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A Brief History of Kingman

In October 1857, Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale and his experimental Camel Corps trudged across the present site of Kingman, Arizona surveying a wagon road along the 35th parallel.

After the first travelers encountered hostile Indians in the area, Fort Mojave was established on the Colorado River. Off-duty soldiers scouted the hills and found gold and silver.

Mining camps sprang up in the years to come and in the early 1870's cattle were driven in to take advantage of the lush grasses.

Located in a natural basin, surrounded by basaltic hills it is ironic that Kingman was not established as a mining town but as a railroad town.
In 1880, Lewis Kingman surveyed along the Atlantic and Pacific right of way between Needles and Albuquerque. By 1883 the track was completed.

The first reference found of Kingman is from the Alta Arizona, a newspaper published in Mineral Park. The issue of 10 June 1882 states, "There is a new town on the tapis at or near Beale Springs."

In October 1882, the Alta Arizona refers to the sampling works at Kingman, also saying that Middleton is to be hereafter named Kingman, where in November 1882, a rooming house, stores and other buildings were going up.

Conrad Shenfield, contractor for the track laying for the railroad, was an entrepreneur of sorts, obtaining land at various locations along the route of the railroad. He established and sold lots in Kingman before clear title of the land was obtained. It appears that Shenfield ran afoul of the law and some finagling went on. The town site location was not railroad land, but belonged to the United States.

The town of Kingman, located on the railroad, grew rapidly in the first few years. More growth was encouraged by the move of the Mohave County Miner in 1886 to Kingman. The Miner was originally established at Mineral Park in 1882.

The story told by old timers is that in the dark of night, a group of Kingmanites stole all the county records from the Mineral Park courthouse and moved them to a temporary courthouse in Kingman. Mineral Park shouted "thieves" but a county election that had been held in November of 1886 had legally given Kingman the county seat.

By 1888 most of the original town site lots had been sold. On the north side of the Santa Fe line, on Front Street, now called Andy Devine Avenue, the business district grew, while the south side, South Front Street, now called Topeka Street, became Kingman's best district for homes.

Kingman sustained a steady growth through the late 1880's and 1890's. In 1890 the population was 300 and in 1900 it was about 500. There is evidence of a building boom around the turn of the century. Despite a major economic depression in 1893 when the price of silver fell from $1.29 to $.78 oz., the comparative increase in the value of gold, plus the cyanization separations process introduced into Arizona in 1895 resulted in an influx of miners and promoters. The discovery, in May 1900 of Gold Road, a rich gold strike in the Black Mountains, helped to make Kingman a center for the mining activities of the county.

Kingman was lively and bursting at its seams in the first decade of the new century. The Fourth of July was the big event of the year, complete with Indians, orators, dances, a rodeo and the drilling contest, a test of skill and strength so dear to the miners. Circuses and wild west shows played to enthusiastic audiences, and the Mohave County Miner interrupted its devotion to mining articles to call for the building of more hotels and to castigate the county for its lousy roads.

At the end of the First World War mining was still not operating at peak production and Kingman was feeling a pinch. In 1919 there were seven garages, three meat markets, two drug stores, two churches, a Western Union, two lumber yards, a picture show and numerous hotels and saloons. Kingman's one industry was the Yucca Fiber Factory which made rope from the yucca plant. In an effort to promote the area, Kingman produced numerous brochures touting the excellent climate and healthful area. This was also the are of the National Old Trails Highway and an increasing flow of automobile traffic.

The location of Kingman's first airport, Port Kingman, was selected by Charles Lindberg as part of the Transcontinental Air Transport system.  Both Lindberg and Amelia Earhart were present at the dedication on June 8, 1929.  What is currently Airway Ave was the major runway (1/2 mile North of I-40) and it extended to Airfield Ave (1/2 mile south of I-40). The original terminal, currently occupied by Brown Drilling, was accessed by Bank Street. The Mohave County Fairgrounds occupies the most southwestern region of the original site. Port Kingman was not only Kingman's first airport, but it was also the first commercial airport in the State of Arizona. 

Kingman had the advantage of being located on the railroad and on U.S. Route 66. The next few years saw the revival of the mines, good roads and excitement over the coming of Boulder Dam (now the Hoover Dam). The building of Boulder Dam and the Boulder Dam Highway (now Hwy 93 and future Interstate 11), had a major impact on the growth of the area. In the 1930's through the 50's, Kingman was known as the Gateway to Boulder Dam (Hoover Dam).

During World War II the U.S. military established the Kingman Army Air Field as a training base and it forever altered Kingman’s course.  Completed in 1942, this base is where 36,000 gunners were trained, and when the war ended many of the soldiers who were stationed in Kingman returned to call Kingman their home. Kingman Army Air Field is the site of the present Kingman Aiport Industrial Park.

