History of Seligman, Arizona 1775 – 2023
The story of the town of Seligman began many years ago when the Yavapai region was discovered and surveyed in 1775 by the Spanish explorer and missionary, Francisco Tomas Garces.
In 1857 the United States developed the Beale Wagon Road which followed ancient native American paths and old Spanish exploration trails. The road started in Fort Smith, Arkansas and continued through the New Mexico, Arizona Territories, and into southern California. The Beale Wagon Road allowed further migration into the area by adventures, miners, ranchers and hunters, establishing small towns and forts along the way. One of the towns established was a stage coach stop called Prescott Junction, which would later be renamed Seligman, AZ.
After the Beale Wagon Road was established, westward construction of the railroads began. The Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Re Railroad reached Prescott Junction in 1897. Arrival of this train route would help Prescott Junction become be a major hub for cattle and human migration westward to the west coast.
Eventually the bustling railroad town of Prescott Junction would be renamed “Seligman”, after Jesse Seligman, one of the main financiers of the project.
Jesse Seligman himself was a German immigrant who moved to the United States in 1841. Jesse and his brothers who later joined his ventures, made their fortune in the gold fields in California by selling provisions to miners. They eventually moved to New York, and began manufacturing uniforms for the Union Army.
After the Civil War, Jesse’s fortune was assured and he became a wealthy financier who later went on to help realize the Panama Canal project. His company the J. & W. Seligman & Company were one of the main investors in the railroad lines that still cross the United States to this day.
In later years when the west and east coast of the United States were connected by the railroads, the town of Seligman itself became prosperous. The town grew in population and many casinos, saloons, hotels, churches and homes were built to accommodate the many travelers, merchants and immigrants that passed through the town.
As time passed, the automobile was introduced to the American public and manufacturing began in masse. As this new modern mode of transportation became popular, stopping for gas, food, and lodging became an essential part of travel and commerce in America.
In 1926, due to high demand from car manufacturers, owners and drivers, the government began construction of what we now know as the modern highway system. This original highway system provided 3,000 miles of safe and paved roads from coast to coast. One of these highways became one of the most famous roads in the United States and would be designated as the “Main Street of America”, the “Will Rogers Highway”, the “Mother Road”, and eventually the “Route 66”. This highway ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and northern Arizona with the end of route at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California.
The town of Seligman itself became an integral part of this highway system and developed new services to accommodate automobile travelers with the construction of gas stations, garages, motor courts and motels. Route 66 has been recognized in popular culture by both the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” and the “Route 66” television series that aired on CBS from 1960 – 1964. The highway was also referenced in the classic American novel “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck where its symbolized escape and loss because so many families had traveled the highway during the Dust Bowl era.
However, due to the decline of passenger railroad travel, and with the increase in automobile traffic on the “Main Street of America”, a more modern interstate highway system was developed in the United States. Portions of the original highways were rerouted, bypassing many small towns and provision stops that had been an integral part of automobile travel up until that point.
Such a highway was Interstate 40 , which was constructed in the 1960’s and 1970’s and reached its final completion in 1984. This new highway rerouted traffic from the original Route 66 to a parallel highway entirely bypassing the town of Seligman. The Route 66 was officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985. Not having travelers driving directly through the town of Seligman on the Route 66 anymore, proved to be catastrophic for the town’s future and economic sustainability.
Overnight, the traffic through Seligman was gone. As time went on, the town began to steadily decline. Businesses closed, people left, and buildings were left abandoned. Seligman was becoming a ghost town. During this most distressing period of time for the town of Seligman, one man came to its rescue, a longtime resident and proprietor of the local Barber Shop and Pool Hall, Angel Delgadillo.
After the completion of I-40 and the subsequent disastrous impact this had on the town’s economy, Angel tried to think of ways to save his beloved town. Angel figured out a possible solution. He and his friends and fellow business owners began a grassroots organization called ‘’The Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona’’. This organization began using the Barber Shop & Pool hall as it headquarters and got to work!
In November 1987, the organization accomplished a major goal when the state of Arizona renamed the original road route from Seligman to Kingman the ‘’Historic Route 66”. Eventually the original Route 66 highway from Kingman to California was also renamed “Historic Route 66”. As it stands, “Historic Route 66” is the longest remaining, uninterrupted stretch of Route 66 in the United States.
With the declaration of the “Historic Route 66” status in 1987, Seligman began a new era of rebirth as tourism began to return with community initiatives such as ‘’The Fun Run’’, an event that has become an annual beloved tradition. This event kicks off during the first weekend of May when around 800 classic cars begin driving 140 miles from Seligman to California along the longest stretch of the original Route 66.
With the initial success of the Historic Route 66 Association, many other states have followed suit in declaring and joining this historic route which has helped to rejuvenate and offer a lifeline for many other small principalities and towns along the route.
Today Route 66 is a major tourist and historic attraction for many local, countrywide, and international travelers and remains a significant part of America’s history and heritage. Today Seligman continues to be a major tourist destination with significant presence along the historic Route 66. Angel’s Barbershop and Pool Hall became a museum and gift shop, a testament to the Historic Route 66 organization that continues to preserve and offer tribute to America’s small-towns and life. Seligman continues to afford visitors a unique and nostalgic look into one of America’s beloved by-gone eras.