The Railroad Giveth and the Railroad Taketh Away: The Santa Fe Railway, Route 66, and the Development of Seligman, Arizona, 1910 - 1985

Daniel Milowski, Arizona State University

National highway transportation infrastructure factored heavily into the development of American communities during the twentieth century. Seligman, Arizona is an example of a community located along a U.S. federal highway – U.S. Route 66. The town of Seligman was created by the Santa Fe railroad as a service stop and switchyard. At its founding it had little connection by road. It later became a community linked to others by an auto-trail, The National Old Trails Road, and then by a paved federal highway. Through much of the post-war period, Seligman was a thriving travel center hosting both significant Santa Fe railroad operations and a robust auto-traveler service industry. In the early 1980s, however, the community experienced a rapid period of decline. Looking at the time period from 1910 to 1985, this research project examines what caused this dramatic transformation. The paper argues that just as the building of railroad operations birthed Seligman, the dismantling of railroad operations in the town delivered a death blow to its economy. Although the diversion of highway travelers off of Route 66 and away from town by the I-40 bypass hurt local businesses, it was the loss of railroad workers’ local spending that put Seligman’s economy in decline. Then, in order to survive as a community, the Seligman Chamber of Commerce mythologized Route 66 travel into a “never was” version of original federal highway travel where “getting there was half the fun” to create Route 66 nostalgia tourism bringing tourists to the town. This argument is discussed within a larger context of the environmental history of the area, the community's remote location, the social history of the community, and the concept of the “engineered” West.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 190. Environmental site selection in America