Why Are Downtown Flagstaff Buildings So Narrow – Original Town Site Plans
New Town Layout

Why are many of the downtown Flagstaff buildings so narrow and long? In this article we will discover the reason for this oddity as well as some of the naming history of the downtown area. Let’s get started.

The first train came through Flagstaff in 1882, and the first main depot was located less than a mile east of where the town had originally set up. Flagstaff in 1882 was located on the flank of what is now known as Mars Hill and so it was on a slope. A less than ideal location for a train to stop and start. The railroad decided that the larger, flatter open valley to the east would be a more ideal location, and with this decision made the railroad anticipated that more growth would follow on the surrounding land. To prepare for this growth, they hired Colonel T.S. Sedgwick to layout a plan for development.

Watch the YouTube Video

Sedgwick laid out the first few streets, the first plots of land for building and the corresponding alleyways.

  • Parallel to the railroad was Front Street.
  • The intersecting street on the east was called Gold Avenue.
  • San Francisco Street was established as the intersection to the east.
  • And Church avenue completed the block to the north.

Of course, only San Francisco Street retains its original name today which we will go into in just a minute.

Narrow, Long Buildings

The area bound by these streets was set with a layout of units that were 25’ wide by 134′ to 142′ deep with 16’ alleyways set up in the back. This layout can still be seen in many of the buildings on this square block. We can also thank this initial plan for the relatively narrow streets that run through downtown as well.

The Streets

San Francisco Street has always been called by the same name, but the other three streets now have different names than those given by Colonel Sedgwick. Gold Avenue is now known as Leroux Street. The former name was give because of the popularity of mining and prospecting in the early days, and the latter is an homage to the first American explorer to popularize the route along the 35th parallel. Church Avenue is now known as Aspen Avenue. The former name was given by the town’s founders because it was the location of the town’s very first church building.

Front Street is now known as Route 66, but it has had many other names. Over time, portions were known as:

  • The Beale Wagon Road
  • National Old Trails Highway
  • Railroad Avenue
  • Highway 66 or Route 66
  • Santa Fe Ave
  • Historic Route 66

Other Names From Around Town

The naming history of sites, roads, and neighborhoods from around town are so interesting to explore. Here are a couple more examples of name changes over time.

  • The town site up on Mars Hill was located at what was then known as Antelope or Antelope Valley and was home to Antelope Springs. Both of which were candidates for the name of Flagstaff in 1882!
  • Mars Hill has also been known Boot Hill and also Shultz Hill over the years.
  • After the center of town moved to the site of the new depot, the old neighborhood became known as both Old Town and the West End, and later La Plaza Vieja.
  • The new town center became known as New Town or the East End, and later Historic Downtown Flagstaff.
  • Just north of downtown was a neighborhood known as Nob Hill, which we can tell by its name housed many of the towns more prosperous residents.
  • The main housing area in the separate area Mill Town to the south and near the old mill was called Los Chantes, sort of like shanty town. It sat where the University Plaza Safeway complex is today.

Do you know a fun naming story from around Flagstaff? Let us know in the comments below.

Be sure to head on over to our YouTube Channel for fun videos on the history of Flagstaff and don’t forget to subscribe!

What to Read Next: Downtown Flagstaff Walking Tour – Stop #1