For many travelers, Kingman, Ariz., simply provides places to stop for fuel and a quick meal before they push on to other destinations. Visitors who pause for a look around find themselves transported to earlier times. Kingman’s historic downtown showcases area history in a grid of streets compact enough for walking.
The downtown core includes 60 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, some still in use, such as the handsome Mohave County Courthouse, and others repurposed to house museums, businesses and offices.
The seedy city blocks of yesteryear have been cleaned up, spruced up, demolished or rehabilitated according to an ambitious renewal plan. An activity-filled schedule of events draws residents and visitors to the old city center, where there are antique shops, a variety of eateries, parks and other attractions.
Kingman sits at the junction of Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 93 about 100 miles from Las Vegas. Follow U.S. 93 past Boulder City to cross the Colorado River into Arizona just downstream from Hoover Dam using the new bridge, from which motorists can see nothing but the tops of mountains and the sky.
To enjoy the undeniably gorgeous views of the dam from the vantage point of the span, you must pull over, park off the highway and walk to the bridge. The view is worth the walk, but if visiting in the summertime, plan to see it early in the day before soaring temperatures make you change your mind.
Born of mining and ranching, the dusty village of Kingman came to life when Northwestern Arizona Territory was the frontier, complete with Indian attacks, wagon trains and cavalry forts. The little crossroads gained importance when the railroad arrived in the early 1880s. Soon the town supplanted a neighboring mining town as county seat.
Kingman today is home to about 28,000 residents, with surrounding areas swelling that population to more than 50,000. It remains the most important community in Mohave County, serving as the area’s center of government and commerce.
The Mohave Museum of History and Arts provides an overview of the past in northwestern Arizona from prehistory to modern times. Located at the corner of Beale Street and Andy Devine Avenue, the museum has several rooms of displays and exhibits linked by murals and background paintings recognizable as the work of Southern Nevada artist Roy Purcell, who served as curator of the museum in its early years. Collections include fine Native American artifacts such as baskets, pottery, blankets and jewelry. Pioneer lifestyles of miners, ranchers and railroaders figure prominently. A display traces the colorful life of popular native son Andy Devine, a character actor during the golden age of Western films.
The museum is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. Expect to pay a modest entrance fee, which entitles you to visit the Route 66 Museum in the nearby Powerhouse and the Bonelli House, a restored 1915 residence a few blocks away. Pick up a copy of the City of Kingman walking tour at the Mohave Museum or the Powerhouse for walking or driving routes past historic properties and features such as a 200-year-old mesquite tree.
A block away, Kingman’s first source of electricity, the old Powerhouse, sits beside the still-active railroad tracks. Vacant for decades, the sturdy space was converted into a multipurpose building housing a visitors center, offices of the local chamber of commerce, a gift shop and headquarters for the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, the Carlos Elmer photo gallery, tracks for model railroads circling the second floor and the Route 66 Museum, which outlines the history of the “Mother Road.” The Powerhouse is open daily, except major holidays.
The Bonelli family arrived in Utah in the 1850s, part of the contingent of Mormon converts from Switzerland, to establish old Santa Clara near St. George. Enterprising folks, they ranched, became storekeepers and established a ferry at the confluence of the Colorado and Virgin Rivers called Bonelli Landing. One branch of the family helped develop Kingman and build a spacious home of locally quarried stone on Spring Street that is now owned by the city. Guided groups tour from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.