THE HIDDEN SIDE OF HACKBERRY

With its Mission-style architecture, the school was the grandest building in town.

Almost every traveller on the section of Route 66 between Seligman and Kingman, Arizona, stops at the famous Hackberry General Store. But few realise that there is more to Hackberry than a cold soda and some picturesque photo opportunities with old cars. Just to the south of the General Store and Route 66 lies the remains of what was, from 1874 until shortly after the Great War, a thriving town.

Originally a mining camp at the foot of the Peacock Mountains, Hackberry supported the twin trades of ranching and mining – indeed, it was the former that brought the railroad to Hackberry in 1882, as much to transport cattle as to carry ore from the Hackberry Silver Mine. By the time the mine closed, some $3 million of gold and silver had been dug out and perhaps one of the obvious indications of the temporary prosperity of the town can be seen in its now disused elementary school.

By the time this photo was taken in 1924, the school had been open for 7 years. Sadly, I don’t know whether the teacher is the ‘pleasant young Miss Jones’. Photo courtesy of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts

At a time when most schools were little more than wooden shacks or barns (for example, the Red School in Valentine to the west), the community of Hackberry commissioned a rather grandiose stone building. In May 1917, the School’s Board of Trustees called for bids for the erection of ‘a one-story public school building, to accommodate at least 80 pupils and cost not to exceed Seven Thousand Dollars; building to include all necessary wardrobe closest, teacher’s room, library room, etc, and to have chimney and fresh air vents for heating and ventilating purposes and to be as nearly fire-proof as the sum to be expended will permit.” You have to love that ‘nearly fire-proof’, but clearly not if it was going to cost more money!

The design that was accepted turned out to be a quite ornate Mission-style building with red roof tiles, two tiny decorative towers and even a Spanish-style bell. Nor did the Trustees hang about once having made a decision. At the end of August 1917, the Mohave County Miner reported that contractor Axel Ericson was completing the cornice work on the school (incidentally, Mr Ericson had just won the contract for his next job, which would be installing radiators and steam heating in the Hotel Brunswick in Kingman).

The bell still seems operational, but I decided not to try…

The school had two classrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and living quarters for a teacher, one of the first of whom was a Miss Jones who, a visit to Kingman being enough of an occasion to make the local newspaper, was described as ‘a pleasant young teacher’. To the young children who attended Hackberry Elementary School – they ranged from kindergarten age to the 8th grade – the building must have seemed almost like a castle. Teachers came and went; children grew up but often stayed in the town. Many of them were Griggs and several generations of that family were taught in the school. In fact, virtually everyone in Hackberry now (although that’s only around 20 people) is either a Griggs or related to the family.

An abandoned basketball hoop beside the school.

But, by 1994, the Board of Trustees (all of them, by the way, retired and without children in the school) decided that the little school should be closed. The parents of the 22 remaining pupils fought the decision but without success, even though the reasoning seems in hindsight a little vague. Joseph Averna, one of the three Trustees called the school ‘inefficient and ineffective’ (it quite possibly was, the tendency to follow the curriculum was, by all accounts, less than enthusiastic) and, on the eve of the meeting to decide the future of the Hackberry Elementary school, proclaimed; “We are going to drag [the parents] kicking and screaming in the 20th century. The people who pay the bills want the school closed.” He then went on to admit that no-one had actually looked at a budget, nor did they know how much money would be saved by the closure. Nonetheless, the decision to shut the school was made the following day.

Today children are bussed to schools miles away, leaving Hackberry as more of a ghost town than ever, while the school – which is owned by the Griggs family – stays resolutely shut and fenced off. The family hopes one day to refurbish, but no new generation of Griggs will ever be taught there.

Hackberry Elementary School, still as if the children had just left for the day.

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THE VALENTINE DINER OF SANDERS

IMG_1767Perhaps the biggest surprise to me about the Route 66 Valentine diner in Sanders, Arizona, is that it does actually look like a Valentine diner. Shabby and sliding rapidly into decay like so many of its peers, but still clearly of its type.

IMG_1796Why a surprise? Well, because, as far as I knew, the Route 66 Diner in Apache County’s Sanders had taken a Valentine diner and gradually eaten it, subsuming the original building into three containers and increasing the space so the original eight stools were replaced by seating for 60 customers. But, by the time I visited a few months ago, all those extra extensions had disappeared and the diner stood by itself, fading under the Arizona sun and having closed its doors on its final customer a few years before.

IMG_1813This particular Valentine prefabricated diner (it was clearly not purchased outright by its first owner as it still has the safe in which the owner would deposit a portion of his weekly takings to be collected by a Valentine agent) was first situated in Holbrook. It was then bought and moved to St John’s although, due to problems with zoning, it was never opened.

IMG_1794However, it was while the little diner was in St John’s that it was spotted by one Ena Middleton. Ena has true Route 66 heritage: she not only grew up on the Mother Road but is the grand-daughter of the infamous Henry Miller of Two Guns. She says that, peering through the windows, she fell in love with the napkin holders. She bought the diner with her husband, Frank, and then moved it to Sanders. It was then moved once more, still within Sanders, where it was so busy that it had to be extended – the aforementioned containers – although 99% of its trade was local and not Route 66 travellers.

