Proud of its pioneer past, Kingman, Ariz., preserves and promotes its history as a crossroads community to appeal to today’s travelers.
Situated at the junction of U.S. Highway 93 and Interstate 40, Kingman also sits astride the longest remaining section of historic Route 66, America’s “Mother Road.” Railroads also remain important to Kingman with dozens of freight trains rolling through daily, as well as Amtrak passenger trains stopping there.
Kingman is about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas on busy U.S. 93. Crossing the Colorado River on the bypass bridge, the scenic drive takes about two hours. Kingman is the largest city in northwestern Arizona, serving a far-flung regional population as a business center and as county seat for Mohave County.
The town began when a handful of settlers established homes near Beale Springs on a federal wagon road created in the late 1850s. A few ranchers began raising cattle in the area. Prospectors braved the hostile northwestern Arizona Territory, locating a few promising gold and silver strikes. Scattered mining camps grew near the mines.
The dusty village at Beale Springs became a siding on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, renamed after railroad surveyor Louis Kingman. It officially became a town in 1882. Kingman gained importance in 1887 when it became the county seat, following a long list of neighboring boomtowns that briefly held the title. Those former county seats are all ghost towns now, but Kingman still minds the county’s affairs.
Visitors to Kingman’s original downtown find themselves transported to an earlier period. The historic core includes 60 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A walking or driving tour of the old downtown points out 27 of these locations. Pick up a copy of the printed tour guide at the old Powerhouse Visitor Center that now houses the Historic Route 66 Museum. The guide is also available at the neighboring Mohave Museum of History and Art.
The guide provides a brief history of the listed buildings, many still in use, such as the handsome, classically styled Mohave County Courthouse. Others have been repurposed, such as the old red schoolhouse, which now houses public offices and buildings along Beale Street, home to 14 stores in Antiques Row. The Amtrak station is deemed a historically significant building with its mission-revival architecture and was renovated in 2010. The station also houses an appealing model railroad museum. See the real thing in a downtown park where a retired locomotive has been relocated.
The Route 66 Museum upstairs in the Powerhouse traces the history of the famous highway. It carried generations of travelers across the country, most notable the exodus of Depression-era farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl of the Midwest for a chance at a better life in California. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance fees are $4 for adults with a $1 discount for seniors. Children ages 12 and younger tour for free.
The nearby Mohave Museum preserves important pieces of the past, tracing the history of man in the area from prehistoric nomads to the present. Collections include regional Native American pottery, baskets, blankets and turquoise. Ranching, mining and railroading figure prominently. Exhibits feature popular native son Andy Devine, a character actor in some 400 Westerns during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Colorful murals and dioramas are the work of well-known Southwestern artist Roy Purcell, museum curator in the late 1960s. The museum is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. A modest entrance fee is charged.
One early residence of a prominent Kingman family is now owned by the city. The two-story Bonelli House is open to tours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. The comfortable home with wide porches on both floors was built in 1915 with fire safety in mind following the destruction of the family’s first residence by fire. The home stands in a shady yard at 430 E. Spring St. Donations help meet the cost of upkeep.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.