Historic Arizona city celebrates its rich past while looking ahead to a promising future
A clever marketing slogan designed to help describe and promote Kingman, Arizona, perfectly fits the flourishing little city’s steady renaissance. It reads, “Find Yourself in Kingman.”
It’s an apt double entendre. Kingman, which was originally founded in 1852 on the American continent’s 35th parallel, is once again a great place to find oneself—in both senses of that term. The town that once was little more than a tumbleweed-swept train stop between Phoenix and points north and west is now itself a renewed, thriving destination, with a host of attractions and pleasant diversions that are drawing greater numbers of travelers, convincing them to “stop and stay” instead of merely passing through.
Located at an ideal geographic crossroads between Arizona’s Route 93 and Interstate 40, Kingman has always had a reputation for mixing ample small-town charm with a rich dose of American western history. For one thing, the city straddles a piece of the iconic Route 66’s blacktop, and it has always been a welcome stop for motorists traversing that legendary highway.
Add to that Kingman’s impressive visual backdrop, the Hualapai Mountain range, which makes it easy to stay a while before moving on.
Like so many other southwestern boomtowns that sprang up in the mid-to-late 1800s, Kingman owes its origins to the inexorable railroad juggernaut of that period, a surging force in this country to expand ever westward. That transportation crusade provided an umbilical lifeline for settlers of the Kingman area. And so, officially, in 1880, Lewis Kingman appraised, surveyed and parceled out the land along the 35th parallel that would one day become a small, yet notable southwestern city bearing his name.
Today, Kingman still trades on its appealing location. Thanks to its roughly 3,200-feet elevation and low humidity, the city and its environs are a lure for those seeking a more moderate climate in which to pursue a variety of year-round activities, including hiking, biking, and water sports on the nearby Colorado River. Climbing up a bit higher into the neighboring Hualapai Mountains, outdoor adventurists can find even more challenging activities.
‘Welcome to Kingman!’
Nothing in Kingman captures the city’s newfound passion for linking its past and present more enthusiastically than the recently completed Kingman Arch. Twenty-five feet tall and 61 feet in length, the arch—emblazoned with the greeting “Welcome to Kingman, Arizona”—spans Kingman’s main drag, Beale Street, ushering in locals and visitors alike to the city’s newly burgeoning historic district.
The arch is strategically located adjacent to a city park with a 90-year-old steam locomotive, a reminder to all how important the railroad was to Kingman’s 19th century beginnings. But, just beyond the arch and the steam engine, downtown is thriving with a fresh, contemporary feel as shops and restaurants, boutiques and galleries are springing up to let everyone know that Kingman is firmly staking a claim in the 21st century.
Sarah Ferry, owner and operator of the Southwest Trading Company located on Beale Street, personifies the energized spirit of Kingman as it continues to find its essence as a community. Ferry’s shop is, in her words, a “shabby-chic southwester boutique,” selling art, jewelry and photography by local artists and an array of gifts and other curios, all with a local connection. Ferry, a Kingman native, purchased the shop just this year, and, already, she says she’s witnessing a new energy in the Beale Street shopping district.
“It began with a wine bar that opened downtown, a brewery, and then a coffee shop, and a couple of restaurants,” she says. “Every block you walk down now shows that the buildings have all had facelifts and new paint; it’s amazing how much is going on.”
One newly hatched event that Ferry points to as helping to spur the city’s renaissance is its monthly “First Friday” celebration.
“It’s organized by the downtown business owners and tries to be inclusive of the whole community,” Ferry explains. “It started out kind of small, but, as we discovered, the community was starving for just this type of event.”
Since its inception, the First Friday gala now partners with the city, which has seen its way to close down Beale Street on those evenings to encourage more foot traffic and celebration.
Rebranding on tap
Kingman’s retail resurgence is clearly linked to its increasing economic fortunes. Gary Kellogg, Planning & Economic Development Director for Kingman, says that, from an economic perspective, Kingman is definitely on the uptick. In addition to a comprehensive strategic plan to help continue the city’s recent growth, Kellogg says that Kingman has hired a consultant to aid in a major rebranding exercise.
“It’s time to look at what’s new and exciting, what we can change and see how we can rebrand our identity,” he says, adding that recent plans to locate state and interstate highway exchanges nearby Kingman will bring more traffic into the city, and, with that traffic, additional growth and development.
“One notable thing that’s happening is that an interchange off Interstate 11 is going to be located right here in Kingman,” Kellogg says. “When that project’s completed—sometime in 2020 or 2021, I believe—it’s going to a major interchange, tying the I-11 corridor into I-40, which goes right through the city.”
Also with an eye toward Kingman’s future, Kellogg says the city has converted part of a World War II-era airfield into an industrial park that houses a number of manufacturing facilities.
“We have steel product manufacturers, piping, electrical conduit, Styrofoam,” he explains. “But our local industry primarily revolves around the construction business. Because we’re located on the I-40 and we have the rail service here, we’re kind of the hub for supplying construction manufacturing products to the California market.”
With so many of Kingman’s moving parts all bent on a continuation of the city’s newly revived spirit of growth and redevelopment, its leaders recognize a real opportunity to combine and coordinate these efforts into a more consolidated force in Kingman’s behalf. Vice Mayor Jen Miles says a lot of different city groups are working together in that regard.
“Kingman has changed a lot over the past few years and it’s about to change even more,” she says. “We’re on the threshold of a lot of opportunity for growth. For one thing, we have a lively, up-and-coming downtown area with a number of merchants that I call ‘entrepreneurial pioneers.’ These are a very dedicated group of people who are banding together to make the sort of investments in their businesses that will encourage people—visitors and locals—to come down and have food and drink and all those good things.”
Miles emphasizes how much the city is embracing a cultural change as well. “The arts that are coming downtown—with Beale Street Theater and Metcalf Park, the train museum, and music and other events—it all adds up to Kingman just being a really thriving community that people are discovering is a great place to live and work and visit.”
By Bruce Farr
Photography by Mark Lipczynski