IMG_1776While still open, the Route 66 Diner had been up for sale, Ena and Frank wanting to retire to their land, partly due to ill-health. It seems that there have been no takers, other than for the container extensions to the little Valentine diner.

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THE KELLEYS OF KINGMAN

Mr and Mrs Kelley on the occasion of their 66th wedding anniversary.

There are stories in every town on Route 66 and, a few years ago, I was lucky enough to have a brief glimpse of one. In 2010, almost exactly seven years ago, Kenneth and Kathleen Kelley of Kingman celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary, appropriately enough on Route 66 where they had lived much of their married life and that was marked with a small gathering of classic cars at the Powerhouse in Kingman to which we were invited.

Kathleen shows off the commemorative plaque given to her by the Route 66 Cruizers Club.

The history of the Kelleys was a quiet but enduring love story. Kenneth grew up in New Mexico and joined the Army at the age of 20. In April 1943, he sailed on the USS Monterey from San Francisco to spend the next 28 months in Europe as a member of the 505 Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne (he chose the Airborne Unit because it paid more money which, as the youngest of eight children, he could send home to his family).

Kenneth and Kathleen on their wedding day on 26th August 1944.

As a paratrooper he saw action, but his biggest battle was to get the girl he met while stationed in England to marry him. The first time he saw Kathleen Denton, Kenneth thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. They dated for several months although Kathleen admits to standing him up several times. Kenneth proposed half a dozen times. Kathleen said no six times before finally relenting. They were married on August 26th 1944 in Leicester, England, and a year later, Kenneth was discharged from the Army and returned home. By now, they had a son, John, and Kathleen and John sailed to New York and then took a long train ride to join him; they settled in Deming, New Mexico, where Kenneth started his career in copper mining.

They moved to Kingman in 1962 where Kenneth eventually became the mine superintendent for Duval Mining Corp at Mineral Park and he always said it was the saddest day of his life when the Mineral Park mine closed in 1981. Since moving to Kingman, the Kelleys had lived in a house on Route 66 and so it was appropriate that a local car club should mark their 66th wedding anniversary at the Powerhouse. We found that, despite having lived in America for most of her life, Kathleen’s British accent soon began to return as she talked to us!

Kenneth passed away on 24th December 2016 after 72 years of marriage with his beautiful girl. Not a showy life, not a remarkable life, but a life well lived. It was a pleasure to have met you, sir.

Just minutes after the celebration, the skies opened and this was where we’d been standing!

CATCHING THAT DREAM

September 2012

September 2012

For the last seven or eight years, every time I’ve visited the defunct Meteor City Trading Post on old Route 66 in Arizona I’ve taken the same photo; a big rig on I-40 ‘passing through’ the dream catcher outside the trading post. As you can see, the dream catcher has not fared well over the years.

September 2015

It has long been claimed as the world’s largest dream catcher, although the Guinness Book of Records accords that honour to one in Kalevala, Russia. This one is, at least, the largest dream catcher on Route 66!

 

April 2017

 

Now that Michael and Joann Brown of Jefferson, Indiana, have purchased Meteor City and plan to refurbish the site, I am hopefully that my next version of this photo may see the dream catcher back in its original glory.

THE BIGGEST SKULL IN ARIZONA

I’ll admit that I will drive a long way for a Big Something, and who wouldn’t drive down to the very south of Arizona to see a 30-foot-tall cow skull? Sadly, it’s not real although maybe that’s a good thing; Arizona can be lively enough without cattle the size of four story buildings roaring about.

 This particular skull stands just off Highway 90 on South Nogales Highway, around 25 miles south of Tucson. For years it welcomed diners to the Longhorn Grill although the skull was originally constructed for a bait shop which stood between two lakes, now long gone. Made of concrete, it was the work of Michael Kautza who was also responsible for other huge sculptures in Tucson.

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Over its life time, the building it dominated housed various different businesses including a clothing store and a roofing company, but for much of its life it was the Longhorn Grill (as well as featuring in several movies such as Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore). In 1993, Ed Madril started the restaurant but, by 2012, business had dropped off so much that the building was in foreclosure. It went on the market with a price tag of $319.000, and then $299,000, but was sold at auction to a buyer from Patagonia, Jeff Ladage, for $155,000. However, that sale fell through.

20170415163817090464000000-oBack on the market, the Longhorn Grill was purchased by John Gourley for a knockdown $130,000 who turned the place into part events centre, part gallery. Gourley, a metal sculptor and retired real estate broker, intended to add large murals and palm trees and spent thousands of dollars on cleaning the place up. The idea was that it would host weddings, parties and community events. However, Amado is a tiny town with a population of less than 300 people. The Longhorn Grill could accommodate most of them at once (and cook for a third of them at time thanks to its barbecue pit on which could be grilled a hundred burgers at a time) and it seems that the area just didn’t have that much call for an events venue.

