Initially, the main line west was built from Chicago to Los Angeles and it passed through Williams, Arizona. The Railroad was originally built to
Initially, the main line west was built from Chicago to Los Angeles and it passed through Williams, Arizona. The Railroad was originally built to transport ore in the Wild West from the Anita mines, 45 miles north of Williams, in the late 1800s. Buckey O’Neill, sheriff of Yavapi County, mayor of Prescott, prospector, promoter and later one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, realized money could be made in the mines. He traveled east to gain the support and investment. O’Neill gained the support of Thomas Lombard from the investment firm of Lombard, Goode and Company in New York. Together they entered conversations with the Santa Fe Pacific Railroad.
To help gain the interest of the Santa Fe, O’Neill sent ore samples of gold saying he had mined the samples from the Grand Canyon. In the same letter, however, O’Neill also recognized the potential for tourism so he spoke to the natural beauty of the region and the canyon. O’Neill continued to flirt with the Santa Fe through the years seeking their investment. He also tried to get local investors, which he did, and in 1897 the Santa Fe and Grand Canyon Railroad Company was incorporated. Development of the tracks north from Williams began. O’Neill would not see its completion. He left to fight in the Spanish American War behind Colonel Theodore Roosevelt where he died in 1898.
All supplies used in the construction of Grand Canyon Village came to Northern Arizona aboard the train. The train also brought all water to the Grand Canyon until 1926. Supplies were not the only things carried in trains. Ranching and lumber were the primary industries of the early 1900s. Ranchers and lumberjacks contracted with the Grand Canyon Railway to transport their stock. The Railway shared the countryside with its neighbors forming a unique bond. Cowboys, lumberjacks and shepherds alike felt a little better and closer to civilization just being able to hear the train or see its lights off in the distance.
Grand Canyon Railway stopped service to Grand Canyon in 1968 after ridership declined due to the rise in popularity of automobile travel. The Interstate highway system had been completed and people fell in love with “the road trip.” The train had been a source of regional pride, a symbol of man’s spirit of conquest and a sense of harmony with nature. Interstate highways were built paralleling the railroad, and silently replaced virgin landscapes privileged only to the train with billboards and gas stations.
The Railway was reopened for passenger service on September 17, 1989, by entrepreneurs Max and Thelma Biegert—88 years to the day of the first passenger train to the Grand Canyon. “Bringing the Grand Canyon line back to life really came down to the eleventh hour,” explained then Williams Marshal John Moore. “As Grand Canyon Railway was working on getting the final paper-work complete, a corporation which made a failed attempt to restore the Grand Canyon line, had begun tearing it up for salvage materials. If it hadn’t been for Grand Canyon Railway, train service to the Grand Canyon would have been permanently lost.”