Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Railroad Addition Historic District and Boundary Increase
The name of this part of central Flagstaff, the “Railroad Addition Historic District,” is telling; the railroad was a defining force in the city’s development and an interesting and historic place to visit for travelers along Route 66. A walk along the district’s several blocks of Santa Fe Avenue, Flagstaff’s portion of Route 66 provides evidence of the railroad’s power. Every building faces the iron tracks. As automobiles replaced railroads as the country’s primary mode of passenger transportation, the Route 66 corridor paralleling the tracks exerted a similar force on development.
The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad laid tracks through Flagstaff and the rest of northern Arizona and New Mexico in the 1880s. After the Santa Fe Railroad’s purchase of the line by 1885, Flagstaff became part of a continuous rail connection between St. Louis and the Pacific Ocean. Constructed after an 1888 fire and now used as offices by the Burlington, Northern, and Santa Fe Railway, the sandstone depot was at the geographic center of Flagstaff’s development. The transportation connection enabled regional industries like lumber, cattle, and sheep to develop and thrive. By 1895, tourism was also an important industry, with visitors drawn by the cool summer climate and nearby Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, Walnut Canyon, and San Francisco Peaks.
The railroad and Route 66 had close ties in Arizona. The National Old Trails Road, an early transcontinental route, followed railroad alignments through Flagstaff and the rest of northern Arizona in the 1910s. Adventurous drivers from other parts of the country began using the road to get to Flagstaff and its surrounding attractions. Railroad traffic continued to be important, however, and in 1926, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway built a new, more elaborate railroad depot across from the old one. This Tudor Revival and Queen Anne influenced building is today the Flagstaff Visitor Center.
Completed through Arizona the same year as the new depot, Route 66 used the routing of the National Old Trails Road. In Flagstaff, that meant Route 66 traveled along Santa Fe Avenue. The influx in automobile traffic spawned development for several blocks north along Beaver, Leroux, San Francisco, and Agassiz Streets, all at right angles to Route 66. On San Francisco Street, community support funded the construction of the Hotel Monte Vista the same year as Route 66’s completion. The Romanesque-inspired hotel drew visits from Carol Lombard, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Jane Russell, and others drawn to Flagstaff’s mountain setting. The hotel continues to host visitors today.
In the late 1920s, scenery was the main attraction of Route 66 through Flagstaff, and drivers using the road sought recreation and leisure, not efficient travel. Flagstaff then was at the end of what one magazine writer described as “18 miles of narrow, crooked, poorly surfaced road which is particularly dangerous in dry weather due to raveling and innumerable potholes.” The Daily Sun described the nearby Motel Du Beau, constructed in 1929 at the intersection of Beaver Street and Phoenix Avenue, as "a hotel with garages for the better class of motorists." Units rented for $2.60 to $5.00 each, and were perfect for the new phenomenon of automobile tourism. Rates are a little higher now, but the Craftsman-style facility provides affordable accommodations to today’s travelers as the DuBeau International Hostel.
Military uses replaced tourism as the primary activity on Route 66 during World War II. Flagstaff hosted a huge ammunition depot then, which brought increased business to the surrounding area and ensured heavy traffic to and from the facility. Tourism boomed again at war’s end, and Arizona’s national parks, mountains, and Indian reservations drew travelers along Route 66 and into Flagstaff.
Congestion and dangerous curves along Route 66 contributed to the 1956 beginning of Interstate 40 through Arizona. The new interstate pulled travelers from Route 66 and downtown Flagstaff after its completion more than 10 years later. During the 1970s and 1980s, many businesses shifted away from the city center, and downtown declined economically. The Railroad Addition Historic District has since undergone a renaissance.
In 1983, the National Park Service acknowledged the district’s historic significance, listing it in the National Register of Historic Places, later expanding the listing to include an additional block. In 1987, the city drafted a new master plan to transform downtown Flagstaff from a shopping and trade center into a regional center for finance, office use, and government. Filling the district now are tourists, residents, and local university students, who flock to the streets intersecting Santa Fe Avenue to sightsee, snack, shop, and relax.
The district still contains many of the historic travel, trade, and social buildings that date from the period between the late 1880s and the 1940s when Flagstaff developed into a regional center for commerce and tourism. The district is a historic stop along Route 66 and a perfect gateway to the surrounding attractions in the region such as Grand Canyon National Park, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, the Coconino National Forest, Meteor Crater, the San Francisco Peaks, the Red Rocks of Sedona, and neighboring American Indian nations.