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Today the Longhorn Grill and its famous skull are silent and up for sale again for a substantial $325,000. People stop for a photo of the massive head and then themselves head across the road to the Cow Palace for a burger.

 

 

THE TOWN THAT NEVER WAS

KODAK Digital Still CameraSilverado was to be a shining new community for north-west Arizona. Situated just off US-93, outside Kingman, the 5000-acre site would have homes (around 113 luxury dwellings would stand on their own two-and-a-half acre plots), parks with barbecue grills and an 18-hole golf course designed by Forrest Richardson. Neighborhood communities were planned with 12,000 homes, schools, a fire station, shops and a sewage plant. ‘The quiet beauty of the surrounding desert’ would, said the developers, ‘enhance life’s daily experiences.’

And then, in 2008, the housing market crashed and so did the plans for Silverado. The owners applied to the Mohave County Board of Supervisors to rezone 1400 acres residential to general commercial/highway frontage to build the Albiasa solar plant. Although, despite controversy over how much groundwater this would use, the county approved the zoning in 2009, Albiasa never applied to the Arizona Corporation Commission for approval and the project was never built.

Just over three years ago, the Board of Supervisors unanimously denied allowing developers more time to meet the conditions of rezoning the property, putting the nail in the coffin for any future commercial development. You can still see the road layout on Google maps, although many of those roads are overgrown or with huge washes now bisecting them.

Today Silverado is returning to the desert. The dozen or so luxury houses that were built stand empty, some with their windows intact, some open to the elements. Many of these houses were days from completion, with their garage doors and light bulbs fitted. Some fittings have been removed but they’re surprisingly unvandalized. All that remains of the so-called dream community are these mouldering houses that never saw life and some faded boards along the highway exhorting people to buy land at Silverado Ranch.

ONLY ON A SATURDAY NIGHT

On a lonely stretch of Arizona’s Route 66, between Seligman and Kingman, where the loudest sound is the wind or a lonesome train horn or the skitter-skatter of tumbleweed across the tarmac, stands a tiny bar where once Saturday nights echoed to the sound of fiddle and guitar and boots tapping on a wooden floor.

Now the music has fallen quiet, but the sign in Valentine still remains, attracting and perplexing passers-by as to what exactly was Bert’s Country Dancing. Bert’s Country Dancing was a legend, but a small and modest legend in the way that people do things out here in a big country. Back when Bert Denton opened his little bar once a week on the side of Route 66, Valentine still had a population in three figures. In fact, in the 1970s, around 200 people lived in this tiny community. And then, of course, the interstate took the traffic away – and out here that meant it took the traffic miles away, not just a few yards away on the other side of a frontage road – but, for a while the people stayed and, on a Saturday night, they danced.

Bert Denton was born Elbert Riggs Denton on 28th February 1915 in Grants, New Mexico, the middle son of Elbert Sr and Ora Denton. The family would move to southern Arizona when all three boys, Edward, Elbert – or Bert – and Robert, were still small. Bert was 19 when his father, a cowpuncher, was bucked from a wild horse and died of a fractured skull the following day. But it didn’t deter the young man from becoming a cowboy and rancher himself and, for most of his life, he was involved in cattle ranching. While living in Gila County, Bert met Marjorie Myrtle Lan (always known as ‘Margie’). Margie had been previously married in 1930 when, at the age of 16, she wed Benjamin J Hinds who worked for the Inspiration Copper Co and lodged with her family. They had three children, Benjamin, Felix and Ruth, but the marriage didn’t work out and, by the time Benjamin was married in 1956, Bert was named in the announcement of the wedding as his father.

Mr Elbert Denton in 1987

A tough man at work, and one who served in the US Navy for over three years, Bert had a softer side, demonstrated in 1956 when the Arizona Republic published a photo of a litter of ten puppies housed at the city pound. The next day, the Denton household had one dog extra…

Both Bert and Margie were keen horsespeople and both qualified as Arizona 4-H horse show judges in the 1960s. Sadly, it wasn’t to be a long retirement, for Margie died at their home in Valentine in October 1976 at the age of just 63 years. It seems that Bert’s Country Dancing came into being shortly after this and it’s tempting to think that it was a way for the retired rancher to fill his time, as well as playing fiddle, guitar and harmonica in the band. He only ever wanted it to be a small country bar and the dancing was, dare I say it, more important than the dollar beer.

Closed, but the building is still hanging in there

But Valentine struggled in the modern day and tragedy beset the tiny settlement when post mistress Jacqueline Griggs was murdered in 1990. Two years later, the Arizona Republic newspaper carried a small piece on Valentine which, unsurprisingly, featured Bert, by then one of just 14 residents. He joked then that they were ‘dropping like flies’. Less than two years later, on New Year’s Day 1994, Bert himself died at the age of 78.

For a short time, Bert’s Country Dancing occasionally opened – for special events such as the 2002 Fun Run – but the little bar has been closed for many years now. But perhaps, sometimes, if you listen very hard you might just hear a few bars of fiddle music disappearing on the wind.

Visiting Bert’s Country Dancing at Bert’s Country Dancing Place