The 1950's and 1960's were the heyday of Route 66, and fueled the Kingman economy with a continuous flow of vacationers, business travelers and transportation.  In August 1980, Interstate 40 opened in Kingman, bypassing Route 66. Town leaders said the alignment showed off Kingman's best assets.

Kingman and the surrounding area have a population of about 45,000. Kingman has a highly rated hospital, several medical facilities and major shopping areas.

Three school systems offer both traditional and on-line learning environments and include the Kingman Unified School District #20, Kingman Academy of Learning and the Kingman Blended Learning Center operated by Arizona Virtual Academy, a K-12 affiliate.  Post-secondary education is provided by Mohave Community College and the Kingman Extended Campus of Northern Arizona University.

Kingman is a site for industry with the Kingman Airport Industrial Park and the I-40 Industrial Corridor just west of Kingman.

Recreational opportunities include golf courses, parks, hiking/biking and OHV trail systems. Fourteen miles southeast of Kingman is beautiful Hualapai Mountain Park, operated by Mohave County.  At an elevation of 6,700 feet, this cool oasis has cabins, RV parks, camp grounds, picnicking, hiking and hosts several special events through-out the year.

The Kingman area has numerous area attractions including wineries, a wildlife park and unique small communities such as Oatman, Chloride and Meadview. 

Mohave County also boasts 1,000 miles of shoreline on the Colorado River including Lakes Mead, Havasu and Mohave. These areas provide fishing, boating, swimming and water sports.

Andy Devine was born on October 7, 1905 in Flagstaff, Arizona.  Tom, Andy’s Father, worked for the railroad.  When he lost a leg in a terrible accident in 1906, he used the settlement to purchase the Beale Hotel in Kingman, where Andy spent the rest of his childhood.  A successful and community-minded businessman, Tom Devine was a member of the Good Roads Association and helped pave the way for the National Old Trails Highway which became Route 66.
Amy (Ward) Devine, Andy's mother, was also community-minded as well as educated; in fact she tutored the children of Nevada’s Governor prior to her married life.
Andy was a mischievous youngster.  On one occasion, Andy and a friend were offered fifty cents to rid a judge of a feral cat humanely.  The two boys humane plan involved the cat, dynamite and a long fuse.  They wrapped the cat, lit the fuse and let it go.  Cat, dynamite, fuse and all frantically chased after the two before finally running under a woodshed.  Boom!  
On another occasion, Andy nailed clients’ satchels to the floor at Hotel Beale.  Among the clientele were salesmen who parked their satchels by the front door while waiting for the train.  Andy shouted "Train's a leavin'!" and the salesmen came with a dash, grabbing and ripping apart their satchels which were firmly nailed to the floor. 
Will Rogers introduced Andy to Dorothy House while filming a John Ford  film, Doctor Bull, in 1933. Will kidded Andy about robbing the cradle because Dorothy was 19 and Andy 28 when they married later that year.  They had five children (3 boys, 2 girls) and kept family life separate from the Hollywood scene.
Andy Devine began his acting career as an extra by chance while standing on a street corner in Hollywood.  His first pictures were silent films in the 1920's.  Then talkies arrived and at first seemed to mark the end for Andy’s acting days with his squeaky dual-toned voice, the result of a child-hood accident.  As story has it,  Andy fell while jumping or running with a curtain rod in his mouth, which severely damaged his throat.  Andy once said "I've got the same nodes as Bing Crosby, but his are in tune."  Instead, his voice proved to be a signature asset that launched a successful run of sidekick and comic relief roles in film, stage, radio and television.  At one point his voice was insured by Lloyds of London for a half-a-million dollars.
Stagecoach (1939), Andy’s first A-movie in which he played the stage driver, boosted his career and brought him a lifelong friendship with John Wayne.  Other notable appearances included sidekick "Cookie" to Roy Rogers in ten films, A Star Is Born (1937), Island in the Sky (1953), Around The World in 80 Days (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Over The Hill Gang (1969). Andy appeared in over 400 films.
Devine was also successful on radio and television, most notably as Guy Madison’s sidekick ‘Jingles’ in Wild Bill Hickok.  Years later, Andy was about to board a plane when a bomb was reported.  Everyone’s luggage had to be inspected by an FBI agent before boarding.  When the agent came to Andy, he passed him through saying, "If you can’t trust Jingles, who can you trust?” – certainly not the kid with the dynamite and a long fuse!
Andy died of leukemia at 71 in 1977 and was buried in Corona Del Mar, CA.  Andy's funeral reduced John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart to tears.  Kingman renamed Route 66 “Andy Devine Avenue” and celebrates Andy Devine Days every September with a parade and PRCA Rodeo.
Karin Goudy, former curator of the Mohave Museum of History & Arts once wrote, “If we listen carefully on Andy Devine Days we may hear, above the hoopla and fanfare, a squeaky, raspy voice, saying, ‘I've got the best seat in the house’.”
Sources:; paper titled "Andy Devine" by Karin Goudy, written in 1986.


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