Route 66 is known as the “Mother Road” and “America’s Main Street.” To many it represents the heart of American culture. In the beginning, Route 66 helped Seligman to prosper. In the end, Seligman helped Route 66 stay alive.
Originally Seligman, in Yavapai County, Arizona, was called Prescott Junction because it was a railroad stop on the mainline with the feeder line running to Prescott. The feeder line from Prescott Junction to Prescott proved inefficient and was soon replaced by a line running from Ash Fork to Prescott.
Since the name no longer fit the mainline stop, the name of Seligman was bestowed upon the budding town.
In the 1850s, pioneers like businessman Francois Xavier Aubrey and surveyor Lt. “Ned” Beale, through trial and error, forged the best travel route through Northern Arizona. Wagons first began moving out west on that trail, then the railroad tracks were laid along that same path, and eventually paved thoroughfares like Route 66 and Interstate 40 followed the same course. Seligman is one of the many towns that popped up along this well-traveled route.
Just an interesting note, this is the same Lt. Beale who surveyed the Mojave Road. The Mojave Road, also known as Old Government Road formerly the Mohave Trail is a historic route and present day dirt road across what is now the Mojave National Preserve in the Mojave Desert.
This rough road stretched 147 miles from Beale’s Crossing (the river crossing site on the west bank of the Colorado River, opposite old Fort Mohave, roughly 10 miles southwest of Bullhead City, Arizona), to Fork of the Road location along the north bank of the Mojave River where the old Mojave Road split off from the route of the Old Spanish Trail/Mormon Road.
Jesse Seligman was an American banker and philanthropist; born at Baiersdorf, Bavaria, Aug. 11, 1827; died at Coronado Beach, Cal., April 23, 1894. He followed his brothers to the United States in 1841, and established himself at Clinton, Alabama.
In 1848 he removed with his brothers to Watertown, N. Y., and thence, with his brother Leopold, went to San Francisco in the autumn of 1850, where he became a member of the Vigilance Committee, as well as of the Howard Fire Company.
He remained in California till 1857, when he joined his brother in establishing a banking business in New York. With his brother Joseph he helped to found the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in 1859, and was connected with it till his death. At the time of his death he was a trustee of the Baron de Hirsch Fund.
He was a member of the Union League Club, of which he was vice-president, and from which he resigned in 1893 when the club for racial reasons refused to admit to membership his son Theodore. He was head of the American Syndicate formed to place in the United States the shares of the Panama Canal.
In 1886, Seligman, Arizona, was named after Jesse Seligman, one of the founders of J.W. Seligman Co. of New York, who helped finance the railroad lines of the area. There is also a Seligman, Missouri, named after the eldest Seligman brother of the company, Joseph.
J. & W. Seligman & Co., founded in 1864, was a prominent U.S. investment bank c.1860s–1920s until the divestiture of its investment banking arm in the aftermath of the Glass-Steagall Act. The firm was involved in the financing of several major U.S. railroads in the 1870s and the construction of the Panama Canal in the early 1900s. Seligman was also involved in the formation of Standard Oil and General Motors.
Although the Civil War would delay track construction for years, in 1866 the Atlantic Pacific Railroad obtained the right to build along the 35th parallel from Albuquerque to California. The St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, which owned the majority of Atlantic Pacific stock made an agreement with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, also known as “Santa Fe”, to build the railroad through Arizona.
The Seligman family was also instrumental in providing financial support to the government in Washington, D.C. Working diligently with others, the firm helped to establish a pension for President Abraham Lincoln’s widow, which was awarded to her in 1870 by the US senate. It was an early precursor to the retirement plan services later offered by the firm.
And in 1874, President Grant named Seligman fiscal agent for the US Navy — an appointment that would last through World War I. That’s a heck of a long run.
Construction of railroad lines did not start in Arizona until the 1880s and presented problems due to rocky ground, large washes, and lack of water and workers. But through much hard work by many laborers, the railroad through Arizona reached Flagstaff by 1881, the location of the future sight of Seligman (known as Mint Valley at the time) by 1882, and the Colorado River in August of 1883.
In his agreement with Yavapai County in May 1886, Tom Bullock agreed to a $1000/a mile penalty if the railroad line was not completed by midnight December 31, 1886. After overcoming one obstacle after another the last spike was driven five minutes before the midnight deadline. The railroad line, named the Prescott and Arizona Central (P. & A.C.), finally connected Prescott to the goods and traveling opportunities on the mainline.
The eight Seligman brothers produced 36 sons, but only Issac Newton Seligman, Joseph’s second son, assumed a leadership, becoming head of J.W. Seligman Co. in 1894.
The town of Seligman embraced Route 66 wholeheartedly upon its arrival in the late 1920s. In the late 1970s Seligman was bypassed by Interstate 40, and the Santa Fe Railroad ceased its operations in the town in 1985. Many old towns with similar histories have faded away once they were bypassed, but not nostalgic Seligman.
During World War II, the residents of Seligman watched the convoys of military trucks, jeeps, and cannons pass through on Route 66. The trains during the war carried troops not travelers. The Havasu became one of many official mess hall stops for the constant transportation of the military.
The restaurant could not provide the quality that it once did but made up for it in quantity. All available Seligman residents were needed to work at the Harvey House to feed the troops during this busy time.
After the war, in much more prosperous years, more mobile Americans started touring the country in their cars. The residents of Seligman began to develop new businesses and services for travelers. Motels, restaurants, gas stations, and automobile service stations occupied the town and hummed with business.
By 1966, there were so many cars driving through Seligman that the State of Arizona decided that the two lane road was not sufficient to handle the traffic and Route 66 was widened to 4 lanes within the business district of Seligman. This was no easy feat since most of the Seligman businesses were built right on the road. Most businesses had to remove parts of their buildings to make room for the extra lane of traffic on their side of the street.
Seligman had come to rely on the traffic and business Route 66 brought to town. But that traffic stopped on September 22, 1978. It was on this date that Interstate 40 opened just a couple miles south of Seligman, replacing U.S. Highway 66 as the main thoroughfare between Ash Fork and Kingman, completely bypassing Seligman.
Seligman gained its name Birthplace of Historic 66 in 1987 due to the efforts of Seligman residents, most notably Angel Delgadillo, who convinced the State of Arizona to dedicate Route 66 a historic highway. Visiting Seligman is a glimpse into its glory days and it remains a popular tourist attraction on Route 66. This is not just a stop along the way; it’s a destination onto itself.
86 years young Angel Delgadillo is the small town barber responsible for the rebirth of Route 66. He has been called The Mayor of Route 66, The Guardian Angel of Route 66, The Godfather of Route 66, The Father of the Mother Road, and many other endearing terms.
In recent years Seligman saw the destruction of one of its treasured historic buildings, the Havasu Harvey House. Now more than ever community members, as well as the many people who enjoy traveling through the historic Route 66 town, need to work together to preserve historic buildings and artifacts. It was named “Havasu” after the native Havasupai tribe of the area.
Seligman is now, again, a frequent stop for visitors from all over the country and the world. After all, Seligman still lies in the middle of the best travel route in Northern Arizona just as it did over 130 years ago when it was just a railroad stop called Prescott Junction.