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Visiting the Arizona Historical Society's Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff

Arizona has its own beauty. With local cacti and a mix of desert, high desert, pine forest and mountains, it's truly splendid.

Typical period living room

Typical period living room

Flagstaff Stays Cool and Fresh in Summer

One of the loveliest things about Arizona is that you can travel a relatively short while and encounter all sorts of interesting historical sites. This is an especially welcome characteristic when summer hits and you feel like a brief jaunt to the north for a respite from the heat in Phoenix (116 degrees, anyone?). Of all the fun places in northern Arizona, however, Flagstaff is one of my favorites and has many things to do.

1928 Baldwin steam engine

1928 Baldwin steam engine

Trains and Pine Cones

Having visited the Museum of Northern Arizona, and noting the pine cones on the side of the road, which in themselves can make one feel cooler, I noticed a beautiful locomotive. We were heading east from the MNA and took a quick left turn off Highway 180 into The Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff, Arizona.

This wonderful museum was a complete surprise and even had a locomotive—a 1928 Baldwin steam engine and Santa Fe CE-2 caboose (ATSF Cupola Caboose). While taking in all that is this wonderful steam engine, I heard a squeal of tires. A gentleman drove into the parking lot quickly and started taking photos of the train. Soon he began a conversation, and it turns out that he travels the United States photographing old trains: cars, locomotives, and cabooses. He showed me other photos in his digital camera from elsewhere in the west. This is when I realized how radical some people are about their locomotives.

Entrance to The Arizona Historical Society Pioneer Museum of Flagstaff, Arizona

Entrance to The Arizona Historical Society Pioneer Museum of Flagstaff, Arizona

This statuesque building was built to provide health care to the poor - a number of tuberculosis patients resided here.

This statuesque building was built to provide health care to the poor - a number of tuberculosis patients resided here.

Volcanic Rock Building With a Legacy

There are two floors of exhibits in a fine-looking classical building and examples of pioneer cabins, farm machinery, logging machinery, pioneer-era medical equipment, historical costume, and implements used for daily life. In addition, there are Route 66 memorabilia in many of the rooms.

The Historical Society of Arizona Preserves Pioneer Legacy

Folks originally moved to the Flagstaff area to support the railroad. The building of the Flagstaff railroad through town and on to California was a big operation, and as is often the case, retail business also popped up to cater to the needs of workers. Ranching, farming, and logging then attracted even more pioneers.

My first view of the stately building housing the museum included an element of surprise. From a distance, I thought it was built from granite. Big stone block walls rose high—what a job to bring in all that granite! I found out that the building was built in 1908 as a county hospital, the Coconino County Hospital for the Indigent. It was built from pumiceous dacite (also referred to sometimes as tuffa or tuff), a rock brought in from a nearby volcano that erupted hundreds of thousands of years earlier. This volcanic area contains a volcano mountain range known as the San Francisco Peaks.

As you walk into the museum you are greeted by a volunteer on the left who gives you an idea of the layout of the place. These folks are also well versed in the local history. There are two floors. The ground floor has a gift shop and a pioneer-era display of medical equipment. After all, this was a hospital for the indigent until 1938. Each room has been kept as it was. At the top of each room are the labels for the room's original purposes. You can look at a display in the surgery. You can view photographs in an examination room. It's quite a bit of fun.

Climbing to the second floor, you will encounter all manner of past history: old cash registers, rugs, home setups, and all kinds of other exhibits. There is also a pioneer kids room, a family-oriented participative exhibit.

The museum also boasts exhibits outside on their three-acre facility. Buildings are featured which are examples of what was common in the Arizona Territory. Of the more than 10,000 items displayed at the museum, many are featured outside. All of these antiques are collected with the intent of helping the tourist appreciate the pioneer days of Northern Arizona. Standing on a portion of track along Highway 180 is the steam locomotive mentioned earlier which was donated by the Southwest Lumber Company in 1960. A flat car loaded with big tree logs and then a bright red caboose, #999-455, follow the black locomotive.

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The Arizona Historical Society Pioneer Museum, a grand tribute to the pioneers of Arizona's past, stands next to a very modern elementary school. The juxtaposition of these two facilities is refreshing. In my opinion, it is one of the most interesting history museums in Arizona. Of the many tourist sites in Arizona, this may not be the best known, but is certainly worth not missing.

For me, the ability to roam inside the museum and then wander out to see real-life exhibits was to my extreme liking. If you enjoy taking photographs, as I do, you won't want to miss this museum.

The longtime residents of Flagstaff may have referred to the original building as the "poor farm", but it is anything but a poor farm today; it's a very rich farm! And, don't forget, there are many things to do near Flagstaff, AZ.

The Particulars as of 2018

Open Days/Hours November 1, 2017 through April 30, 2018

Monday – Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Closed on Sundays and holidays.

Open Days/Hours May 1, 2018 through May 26, 2018
Monday – Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed on Sundays.

Open Days/Hours May 27, 2018 through September 3, 2018
(Memorial Day weekend – Labor Day weekend)
Monday – Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Open Days/Hours September 4, 2018 through October 31, 2018
Monday – Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed on Sundays and most state holidays.

Open Days/Hours November 1, 2018 through April 30, 2019
Monday – Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Closed on Sundays and holidays.

General Admission:
Adults: $6.00
Ages 65+: $5.00
Adult Students with I.D.: $5.00
Ages 7 – 17: $3.00
Ages 6 and under: Free
AHS Members: Free
Two-for-one admission the first Tuesday of each month.

Visit the museum's for more details.

© 2012 John R Wilsdon

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