Back in the 1870s there were but a handful of pioneers in the Flagstaff area. The 1880 Official Territory of Arizona map titled this area "Antelope Spring" and "San Francisco Spring" instead of Flagstaff. The principal industries were sheep herding and cattle ranching.
But the early 1880s brought changes to the area. News that the Atlantic and Pacific (‘A&P’) Railroad was surveying its future route through this area lured new entrepreneurs to the Northland. In 1881, John Young — son of Brigham Young — secured a contract to cut railroad ties and provide grading services for the A&P Railroad bed. In August of 1882, Edward Ayer of Chicago founded the Ayer Lumber Company just two weeks before the A&P’s tracks reached town. His mill soon employed between 150 and 250 men, and was capable of processing 100,000 board feet per day.
The A&P Railroad inspired one other visionary: Colonel James Eddy. The Colonel proposed building another railroad: the Arizona Mineral Belt (‘AMB’) Railroad. This new line would extend south to the mining towns of Globe and Jerome. He persuaded some that the line could go as far south as Mexico and north to the Utah Central Railroad, which would create a continuous line from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest.
Colonel James Ward Eddy was born May 30, 1832 in New York, where he taught school, studied law, and was admitted to the Bar in Chicago in 1855. Practicing law in Batavia, Illinois, Eddy became a friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln. When the Civil War began, he enlisted in the Union Army and served under Gen. James H. Lane. In 1866, Col. Eddy was elected to the Illinois state legislature, and in 1870 to the Illinois state senate, before looking farther west, hoping to make his fortune.
The Colonel originally planned to begin his railroad in Winslow, but settled on Flagstaff instead. He was able to get the A&P to commit to financing the project, and soon announced that he had raised nearly $1 million to start construction of the line.
The largest concern was how to handle the Mogollon Rim, which typically drops 2,000 feet in elevation within two miles. The Colonel decided an inclined tunnel could overcome this obstacle if it was excavated near present-day Payson. Work on the tunnel began in 1883, prior to any grading or track being laid. But the funds committed by the A&P ran out after a mere 70 feet of the planned 3,100-foot tunnel had been completed and work was stopped.
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The following years brought only more uncertainty with no progress made on the railroad. As the Arizona Champion wrote on Sept. 4, 1886:
The “Mineral belt” has at last commenced operations at Flagstaff. Not the Mineral Belt you Mean but the “Mineral Belt” Saloon, opened last Monday night on Railroad Ave., by “Sandy Donahue” [sic].
At last work began again on the AMB (the railroad, not the saloon): the Arizona Champion on Christmas Day of 1886 wrote, “The first ground for the Mineral Belt railroad was broke [sic] today, about three hundred yards from the Champion office.”
In 1887, the A&P once again committed funding for the Colonel's railroad. Roughly 35 miles of track were completed, running southeast from Flagstaff, through Clark Valley (today’s Upper and Lower Lake Mary), along Mormon Lake, and ending at the Fulton Station, just south of Mormon Lake. Unfortunately, the Colonel made a poor business decision at this point: he sold $100,000 worth of AMB stock to a Chicago businessman, causing the A&P to withdraw their funding again. Newspaper references claimed that work on the track would resume as late as December of 1887, but that never materialized.
On Dec. 4, 1888 Yavapai County auctioned off the AMB in Prescott. Denis Riordan, Frank Foster and Francis Hinckley offered $40,440 and were the winning bidder. Thus ended the Mineral Belt Railroad and the Colonel's vision. Stay tuned though for more to come about the successor: the Central Arizona Railroad!
The Colonel wasn’t entirely finished, though. In 1901, he successfully financed the Angels Flight funicular railroad, better known as the Los Angeles Incline Railway. This incline, still used today, is on the National Register of Historic Places.