Taking a look at Winslow, Arizona: Railroad town is rich in heritage

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Mar 08, 2023

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4 min.

Taking a look at Winslow, Arizona: Railroad town is rich in heritage

Driving through Winslow, Arizona, you may have the urge to belt out the iconic line from the Eagles signature song Take It Easy, written by Jackson Browne: "Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see." 

Winslow, now a crew change point on BNSF’s critical Southern Transcon route, is located along former Route 66 (now Interstate 40), just a few miles from the Little Colorado River and about 50 miles southeast of Flagstaff. It's jam-packed with railroad history. 

In the 1880s, the railroad became Winslow's primary source of income when it was established as a stop on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. The town was named in honor of Edward Winslow, president of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (the Frisco), which was part owner of the Atlantic and Pacific along with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF or Santa Fe).  

Winslow’s southwestern charm is still visible at its local museums and historic buildings. For example, you can find one of the last Harvey Houses still operating as a hotel, La Posada. It's not just a hotel, it's a piece of American history. 

The Harvey Houses were a famous chain of hotels and restaurants built along railroad lines in the West in the late 1800s. Fred Harvey designed the Harvey Houses to be a place where weary railroad passengers could eat and rest while trains stopped on a long journey.

"The Fred Harvey Company built La Posada in 1930 and all other Harvey Houses to bring nice service and food to remote areas along the Santa Fe Railway. Most stops along the route were remote and still very much a part of the Old West," Kristi Ulibarri, the hotel’s general manager, said. "The Harvey House proved a nice place to stop, relax, get first-class food and service." 

The Harvey Girls were a group of women who worked at Fred Harvey's restaurants, hotels and other businesses along the Santa Fe route. The exceptional customer service provided by the Harvey Girls was an integral part of their brand.  

"Harvey Girls were young women looking to make their own money and pay their own way. Once they were hired to work for Fred Harvey, they would work and live in Harvey Houses," Ulibarri said. 

Although the Fred Harvey Company has passed into history, La Posada is still in business. "Today, we are a fully restored hotel with an excellent restaurant and bar, The Turquoise Room, with extensive gardens and even a museum," Ulibarri said. 

Fred Harvey changed the way travelers crossed the Southwest. Meanwhile, the railroad brought growth and new opportunities to the people of Winslow, as its economy was based upon transportation, tourism, manufacturing and trade.  

In 1897, the Santa Fe purchased the Atlantic and Pacific's Western Division. With the takeover of this line Winslow became a major stop on one of America's most important rail lines. 

Today, BNSF still plays a significant role in the economy of Arizona and Winslow. 

BNSF Terminal Manager Bo Barton is from Winslow and built his career there. He has witnessed how the city has evolved over the years, but one thing that hasn't changed is its commitment to providing an excellent transportation experience. 

"We’re a crew-change point, which means that the majority of our train crews get on a train here and take it to Phoenix or Belen, New Mexico, or Needles, California. Then we work back the opposite directions," Barton said. 

Terminal Superintendent John Sutphin added, "The bulk of our trains in Arizona are carrying all kinds of freight – agriculture, intermodal, merchandise and some coal – and all of those train pass through Winslow." 

If you’re interested in travel, trains, culture or history, Winslow has it all. Visit Winslow and take a look through the years at the area’s history, and you’ll see BNSF looking back at you. 

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