Take a Route 66 Pit Stop through History

Kingman has always been a major pit stop on Route 66 and now Interstate 40. The Arizona town bills itself “the heart of Route 66” and is a hub for top travel destinations. Los Angeles is to the west. South to Phoenix. The Grand Canyon is east. Routes north go to Laughlin, Lake Mead, Boulder Dam and Las Vegas. The army surveyed a route west in 1857 and a parallel railroad followed in the 1880s. The town is named after railroad surveyor Lewis Kingman. That trail was eventually designated U.S. Highway 66 in 1926.

Visitors interested in Kingman should begin at the Powerhouse Visitors Center which is home to the chamber of commerce and visitor information. The Powerhouse is a large converted power station that began operation in 1909 and served as the area’s primary power source for the next 29 years. The Route 66 Museum is also housed on the premises and joins the Mohave Museum of History and Arts and the Bonelli House as Kingman’s principle attractions. A combo admission ticket for all three venues can be purchased at the Powerhouse.

The Route 66 Museum chronicles the history of the famed mother road from its origins as the Beale Wagon Road in 1858 to the National Old Trails Road and finally Route 66 which now exists in the downtown of cities and towns and crumbling stretches of open road. Photographs document the development from a muddy dirt road to hard surface. Driving was perilous in those early years and the task of laying pavement and constructing bridges was arduous. There is the requisite memorabilia such as vintage Phillips 66 gas pump and Shell and Texaco signs. A similarity exists in the growing number of Route 66 museums. Besides the usual signs and pumps, gas station/garage and roadside diner exhibits are always evident not to mention a dust bowl car. This museum is best enjoyed by Route 66 enthusiasts.

The Mohave Museum of History and Art typically covers the area from the Indians forward and features a hodgepodge of artifacts and photographs. Indians were first on the scene and represented by the usual assortment of arrowheads, blankets, jewelry, tools, dolls and bowls. The first wave of settlers were ranchers and miners. Displayed are ranch brands, saddles and barbed wire and mining exhibit has tools, wagons and ore samples. All sorts of odds and ends turn back the clock like a 1900 pulley wheel, guns, household objects, clothes, cash register, cameras and typewriters. There is a collection of turquoise figurines carved in Europe.

Kingman has a favorite son in Andy Devine, the rotund character actor with the distinctive voice who appeared in countless movies particularly westerns. He was best known as “Jingles” on the “Wild Bill Hickok” radio and television series. Devine grew up in Kingman where his father owned the Hotel Beale on Route 66. The hotel still stands but is closed. The museum has an exhibit devoted to Devine and filled with items donated by his family. There are his Jingles rawhide coat and set chair (built wide to accommodate his frame!) and the saddle he rode for years in the Rose Parade. You see his 1911 school photos.

George Bonelli was a prominent local businessman and his preserved two-story colonial style home is open for touring. His son Joseph sold the house with furnishings intact to the city so most everything visitors see is original. It is as if time stood still. Built in 1915 after the first Bonelli home burnt down, the house is constructed of local tufa stone with thick walls to insulate against extreme summer heat and winter cold. Both stories feature porches circling the house. A large chimney dominates the living room. The kitchen has a big ornate wood burning stove. There is a lookout tower where the Bonelli children would watch for their father coming home. Typical of Victorian style are small rooms and narrow stairs. The home is packed with antiques. Visitors will get a feel of what passed for affluence in a small hot Arizona desert town.