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Ash Fork, Arizona, located in Yavapai County on Route 66, is a small town known as the Flagstone Capital of the World.

Ash Fork got its start when the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, later known as the Santa Fe Railroad, pushed through in October 1882. Originally established as only a railroad siding, it was named by F.W. Smith, General Superintendent of the railroad, for the many ash trees growing on the townsite.

However, long before the railroad arrived, the area had been roamed by Native Americans, as evidenced by numerous pottery shards and arrowheads found in the area, as well as pictorial writings on rock. The Spanish, in their search for the elusive Seven Cities of Cibola, came near the area in the late 1500s.

Ashfork Arizona

Ash Fork Arizona

Though this “primitive” terrain had been crossed since the early 1800s by fur trappers and traders on their way from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Angeles, California, the trails were in poor condition and the region was known to be wild, unexplored, and dangerous. From 1857 to 1860 Lieutenant Edward F. Beale, a crew of 100 men, and 22 camels built the first federal highway in the southwest — the Beale Wagon Road. Later highways, including Route 66, would be paved across portions of this historic trail.

The same year that the railroad arrived — 1882, a man named Thomas Cooper Lewis opened the town’s first business. In April 1883, Ash Fork gained its own post office, with Henry W. Kline serving as the first Postmaster and two years later, Wells Fargo opened an office. The arrival of the railroad also opened up the area to cattle and sheep ranching. The railroad also spearheaded the stone industry. Local flagstone was soon quarried for the railroad to build bridges and private industry began shipping stone for public buildings, churches, and office buildings.

Ash Fork Escalente Hotel

Ash Fork Escalante Hotel

During its earliest days, Ash Fork, like many railroad towns across the region, was mostly called home to railroaders and cowboys, in a time where there was no “official” law and order. With so many rowdy men, chaos reigned supreme and as a result, several citizens in the small settlement organized a vigilance committee to get rid of them. Several are said to have been hanged from an Ash Tree.

Unfortunately, in 1893 the entire town of Ash Fork burned to the ground. However, it was soon rebuilt on the other side of railroad tracks, where it continues to stand today. The stone industry remained profitable, the stones of which were used to rebuild much of town. Before long, citizens proclaimed the town as the “Flagstone Capital of the World.”

As the railroad became more popular, the Fred Harvey Escalante Hotel was built in 1907. Opening on March 1, 1907, it was built of steel and concrete in the Mission Style of Spanish architecture. The large hotel and restaurant were 420′ X 200′ and cost about $115,000. On the ground floor, it featured a lunchroom fitted with a circular counter, complete with the ever popular Harvey Girls. It also sported a large curio shop, newsstand/reading room, and a barber shop.

The site of the Escalante Hotel in Ash Fork, Arizona by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

The site of the Escalante Hotel in Ash Fork, Arizona by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

When Route 66 came through, the Fred Harvey Escalante Hotel and restaurant catered to both highway and railroad travelers. The new highway also brought a boost to the town’s economy; but, later, when the Mother Road received an upgrade to a divided highway, it resulted in the destruction of many of the storefronts, sidewalks, and residential streets.

As automobile travel increased, the beautiful Escalante Hotel closed down in 1948. Not many years later, in 1960, the Santa Fe Railroad moved its main line north and away from Ash Fork, resulting in the town losing nearly half its population. Another large fire, known locally as the “Big Fire,” devastated the community on November 20, 1977, destroying most of the downtown businesses.

At the same time, I-40 was being built, which closely followed Route 66, with the exception of the stretch between Ash Fork and Kingman, where Route 66 took a more northerly, less direct route. Bypassing the community, it was yet another blow to the local economy, which has never fully recovered. Unfortunately, it was during this time that the historic Escalante Hotel was demolished.

Ash Fork-DeSotos

Situated in the first Texaco station in Arizona, this structure on Lewis Avenue in Ash Fork now houses DeSoto’s Beauty & Barber Shop. The old Chrysler DeSoto, perched atop the building, dates back to the early 1960s.

Today; however, the small population continues, supported by five flagstone yards, ranching, mining, and a new generation of Route 66 travelers. The Mother Road through Ash Fork continues to serve as a main thoroughfare through town, now known as Park Avenue. A few historic buildings and some old railroad company houses can be seen along this old portion of the pavement.

This historic community features the Ash Fork Route 66 Museum, located at 901 W. Old Route 66, which displays not only Route 66 memorabilia but, more exhibits and information on area history. There are also several photo opportunities to be found at Desoto’s Beauty Barber and Gift Shop, located at 314 West Lewis Avenue, the Oasis Lounge at 424 Park Avenue, and the Ranch House Cafe at 111 W Park Avenue. This small town is called home to about 450 people today.

Beyond Ash Fork, the longest stretch of unbroken Route 66 highway begins at Crookston Road. This historic pavement is approximately 92 miles long, meandering parallel to the Santa Fe Railroad bed. This old alignment provides numerous peeks of vintage Route 66 and is steeped in Native American, mining, and Old West. history.

Oasis Lounge in Ash Fork, Arizona by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Oasis Lounge in Ash Fork, Arizona by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Ash Fork is located about 17 miles west of Williams, Arizona, and has a population of about 450 people today.Geography[edit]

Ash Fork is located at 35°13′16″N 112°29′14″W (35.221236, -112.487100).[4]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 2.3 square miles (6.0 km2), all of it land.

