Welcome to stop #3 on our downtown Flagstaff walking tour! Today we are crossing Route 66 from the railroad to the explore the oldest building in downtown and it’s two almost equally as old neighbors, collectively called the Brannen Buildings. So let’s get started!
Need to read Stop #1 first? Start here.
The Brannen Buildings
The buildings located at 102, 104, and 106 E Rte 66 are known as the Brannen Buildings. There were three members in the Brannen family in early Flagstaff, and each one erected a building for his own purposes. The first two family members to come to town were Peter J. (P.J.) and his uncle Patrick B. (P.B.). They were Canadians that had originally come to Prescott as merchants, and when they heard of the opportunity the railroad would bring to northern Arizona they sold out and came to the new railroad camp in Flagstaff. They arrived in either late winter 1880 or early spring 1881, and opened a general store out of tent called Brannen & Co. P.J. especially rooted himself quickly in the community, but his cousin DJ arrived later and would ultimately have the most enduring impact on the community.
The Brannen’s Came To Town
In 1881, many of the residents of the railroad tent camp held a town meeting to choose a name for their settlement. Primarily, so they could establish a stop on the postal route and avoid the long trip to Prescott for their mail. It is said that at this meeting P.J. was the first to suggest Flagstaff as the town’s name and he also served as the first postmaster once the stop was set up. In addition to this major contribution, P.J. acted as the unofficial mayor before the town was incorporated and he was also instrumental in establishing the first school in Flagstaff in 1882. Many of you will recognize the name of the first teacher, Mrs. Eva Marshall.
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Flagstaff’s Oldest Building
When the railroad placed their depot near current day downtown Flagstaff, P.J. was the first resident to see the opportunity in this and he rebuilt his general store across the street from the new depot in 1883. Apparently P.J. saw the wisdom in spending just a bit more time and money to erect his new building using stone. The new building cost him around $10,000, which was a huge sum at the time, but it is still standing today as the oldest standing structure in downtown Flagstaff.
The buildings original stone facade is now covered in brick and the overall structure was changed in minor ways during remodeling in 1917 and 1927, but all in all the building still holds much of its original appeal. P.J. prospered as one of Flagstaff’s leading merchants until the panic of 1893 and in 1894 he sold out to the Babbitt’s and headed for California where he would spend the rest of his days.
The Neighboring Buildings
Next to P.J. Brannens store are two additional buildings erected by the early Flagstaff family. PJ’s uncle PB constructed the one directly next door and there doesn’t seem to be much available information on this structure. If you know all about please reach out! We’d love to hear the story.
The third structure was built in 1887 for PJ’s cousin Dr. Dennis J. Brannen, and as we briefly mentioned earlier his impact on the community would rival that of PJ. Dr. Brannen initially came to Flagstaff in 1882 as a surgeon for the railroad and the Ayer Lumber Company, and in 1887 he erected this building for his own private practice and drug store. Dr. Brannen was immensely devoted to his community and he continuously passed up on more prestigious opportunities over the years. He opted to stay in Flagstaff and he was known to travel near and far to ensure the health and well-being of the residents of the frontier and to offer free or discounted services where needed.
Doctor & Politician
In 1884, Flagstaff started a big push to create a new county in northern Arizona and Dr. Brannen was among those involved in this endeavor. He was elected to serve as assemblyman for the Arizona territory legislature where he would use his amicable nature and powers of persuasion to push the measure forward. The initial County formation bill would have named the area Frisco County, but it didn’t pass, missing just one vote. The next bill was organized by Matt Riordan and called for the creation of Coconino County and this new bill was successfully passed. Dr. Brannen continued to serve the residents of Flagstaff and beyond in many ways until his death in 1908.
The entire Brannen family was active in the early community of Flagstaff and it is fitting that these three buildings remain as a small reminder of their contributions.
Our next stop on the downtown tour will take us to Flagstaff’s rough and rowdy past as we head on over and explore the first building in Saloon Row, the Vail Building. If you’d like to be notified when the next stop is released be sure to head over to our YouTube channel hit the subscribe button and also to ring the bell.
Until next time keep exploring my friends, we’ll see you later!