Of the many abandoned trading posts along the various alignments of Route 66, perhaps one of the most poignant is the Minnetonka Trading Post to the east of Winslow, Arizona, because its decline has been so rapid and so relatively recent.
Because it sits on a short piece of Route 66 that was dead ended when Interstate 40 bypassed Winslow in 1979, it’s frequently missed by tourists travelling the Mother Road and, even if they did stop by, they might well think “Just another old derelict building”. But little more than 15 years ago the Minnetonka was still a thriving place where cowboys drank their wages and wedding breakfasts and wakes were held. But that seems like a long time ago…
No-one is too sure when the Minnetonka was built. The Motley Design Group, in its Historic Resource Survey of Arizona, published in 2012, believes it to have been built in 1939 which seems quite a reasonable suggestion. Little is known about the early owners, but perhaps an advert that appeared in the Winslow Mail in February 1952 might give a clue to who was then running the Minnetonka.
It advertised for sale a ‘curio store, service station and café between Flagstaff and Winslow’, including 320 acres of land. Prospective buyers were to apply to the Minnetonka Trading Post where they would have found Phillip and Louise Hesch in residence. Mrs Hesch had been, in what she probably hoped was now a past life, Mrs Earl Marion Cundiff and, in 1926 she and her then husband had owned that barren 320 acres known as Two Guns when Cundiff was shot dead by Harry ‘Indian’ Miller. Her character was suggested to be less than pristine when, during the trial, it was alleged she had had affairs with several men and, indeed, it was reported that during the proceedings she had taken up with one of the defence witnesses who took poison over the whole sorry episode (he survived).
Louise Hesch (her real name was Mary Evelyn but she always used the name Louise) remarried, this time to a mechanic called Fred Hayes, but the marriage didn’t last and in December 1934 (still only 29) she married Phillip E Hesch, her third and final husband. Although the pair ran Two Guns and the second incarnation of its famous zoo for a number of years, perhaps they finally decided on a change due to the the rerouting of Route 66 and the place’s isolation and so, by 1951, they were running the Minnetonka. After an attempt to sell it in 1956, they leased it two years later to sisters Irene B Scott and Hazel Weaver Jordan who had also run a store close to Two Guns. Within a year the sisters had moved out of the Minnetonka to take over a florist in Winslow.
By now the Hesches had started a coffee shop called La Siesta on East 2nd Street in Winslow, so were still keen to sell the Minnetonka. This they did in the autumn of 1962, selling the place lock, stock and liquor license to Mr and Mrs Robert Shaw. The Shaws operated the Minnetonka until September 1971 when Bob Shaw died, aged just 49. His widow, Patricia, kept hold of the Minnetonka and, with her second husband, Harvey Rogers, they ran it through the 1980s.
In 1991, it was bought by Julia (‘Julie’) Johnson who brought new life to the old place. The roof was replaced and the interior remodelled, complete with a raunchy picture of a naked lady on the petrified wood wall! A small rodeo arena was carved out behind the building and the Minnetonka played host to a number of events, including the annual ‘Bull Sunday’, part of Winslow’s Heritage Days. Despite being on a cut off piece of road, its proximity to I-40, Highway 87 and many ranches made it a favourite of local cowboys. Occasionally it would be flooded when the Cottonwood Wash broke its banks, but even that never seemed to worry Julie.
But, on 23 June 2007, aged only 56 years, Julie passed away and the Minnetonka Trading Post died with her. The place was put up for sale and, back in 2009, someone could have acquired quite the going concern for $100,000, complete with its unique petrified wood façade, all of the bar appliances (including the original plank-cedar bar top), handmade southwestern furniture and an Arizona Series 6 liquor license allowing it to sell liquor, beer and wine both in the bar and to take away.
There were no takers. Perhaps anyone interested was scared off by the rumours of pollutions from the elderly underground fuel tanks out front. Those were removed in 2010 and replaced by compacted soil. A year later, the Minnetonka was back on the market but at a reduced price. It still stands empty.
Now the Minnetonka doesn’t look like quite such a promising concern. The glass behind the security grills is long gone and two large holes disfigure the façade, perhaps vandalism, perhaps deterioration, perhaps to liberate some of the petrified wood. Who knows? If anyone knows what happened to the big wooden bar and the handmade furniture, they’re not saying even. In fact, no-one is saying anything any more at the Minnetonka Trading Post.