1 - Babbitt, James E. “The Impassible Dream: John W. Weatherford’s San Francisco Mountain Boulevard.” Journal of Arizona History 47 (September 2006): 173–184.

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Progress Continues in Flagstaff

In the years following the opening of his hotel, John Weatherford prospered. He built an opera house, the Majestic. But a freak snowfall on Friday, December 31, 1915, dumped 5 feet of snow, flattening many buildings, including the Majestic. Undaunted, Weatherford decided to rebuild; the New Weatherford Opera House — known today as the Orpheum — opened its doors on August 31, 1916. By December, this venue hosted the first and only elephant to appear on stage in Flagstaff (or anywhere in Arizona, for that matter).

The old telephone exchange

Transcontinental telephone service reached Flagstaff in about 1910. To serve the telephone company, a small brick building with a three-bay façade of red Coconino sandstone was erected south of the Hotel Weatherford, becoming part of the Weatherford block.

San Francisco Mountain Boulevard

In 1916, following in the footsteps of Spencer Penrose, who had begun building a highway to the summit of Pikes Peak, John Weatherford obtained a permit for the San Francisco Mountain Boulevard. The Coconino Sun ran the headline:

“Will Bring Vast Empire to View by Road to San Francisco Peaks — J.W. Weatherford Secures Right of Way From Government to Build a Toll Road From Flagstaff to Peaks. Good for Thirty Years.”

His idea included a 5-acre concession at the top and a plan for “mounting a powerful telescope that will be able to bring six states into view — New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, and possibly a glimpse of Texas.”

“The projected route was beautiful but daunting. From a tollgate near Flagstaff’s municipal reservoir, the road was slated to proceed north past Arnold Spring (present day Aspen Spring) and Schultz Spring, climb a series of switchbacks to the saddle between Doyle and Fremont peaks. From this point, the road would enter the interior valley of the peaks, the inside flank of Fremont Peak, crossing Freemont Saddle, and beginning the steep ascent along the interior of Agassiz Peak. Finally it would follow the rocky spine leading to the top of Mount Humphreys.”1

Outdoor dining at the Weatherford
circa 1920s

By mid 1926, construction crews had completed 10.4 miles of steep narrow road — enough for Weatherford to stage a grand opening ceremony. At 9:30 on the morning of August 19, local drivers lined up on Leroux Street as Boy Scouts distributed souvenirs for the occasion. Some 170 automobiles made the trip to Fremont Saddle, where the Flagstaff IOOF lodge members served a picnic luncheon. Dr. Earl Slipher of Lowell Observatory set up a telescope that allowed sightseers to gaze over the Grand Canyon and into six different states.

Like the Pikes Peak project, the project eventually ran out of steam, and the entire venture was purchased by the U.S. government in 1942 for $15,500. The tollhouse is still there.

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A time of transition from frontier to civilization.

Bear Howard

People like Jefferson “Bear” Howard were hunting bear for a living while the new Lowell Observatory was attracting a few science types. Burt Mossman, who later became the first captain of the Arizona Rangers, was trying to subdue the outlaws and rustlers of the Hashknife outfit. Northern Arizona Normal School (NAU) opened its doors with “twenty-three students, one professor, and two copies of Webster’s International Dictionary bound in sheepskin.”  In the next few years, many famous — and perhaps infamous — people would pass through the doors of the Weatherford: Theodore Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst, and Thomas Moran among them.

And then there was Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones. In 1901, Jones was appointed by his friend Theodore Roosevelt as the first game warden of Yellowstone National Park. He was an ex–buffalo hunter turned buffalo conservationist. In 1906, Jones established a ranch and game preserve at House Rock Valley, at the north rim of Grand Canyon, where his efforts to maintain buffalo stock included crossbreeding them with cattle to produce “cattalo.” He also tried to “break bison to the harness” and use them to pull wagons, succeeding with a few animals. Jones was often pictured in a buckboard pulled by “Lucky Knight.” 

In 1907, on a fundraising tour in New York, Jones spoke of the West, the buffalo, the mountain lions… and adventure. Among the audience was a little-known dentist from Ohio — a fledgling writer and a newlywed who had spent his honeymoon at the Grand Canyon just the year before. His name was Zane Grey.

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Zane Grey discovers Canyon Country

Grey, intrigued by “the west” and moved by Jones’ lecture and experience of the Grand Canyon, wrangled a visit to Jones’ ranch. The 1-month horseback trek to the ranch certainly must have been an awakening for this green New York dentist. But on his first visit, he ended up helping Jones rope mountain lions, from which his Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon resulted. On his return to New York, Grey wrote about his experiences and Jones’ conversion to conservationism in his novel Last of the Plainsmen. Grey’s second trip out West visit to Jones in 1908 provided material for his first commercial success in 1910, The Heritage of the Desert, and the blockbuster classic that made him famous 2 years later, Riders of the Purple Sage. Grey went on to shape the archetypical American cowboy and the way the world would perceive the American West. It is a curious footnote that he was patterned after a conservationist.

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