Santa Fe Railroad Entertainment 1914-1916 Williams,Arizona

3 Sep

                 The early Arizona roads were rough. One of the folks I interviewed (in 1988) in Cornville recalled how their family traveled by horse and buggy to Jerome to buy groceries only a couple times per year. No GPS to take along for a ride to the grocery store in those days, instead they packed picks and dynamite in the wagon to repair the roads. 

                Williams, where Elsie taught after Cornville, was much more developed.  The Santa Fe railroad line went directly through Williams. The town had several grocery stores. The Fray Marcos Hotel and the Harvey House restaurant were popular places with the Williams teachers in 1914-1916. Both of these were connected to the Santa Fe Railroad.

                While doing research about the Santa Fe railroad the part I found most interesting was a service provided by the railroad that has now disappeared. Most of the small railroad towns had little entertainment. One article I read said that for every grocery store there were half a dozen saloons in most RR towns. In 1914, Williams had far more saloons (eight) than grocery stores (two). The railroad did not want their personnel operating trains after a night (or day) in a saloon, so the railroad took on the task of providing diversions for its employees. By 1915 The Santa Fe RR had developed 25 reading rooms along the line.  But taking it a step further the Santa Fe offered free travel to performers who would provide a night’s entertainment in the Santa Fe RR towns.  Sometimes it was simply a Shakespearean actor but other times they would have a traveling orchestra complete with harp, violins, cello, drums and a piano. Free travel offered to entertainers drew performers from across Europe, Canada and the U.S.A.

                 The seating was reserved first for Santa Fe employees and then open to the public. Elsie frequently attended these free Santa Fe events. It appears it was not a poor financial choice for the railroad.  Elsie often wrote that after the free Santa Fe the teachers stayed to have supper at the Harvey House Restaurant that was operated by the railroad.

                Several times Elsie described these concerts or entertainments as, “not much good” or “poor Santa Fe tonight.” But at other times she described them as excellent.  The orchestras occasionally stayed to perform for a local dance. Something has been lost with the demise of travel by rail.

5 Responses to “Santa Fe Railroad Entertainment 1914-1916 Williams,Arizona”

  1. Donna Simms September 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    Since my grandparents and Elsie lived in the same era, and both in AZ, your writing fascinates me. Plus, we’ve driven through Williams and Jerome, so I can relate even further.

  2. Hanna-lea Finkbeiner September 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm #


    I’m reading with growing interest about Elsie and her adventures. I can’t wait the book to be ready.
    I’m originally from Finland but living currently in the Caribbean. Again this story about the railway struck me, how much the life has changed in 100 years. Our grandparents couldn’t just forget to by eggs or flour if they went shopping twice a year. Or just to have dynamite in your shopping bag, hard to image. Nothing to say about the number of shops against pubs. I’m not even sure if that has changed too much, unfortunately. All the best Barbara, good work!

  3. Phyllis Strubhar September 5, 2011 at 1:57 am #

    Since I’ve been going through my mother’s history (1896-1964) & knowing she lived at the same time, it makes it doubly interesting. I’ve got her album with pictures out of that era.

  4. Vicki September 6, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Love reading your stories of Elsie’s adventures – and yes, times have truly changed! I love hearing of a life minus most of our “time-saving, modern conveniences.” People seemed to enjoy the simple pleasures of life so much more back then. Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s stories, Barb. I look forward to reading the book when it’s published. It was so good to see you in Antigua this summer and look at some of your pictures and talk with you about the book.

  5. Shirley Lee September 14, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    My brother-in law and sister-in-law lived in Cornville in the 90’s .. He pastored a small church there. We visited, and I’m sure it wasn’t as primitive as listed here!

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