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Ash Fork Local History

Ash Fork, Arizona, has been a thorough way for humans since early man roamed the North American continent. Throughout the region there is evidence of primitive civilizations. Pottery shards, arrowheads, and pictorial writings on rock have been found in abundance in the area around Ash Fork.

Spanish conquistadors came close to this area as they searched for the “Golden City” in the late 1500’s. Fur trappers and traders passed through Ash Fork on their way from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. Around this same time, Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves and Lt. Amiel W. Whipple, United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, began to survey the 35th Parallel for a proposed railroad.

Beale Trail

Because of its strategic location, this area would continue to attract people’s attention. After the Mexican-American War in 1848, Congress sent a number of expeditions to the Southwest to explore the area. With the information provided by these expeditions, Congress commissioned the southwest’s first federally funded interstate road to be built through the heart of the new lands to California in 1857.

Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a retired Navy Lieutenant, brought twenty-two camels (from the Middle East) loaded with supplies and tools for himself and his crew of 50 men. Although these animals were very effective as packing heavy loads across the dry, rocky landscape, they did not meet with positive acceptance from the muleskinners who saw the animals as “foul-smelling, evil tempered , and ugly.” These beasts trudged across northern Arizona as Beale and his crew cleared a 10-foot wide track and pushed the rocks to the side to allow wagons to travel on the track.

In the end, this road provided a serviceable route (1,240 miles) for immigrants and stockmen from Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to the Colorado River for $210,000 until the construction of the Atlantic and Pacific (Santa Fe) Railroad in 1883. It is interesting to note that the Santa Fe Railroad, Route 66, and Interstate 40 all, more or less, follow the Beale Road which affirms Beale’s ability as a “pathfinder” and the value of the route he pioneered.

Visitors can retrace Beale’s steps north of Ash Fork near Russel’s Tank as they linger over a picnic lunch. Russel’s Tank was a popular stop for pioneers along the Beale Road because of its cool, clear water and plentiful wildlife.

Santa Fe Railroad

Railroad workers posing on a locamotive

The Civil War had delayed the transcontinental railroad across northern Arizona for several years. When construction began in 1881, towns began to sprout up along the Atlantic and Pacific (Santa Fe) line.

In 1881, construction began on the transcontinental railroad across Northern Arizona. Building a railroad across this region of deep canyons, rugged deserts, and rocky plateaus was no easy task. Marshall Trimble, Arizona State Historian, once wrote that the railroad went ahead and built the line anyway, with switchbacks and lazy loops and more kinks than a cheap lariat.

In 1882, Ash Fork was founded with the arrival of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. The original stage depot and town site was located near Ash Creek (named for the Ash Trees in the area) where three southerly flowing forks of Ash Creek came together. Soon the town was referred to as Ash Fork.

In the beginning, most of these towns had little in the way of law and order. There were over 350 saloons along 200 miles of track. During Ash Fork’s chaotic time, the town organized a vigilance committee to get rid of malicious and contemptible people via hanging from the limb of an ash tree.

The railroad also brought the Fred Harvey restaurant, Escalante, to Ash Fork in 1907.

Escalante Hotel Escalante Hotel
Escalante Hotel
Indian Gift Shop with Authentic Indian Crafts
Escalante Hotel Escalante Hotel
Indian Gift Shop with Authentic Indian Crafts
Indian Gift Shop with Authentic Indian Crafts
Escalante Hotel Escalante Hotel
Lunch Counter in Escalante Dinning Room
Lunch Counter in Escalante Dinning Room

When the Santa Fe Railroad moved its main line north and away from the town in 1960, Ash Fork lost nearly half its population after railway business declined substantially, causing most families employed by the railway industry to leave the area.

Flagstone Capital of the World

Another business spearheaded from the railroad industry was the stone industry. Flagstone was quarried for the railroad to build bridges and private industry began shipping stone for public buildings, churches and office buildings.

Ash Fork has proclaimed itself "The Flagstone Capital of the World", due to the large number of stone quarries and stone yards in and around the town.

Route 66

Ash Fork Main Street

The longest original, uninterrupted stretch of Route 66 still in existence, approximately 92 miles long, can be found between Ash Fork, Arizona, and Kingman, Arizona, beginning just beyond Ash Fork at Crookton Road. This stretch of the route runs parallel to the Santa Fe roadbed.

US Route 66 provided a slight boost to the town's economy in the 1950's, but construction of the divided highway through the town resulted in the destruction of many of the storefronts, sidewalks and residential streets, and forever altered the aesthetic qualities of the downtown area.

Part of what was once Route 66 still runs directly through Ash Fork, serving as a main thoroughfare now known as Park Avenue, along which the community's post office is located. A few historic buildings and some old railroad company houses can be seen along this road.