Geologic places of interest include the Cathedral Caves which are approximately 10 miles (16 km) west of town off Arizona Road, and Dante's Descent, a 275-foot (84 m) deep sinkhole also known as "Devil's Hole", which is approximately five miles northwest of Ash Fork, off of Crookton Road. Unfortunately, after closure by the state, Dante's Descent cannot legally be visited by the public. Pictorial and historic documentation of the natural attraction may be found at the Ash Fork Library.

Ash Fork lies in close proximity to Kaibab National Forest and Coconino National Forest, and international attractions such as the Grand Canyon are approximately an hour's drive away using major roads. Service roads allow swifter access to back areas of Grand Canyon National Park, but may not be open to public thoroughfare.

Approximately 15 miles (24 km) to the north of Ash Fork is Beale Road, which has the distinction of being the first federally funded highway. The internationally renowned U.S. Route 66 also runs directly through the town. Notably, the longest original, uninterrupted stretch of Route 66 still in existence (approximately 9.6 miles (15.4 km) long) can be found between Ash Fork, Arizona, and Seligman, Arizona, beginning just beyond Ash Fork at Crookton Road. The surrounding geographical area and settlements served as inspiration for the 2006 Pixar film Cars.[5]

History[edit]

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.[6] The title of "Flagstone Capital of the World," however, was bestowed upon Ash Fork by the Ash Fork Development Association and Ash Fork Historical Society. The title was officially bestowed upon the town in 2014 by the Arizona House of Representatives with the passage of H.R. 2001.[7]

The community was established as a siding of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, later known as the Santa Fe Railroad, in October 1882. It was purportedly named in 1883 by F.W. Smith, General Superintendent of the railroad, in reference to a thicket ash trees at the site.[6] The first official post office was established on April 12, 1883, with one Henry W. Kline serving as the first Postmaster.[8] Following an uncontrollable fire in 1885, the entire town of Ash Fork burned to the ground in 1893, and was rebuilt on the opposite side of the railroad tracks from its original location, where it remains today.

In later years, Ash Fork was the location of the Escalante, a large hotel and "Harvey House" built in 1907 and closed in 1948, operated by the Fred Harvey Company. Ash Fork's convenient location along the railway and later famous U.S. Route 66 made it recognizable to many cross-country travelers, as evidenced by its fleeting mention in several films from the era of Classical Hollywood cinema such as 1947's Dark Passage, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

U.S. Route 66 provided a slight boost to the town's economy in the 1950s, but construction of the divided highway through the town resulted in the destruction of many of the storefronts, sidewalks, and residential streets, forever altering the aesthetic qualities of the downtown area.[6] When the Santa Fe Railroad moved its main line north and away from the town in 1960, Ash Fork lost nearly half its population, as most families employed by the railway were forced to leave the area.[6]

Another large fire, known locally as the "Big Fire", devastated the community on November 20, 1977, destroying most of the downtown businesses. When I-40 bypassed the town soon after, drastically reducing traffic on U.S. Route 66, the local economy never fully recovered. The community's last major fire occurred on October 7, 1987, destroying nearly all the remaining buildings along the two block business district located on the south side of Route 66.[6]

Part of what was once Route 66 still runs directly through Ash Fork, though as a divided highway, with Park Avenue running east and Lewis Avenue running west, both serving as a main thoroughfare. Historic buildings, including a false front structure and old railroad company houses can be seen along these streets. The majority of the town's limited commercial establishments, including the Oasis Lounge and the Ranch House Cafe, can be found along Park Avenue. The Ash Fork Post Office is also located on this street.[9]

Certain areas of the town were selected to be used as sets in the filming of 1992's Universal Soldier, supposedly due to the extremely low purchase price and poor condition of several buildings, including an old motel, which were blown up for cinematic effect.[6]

Demographics[edit]

Historical population

Census

Pop.



1910

517



1920

571

10.4%

1930

894

56.6%

2000

457



2010

396

−13.3%

U.S. Decennial Census[10]

Ash Fork (or Ashfork) first appeared on the 1910 U.S. Census as an unincorporated village with 517 residents, the 4th largest community in Yavapai County (behind Prescott, Jerome and Humboldt).[11] Although it did not report a separate population for the village, it did report as the Ash Fork precinct in 1920[12] and 1930 (reporting a majority White population in the latter).[13] With the combination of all county precincts into 3 districts in 1940, it did not formally appear again until 2000, when it was made a census-designated place (CDP).

As of the census[14] of 2000, there were 457 people, 149 households, and 109 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 199.1 people per square mile (76.7/km²). There were 189 housing units at an average density of 82.3 per square mile (31.7/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 96.28% White, 1.31% Native American, 1.53% from other races, and 0.88% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 51.42% of the population.

There were 149 households out of which 35.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.4% were married couples living together, 6.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.2% were non-families. 22.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.07 and the average family size was 3.45.

In the CDP, the population was spread out with 28.7% under the age of 18, 13.6% from 18 to 24, 25.2% from 25 to 44, 21.4% from 45 to 64, and 11.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 161.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 143.3 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $30,893, and the median income for a family was $36,875. Males had a median income of $23,854 versus $21,094 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $11,802. About 16.5% of families and 20.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.1% of those under age 18 and 18.4% of those age 65 or over.

The numerous flagstone quarries and companies are often cited as the largest employers in the area, as is the local school district, to which most teachers commute from nearby cities.

Historic Ash Fork and Route 66[edit]



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