Published March/ April 2011

A Walk Back in Time

Choose from five historic walking tours in Arizona

BYJackie Dishner
I felt like I was on a treasure hunt the first time I did it. With fold-out guide in hand, my boyfriend and I spent an entire Saturday roaming around the downtown area looking for the bronze plaques. We walked up and down Whiskey Row, in and out of open buildings, down concrete steps into a path along Granite Creek, and then across Courthouse Square to see the Victorian homes and learn about who once lived there. We agreed not to stop till we’d found everything on the list – 34 historic stops, each one revealing a piece of Arizona’s past and what happened in the early years of the state’s first territorial capital.
 
It turned out to be an inexpensive (free, save for the cost of the walking tour map) and fun opportunity to gain a sense of place. Now, every time I visit a town that’s new to me — and if I have the time — I seek out the historic walking tour. If there’s a guide to buy, I buy it, and off I go in search of those bronze plaques.
 
The newcomer can get acquainted with an old town on these walks in several ways. Not only do the plaques (posted on sites and buildings listed on the National Historic Register) tell you a bit about the place, but the walking guides (some with pictures so you can be sure you’re standing on the right spot) also share more detail. Such a walk can lead you to the bed and breakfast you never knew existed but might like to try on your next visit. You’ll learn about the people who once roamed the streets before the streets were even paved — and where their ghostly spirits supposedly hang out. Some of the tours will surely challenge the directionally disadvantaged, as some of the maps on the printed guides aren’t as exact or as clear as you’d think they’d be. Still, to find your way despite the map is half the fun.
 
BONUS! You’re sure to pick up trivia you can use if you ever find a copy of Trivial Pursuit’s Arizona Edition (The last known copy I found of this game was located at the Red Setter Inn in Greer, now closed.). Nonetheless, if I’ve piqued your interest, here’s a list of five Arizona places, including Prescott, where you can take your own self-guided walk back in time.
 
1. Flagstaff
Plan for a half-day visit if you intend to take the walking tour in downtown Flagstaff. Use the guidebook available for purchase at the visitors center; it covers three-quarters of a mile, and you’ll learn a lot more, including how the city got its name. Hint: it has to do with patriotism.
 
Conveniently, the tours begin at the historic Santa Fe Train Depot on Route 66, now home to the city’s visitor center and a great place to buy souvenirs. The building, constructed in 1925 in the Revival Tudor style, houses historic exhibits, travel brochures, and a gift shop. It’s here where you’ll learn about the town’s logging, railroad and livestock past.

With 37 buildings on the tour, many of them are Victorian. Others were built in Art Deco, Renaissance Revival, Spanish and other styles of architecture that were popular between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Not to be missed: the sandstone-faced Weatherford Hotel. One of the oldest Victorian buildings in town, circa 1899, it was visited by many a celebrity. Be sure to watch for the Babbitt name. This Flagstaff family empire has been involved in many business enterprises (cattle ranching, retail and warehousing) and also politics. 
 
2. Scottsdale  
Founded by Army Chaplain Winfield Scott, Scottsdale started out as little more than a handful of dusty roads, farm fields and tent houses in 1888 — a far cry from the tourist town it is today. With the aid of the walking tour brochure, you can revisit six blocks of the past in an area called Old Town. If you venture out far enough, you’ll even see a few surviving trees from the olive groves the city’s founder planted long ago.

It’s best to begin the short walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse, now the historical society’s museum. Take time to explore a few exhibits inside, including several black and white photographs depicting the area before modern development took over. On your way out, grab the brochure. In about an hour’s time, you’ll have seen the site where seasonal migrant farmers who came from Mexico to pick cotton lived (right there at the mall), stepped inside a former bank (now the Rusty Spur Saloon), and maybe purchased a pair of cowboy boots at Saba’s (once the site of a drugstore). 

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Hassayampa Inn
Hassayampa Inn
Rusty Spur Saloon
Rusty Spur Saloon
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