Flagstaff History



     Flagstaff is the quintessential Western frontier town, vibrant with the history of those who passed through, and those who stayed to settle.

     In the 1850s, Captain Sitgreaves identified this area as an excellent passageway to California, given the moderate climate, availability of water, and good grazing lands for pack animals.  Edward Beale later led the construction of the wagon road across the country that brought thousands through our area en route to California and the West Coast.

     Flagstaff began in the early 1880s as a small railroad camp located on the side of Mars Hill.  The original Old Town burned down in 1884, forcing the relocation of the business district to what is now the intersection of San Francisco Street and Route 66, the very heart of Historic Downtown Flagstaff.

     In the early days of its existence, Flagstaff was a typical Western town, with wild saloons, gambling and dance halls, and brothels.  As the railroad moved west, some of the workers settled here, finding employment in the booming lumber industry which too advantage of the tall stands of old-growth Ponderosa pine around Flagstaff.  The Riordan family bought Flagstaff's first lumber mill, and by 1910, Flagstaff was becoming one of the major lumber producers in the United


States.  Aside from dominating the lumber trade until 1933, the Riordans were also responsible for bringing culture and refinement to Flagstaff.  In the early years, a separate community sprang up around the Riordan lumber operation known as Mill Town.  Today the most dominant reminder of this integral piece of local history is S. Milton Road, which marks the area once known as Mill Town.

     Tourism has long been a part of our local history as Flagstaff is the gateway to Grand Canyon National Park.  Hotels such as the Weatherford and the Commercial Hotel soon sprang up in the vicinity of the train station.  From 1892 to 1900, the route of the Grand Canyon stage coaches took passengers directly up Leroux Street on a journey which took approximately twelve hours.

     Today, tourism is still a mainstay of the Flagstaff economy, and Flagstaff itself has become an international destination for travelers from around the world.  Not only is the alpine scenery and the majesty of the towering San Francisco Peaks beautiful to behold, but the town has managed to hold on to and preserve its past.  Many of the old original buildings are not only still intact, but beautifully restored and now occupied by fine stores, restaurants and galleries for you to explore.  Flagstaff also has superb cultural offerings such as a symphony orchestra and theatre productions throughout the year on the campus of NAU, as well as various other venues around town.



Looking South on San Francisco Street, 2007.


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