Arizona, about 17 miles along the pavement of
Route 66, is
the small town of Ash Fork -- population about 500.
Fork got its start when the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, later known as the
Santa Fe Railroad,
pushed through in October, 1882.
Originally established as only a railroad siding, it was named by F.W. Smith, General Superintendent of the railroad,
for the many ash trees growing on the
before the railroad arrived, the area had been roamed by
as evidenced by numerous pottery shards and arrowheads found in the area,
as well as pictorial writings on rock. The Spanish, in their search for
the elusive Seven
Cities of Cibola, came near the area in the late 1500's.
Though this “primitive” terrain had
been crossed since the early 1800's by fur trappers and traders on their
way from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Angeles, California, the trails were
in poor condition and the region was known to be wild, unexplored, and
dangerous. From 1857 to 1860 Lieutenant Edward F. Beale, a crew of 100
men, and 22 camels built the first federal highway in the southwest -- the Beale Wagon
Road. Later highways, including
would be paved across portions of this historic trail.
The same year that the railroad
arrived -- 1882, a man named Thomas Cooper Lewis opened the town's first
In April, 1883, Ash Fork gained its own post office, with Henry W. Kline serving as the first Postmaster and two
years later, Wells Fargo opened an office. The arrival of the railroad
also opened up the area to cattle and sheep ranching. The railroad also
spearheaded the stone industry. Local flagstone was soon quarried for the
railroad to build bridges and private industry began shipping stone for
public buildings, churches and office buildings.
During its earliest days,
Ash Fork, like many railroad towns across the region, was mostly called
home to railroaders and cowboys, in a time where there was no "official" law
and order. With so many rowdy men, chaos reigned supreme and as a result,
several citizens in the small settlement organized a vigilance committee to get rid of
them. Several are said to have been hanged from an Ash Tree.
Unfortunately, in 1893 the entire
Ash Fork burned to the ground. However, it was soon rebuilt on the other side of
railroad tracks, where it continues to stand today. The stone industry
remained profitable, the stones of which were used to rebuild much of
town. Before long, citizens proclaimed
the town as the "Flagstone Capital of the World."
railroad became more popular, the
Escalante Hotel was
built in 1907. Opening on March 1, 1907, it
was built of steel and concrete in the Mission Style of
Spanish architecture. The large hotel and restaurant were 420' X 200'
and cost about $115,000. On the ground floor, it featured a lunch room
fitted with a circular counter, complete with the ever popular Harvey
Girls. It also sported a large curio shop, news stand/reading room, and
a barber shop.
came through, the
Fred Harvey Escalante Hotel and restaurant catered to both highway and railroad
travelers. The new highway also brought a boost to the town’s economy;
but, later, when the Mother Road received an upgrade to a divided
resulted in the
destruction of many of the storefronts, sidewalks, and residential
automobile travel increased, the beautiful Escalante Hotel closed down
in 1948. Not many years later, in 1960, the
Santa Fe Railroad moved its main line north
and away from Ash Fork, resulting in the town losing nearly half
its population. Another large fire, known locally as the "Big Fire,"
devastated the community on November 20, 1977, destroying most of the
At the same time, I-40 was being built, which closely
followed Route 66, with the exception of the stretch between Ash Fork
and Kingman, where Route 66 took a more northerly, less direct route.
Bypassing the community, it was yet another blow to the local economy,
which has never fully recovered. Unfortunately, it was during this
time that the historic Escalanete Hotel was demolished.