forest in the state produced nearly 19 million cubic feet of wood harvest in 1998.
Many first-time visitors to Arizona are surprised by the amount of snowfall in winter. About a third of the state is high in elevation, especially the Colorado Plateau in the northeast corner. Pine and fir forest covers about 25% of land area, supporting in years past a thriving timber industry. This is the Arizona Lumber and Timber sawmill in Flagstaff about 1937, when there were 21 similar establishments in the state, employing 1,527 people and paying $1.3 million in wages out of a value of $3.8 million in products.
During that post-war boom that transformed Arizona, manufacturing grew to surpass the Five “C’s.” A concentration of aerospace and electronics factories, mostly in the two largest urban areas, blossomed in the 1950s and 60s. By 1980, the value of manufactured products from Arizona factories amounted to more than twice the total value of mining, agriculture and forest products ($2.05 billion vs. $896 million). Moreover, the income from transportation, communications and utilities ($897 million), retail and wholesale trade ($1.2 billion), the service industries ($2.2 billion), and government revenue ($2.7 billion) each alone exceeded any of the Five “C’s” by 1980.
Sources of statistics and rankings of the Five “C’s”: Arizona Agricultural Statistics(annual) Arizona Historical and Biographical Record(1896) Arizona, its people and resources(1972) Arizona’s Forest Resources, 1999(USDA, Forest Service) Arizona Yearbook(1991-92) A Survey of Phoenix. . .(1941) The Arizona Atlas(1981)