December 13, 2020

The Senator Highway

 There was a time when Senator Highway was being considered as being a part of the north-south territorial highway, connecting Prescott to Phoenix, but it would never make it.

The road was named after the Senator Mine and perhaps, the lesser known Senator Mill. The oldest section of the road was founded in 1866 and required a toll as part of the Prescott / Lynx Creek toll road. “The charge was $1.50 per wagon and fifty cents for a horse and rider.”

It wasn’t until 1875 that a road was cut to the Senator Mine. An 1876 newspaper article described the Senator as “a wagon road nearly to the Davis ranch and the Senator Mill.” By 1878,  Alexandra was reached making the road 32 miles long. “It was extended to Crown King over the next ten years.”

According to an oral history by Leslie Eckert, Indians from "near the Gila Reservation" came up to work on its construction. While employed, they would camp near the construction site.

As early as 1876 the road was considered a candidate to be the main roadway connecting Prescott to Phoenix. As the paper pointed out: It “would at once open a much needed highway to the Turkey Creek mines, Pine Flat, and northeastern Bradshaw including [the] Peck district.”

Indeed, “originally [it was] planned under Territorial Engineer [Jim] Girand as the north and south highway of the territory and left uncompleted.” Girarand’s route, if constructed today, would still be the shortest at 94 miles to downtown Phoenix.

The Senator was used by stage coaches and had a station called the “Rock House” three miles south of Prescott. Leslie Eckert also talked of a saloon, but it’s unclear if it was the Rock House. It was owned by a “fellow who had a wooden leg…Mike Herman,” he said. Pete Macklin then purchased it. “The road went right by his door, and he had a bar in there…They had a card table there where they could gamble a little, and play a little pool or other games.” 

In order to gain a time frame, it should be noted that Herman had his leg amputated May 1891, and he moved away for about a year in 1903. Pete Macklin died when he was fatally injured moving a 4 ton boiler November 25, 1917. However, Macklin had already closed the bar after a reroute of the road “went a mile above his place,” Eckert related. “He finally didn’t have many customers, [and] he shut the saloon down.”


Highway 79: the Prescott to Jerome "Shortline"

The early history and construction of what is Arizona State Route 89A today. It was originally known as Arizona Highway 79: The Prescott to Jerome "Shortline."

In 1891, money was subscribed to extend the Senator to the Tiger and the Crowned King mines creating a toll road. Once Crown King was reached, the road truly became a 19th-century highway. People of all sorts would travel this route to and from Prescott including businessmen, bankers, miners, freighters, actors, preachers, and various scallawags. 

Where Walker Road terminates at Senator Highway, two mining roads were also cut from the same spot. The intersection would be named “Five Corners” and it would be the site of occasional traffic jams.

Sign at Five Corners
However, the Senator Highway was gaining a reputation of being accident prone; particularly on a few narrow, blind curves. The Arizona Republican reported that one of their hired livery men was seriously injured one night: “The darkness concealed many of the sharp turns in the roadway, even from the view of the horses. And the carriage went over a small embankment, seriously injuring [the driver] whose leg was broken in two places. The horses [dragged] the carriage about 300 yards; one horse was killed. The place where the accident occurred will be known to many by a great boulder of chimney rock which stands above the road near a sharp turn around the point of the hill 2 miles south of Prescott. The Senator road is one of our most picturesque drives by daylight or moonlight, but a bad place in the dark.”

Another costly accident occurred when a “wagon was tipped over and the machinery, among which was a large fly wheel, fell down the hillside. There were eight spokes in the fly wheel, and six were broken out in its descent down the mountain, utterly ruining the costly piece of iron.”

The advent of the automobile only made the situation worse as many cars “went turtle,” flipping over and injuring or killing the occupants of the vehicle.

In the years surrounding 1920, the state grappled with decisions on which roads should become the main arteries deserving pavement. It was felt that there were three possible routes to connect Prescott and Phoenix. Running east to west these were: Black Canyon Highway, the Senator Highway, and the White Spar road. The Senator was referred to as the “Middle Line” or (in order to advertise its picturesque beauty,) the “Pine Line.”

Many considered the Senator to be the sentimental favorite—the ‘old road’ as one pioneer described it, but there were several disadvantages to it. Its curviness kept travel speeds lower, made it more dangerous, and it was more expensive to complete. Additionally, snowplowing would be costlier. Even though the state legislature once did approve the completion of the Senator Highway to Phoenix, Governor and Prescott native Tom Campbell vetoed it.

Although it was a state route for a short time, it was soon given to the county to maintain. However, portions of the Senator Highway ran through the Prescott National Forest and in 1922 the US Forest Service spent $30,000 to improve the road from “Venezia to Hooper. The county [had] been working on the stretch from Hopper to Crown King,” the paper reported. 

During the early days of the auto, “this driveway [was] popular with summer visitors,” the paper stated, “owing to the high and picturesque elevations traversed, and the only complaint heard is over the narrow road bed and several curves making it dangerous for either hauling or motoring unless extreme care is exercised.”

Over the years the road has been improved, realigned, and made safer. It is still a beautiful and picturesque trip for the leisurely driver.

ALSO ENJOY: The Adventures of Prescott's First Motorcycle Club

Early history and races of the Yavapai County Motorcycle Club founded in Prescott in 1911.


An index of all the Prescott, AZ History articles involving historic buildings, infrastructure and other structures in Yavapai County, Arizona.


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Weekly Arizona Miner, 1/14/1876; Pg. 1, Col. 3.

Sharlot Hall Museum Archives: Oral History: Leslie Eckert, 2/9/1993; Pgs. 5-6.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 6/17/1908; Pg. 8, Col. 6.

Arizona Republican, 1/17/1903; Pg. 7, Col. 3.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 9/9/1891; Pg. 3, Col. 8.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/16/1921; Pg. 5, Col. 2.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/16/1921; Pg. 3, Cols. 2-3.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 1/4/1922; Pg. 5, Cols. 6-7.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/26/1919; Pg. 3, Col. 7.

1 comment:

  1. I've been trying to figure out the entire route from Prescott to Phoenix for a long time. I want to retrace the steps of our pioneers.

    Where does the original route go south of Crown King?

    Your story mentions the turkey creek mines so It likely followed the turkey creek 4x4 trail from Cleator?

    Great story!