Highway 80 designated as historic route

This article appeared in the Bisbee Observer’s Sept. 27 issue.

To read some of the history of the route, click here

Highway 80 running through Arizona has been designated as a historic highway, bringing the hope of boosting tourism in Cochise County and Bisbee, as a similar designation of Route 66 has done for northern Arizona.

The Arizona Transportation Board approved the designation at its meeting Sept. 21, after some eight years of work spearheaded by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation.

Highway 80 — once called the “Broadway of America” — is the nation’s southernmost coast-to-coast road, running from Savannah, Georgia to San Diego. It crosses Cochise County, from Rodeo, N.M. to Douglas to Bisbee to Tombstone to Benson, and before the completion of Interstate 10 was the main route through southern Arizona.

Main Street Bisbee 1940

Main Street in 1940 was part of a coast-to-coast highway that carried local, business and tourism traffic, as well as semis hauling the nation’s commerce. Nevertheless, there was still parking on the south side of the street. (Photo from the Library of Congress.)

The road goes on through Tucson, on to the Phoenix area, and then west to Yuma. U.S. 80 was commissioned in 1926, but parts of the road date to much earlier under other names. The route over the Divide, for example, was built in 1913-14, and was originally part of the Bancroft Highway. But by 1989, all of the road in Arizona had been removed from the federal system.

The historic designation is only the beginning of a process that will require the cooperation of stakeholders all along the route, said Demion Clinco, CEO of the Tucson foundation, who did much of the work to get the recognition.

Marketing the route must be done statewide, he said. Smaller cities, such as Bisbee, actually will benefit more than the larger ones, though Tucson is already moving ahead on work that will be enhanced by the designation, such as revitalization of the Miracle Mile area, once a part of Highway 80.

The Tucson group, which has spent $150,000 and untold volunteer hours on the project, will now build a website framework to which each stakeholder can contribute. In the months to come, Clinco said, an organization will be created to plan how the designation can be used.

Now Bisbee must act

Technically, the state designated only the parts of the former Highway 80 over which it has jurisdiction. Cities and counties will need intergovernmental agreements to bring their parts of the route into the plan.

Bisbee Mayor David Smith said this city began working on its part about two weeks ago. After the creation of the bypass and the Mule Pass tunnel in the late 1950s, the abandoned part of the federal/state highway was turned over to the city. Today it is the Main Street/Tombstone Canyon corridor. In addition, the part of the route which came in from Saginaw also is in the city, as Old Douglas Road and Erie Street through Lowell. Similarly, the route from West Boulevard over the mountain, called Old Divide Road, is in the hands of the county, which also will have to create an IGA.

Road by Shady Dell

Shady Dell, today a major attraction and lodging establishment for Bisbee, was once a pull-through and
residential trailer park. It was successful, in no small part, because of its location just feet away from
U.S. 80, today Old Douglas Road. (Photo by Gary Dillard.)

“I am positive about it,” Smith said. “The success that Route 66 brought is an indicator of what it can bring to us.”
That’s one reason that Tucson has worked so hard on creating the designation, which took so
long in part because the state agencies involved hadn’t done anything like it for decades. Clinco said
many studies have been done on the impact of Route 66 and have demonstrated the value to local

It’s not just a slam dunk, however, said Steve Pauken, city manager of Winslow, which is along
Route 66 and has gained fame as a place to be “Standin’ on the Corner.” The highway designation is
just “one of several components” to creating a better tourism business.

Getting benefits requires work

He has been manager in Winslow for five years, where he went after a similar job in Bisbee, and
in that time, the community has seen a “growing club” of Route 66 afficianados. But while they like to
come to the city, both because of its location on the “Mother Road,” and because of the classic Eagles
tune, the community has had to develop “a reason to keep them here.”

Historic signage

California and Texas already have designated Highway 80 as a historic route. In California, that means
it can get its “U.S.” back. The sign is the standard brown used in relation to historic places.

In recent years, Winslow has developed more restaurants, an art gallery, a park and more. The
city is currently at work on redeveloping downtown and creating a Route 66 Plaza behind the area
which houses the Standin’ on the Corner statue, which will include a stage for performances.

Winslow’s issue was almost the opposite of what he sees in Bisbee: lots of traffic, but little
reason to stay. Bisbee has plenty of attractions, but what bedeviled him when he was here was that he
“couldn’t figure out how to get people to go from Tombstone to Bisbee.” The historic designation
should help with that, he said.


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