Continued railroad investment and the development of national highway transportation infrastructure factored heavily into the development of American communities during the twentieth century. Seligman, Arizona, is one of these communities, located on a major railroad route (Santa Fe Railway) and a former U.S. federal highway (U.S. Route 66). The town of Seligman was created by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway as a service stop and switchyard. At its founding, few roads served the community. Seligman 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 postwar period, Seligman was a thriving travel center hosting significant Santa Fe Railway operations and a robust auto-traveler and tourist service industry. In the early 1980s, however, the community experienced a rapid decline. Looking at the period from 1910 to 1985 and examining what caused this dramatic transformation, this article argues that just as the construction of railroad operations birthed Seligman, the dismantling of railroad operations in the town delivered a death blow to its economy while benefiting larger communities like Barstow, California. Although the diversion of highway travelers off of Route 66 and away from town by the I-40 bypass hurt Seligman businesses, it was the loss of railroad workers’ local spending that put its economy in decline. This argument is discussed within the additional context of the social history of the community, the effects of infrastructure disinvestment on communities, and the limits of successor industries (like tourism) to support these communities.
The Railroad Giveth and the Railroad Taketh Away: The Santa Fe Railway, Route 66, and the Development of Seligman, Arizona, 1910–1985
Daniel Milowski received his PhD in history at Arizona State University in 2021. Previous graduate degrees include a master’s in journalism from the University of Oregon and a master’s in history from Arizona State. He has won numerous grants to support his research, including awards from the Grand Canyon Historical Society, Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, and Arizona State University. His dissertation, “Children of the Mother Road: Route 66, Regional Transformation, and Community Identity in Northwestern Arizona 1882–1989,” examines the role of transportation infrastructure in regional and community development in northwestern Arizona from 1882 to 1989.
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Daniel Milowski; The Railroad Giveth and the Railroad Taketh Away: The Santa Fe Railway, Route 66, and the Development of Seligman, Arizona, 1910–1985. California History 1 August 2021; 98 (3): 54–77. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2021.98.3.54
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