VERDE HERITAGE 1939: HIGHWAY 79 DEDICATION
Planning for the October 8 dedication of State Highway 79 and the W. W. Midgley Bridge began during January.
January 6: "Plans for the formal dedication of State Highway 79 between Prescott and Flagstaff, recognized by world travelers as one of the most scenic routes in the United States, were being formulated today following a meeting here [Prescott] yesterday afternoon of the directors of the Highway 79 Association."
"Dedication ceremonies, the date of which will be determined upon completion of the Wilson Canyon Bridge, now under construction, will be so arranged, the directors decided yesterday, as to focus nationwide attention on the highway and its Oak Creek Canyon road."
"In addition to a discussion of the proposed dedication, the directors, presided over by Major W. W. Midgley, of Flagstaff [formerly a Clarkdale resident], president of the 79 association, heard several reports about progress on construction and maintenance work now under way along various sections of the road."
"Robert E. Moore, chairman of the roads committee, reported that a survey party was working from Flagstaff to the top of the Oak Creek rim to ascertain what width of roadway will be necessary on the section."
"Talks were made by C. F. Van Court and Sharkey Quigley, of the state highway department. The project will require, according to Van Court, a 4 inch stabilizer and a 3 inch oil cake and will probably cost from $100,000 to $115,000. The contract should be ready by May first, he said."
"Contract for construction of the road from a point 1.3 miles south of Wilson Canyon to 2.3 miles north of Wilson Canyon is now 12 percent complete according to a report from G. L. McLane, highway engineer, submitted to the meeting by Secretary Grace Sparkes. The contractor is making progress and probably will complete the work within the time limit, by June 30."
"Charles R. Kuzell, of Clarkdale, vice president of the association, was prevailed upon by the unanimous request of all present to continue as general chairman of the dedication to be held."
"That Oak Creek Canyon and the entire route of State Highway 79 from Flagstaff to Prescott possesses scenic attractions unsurpassed in the world, was the consensus of opinion."
"The association will work to the end that national recognition will be given Highway 79, and an effort will be made to attract a share of tourist travel which will be going east and west to the fairs in San Francisco and New York. Under consideration is a proposed radio broadcast." ...
"Directors or representatives present, who talked on the subject and pledged assistance and financial contributions were: George W. Jordan, Sedona; Joe Tissau and Andy Tissau, of the Coconino Board of Supervisors; William Byers, chairman, Prescott, C. C. Jackson, Kirkland, and R. W. Wingfield, Camp Verde, Yavapai County Board of Supervisors; Sharkey Quigley, Jerome; H. L. Russell, county attorney, Flagstaff; J. Harold Hoge, Flagstaff; C. F. Van Court, Arizona Highway Department; Senator Paul C. Keefe, Clarkdale; E. C. Slipher, Flagstaff; F. L. Decker, Flagstaff; Charles E. Hughes, Jerome; Paul S. Coffin, Flagstaff; Fred W. Metz, Flagstaff; Ray Simpson, Call of the Canyon; Carl Mayhew, Oak Creek Lodge; George G. Doty, Clemenceau; Ersel Garrison, Cottonwood; Lester Ruffner, Prescott; C. R. Kuzell, Clarkdale; The Gap. J. C. Brown; Major J. B. Wright, affectionately known as 'Cap,' Flagstaff; R. E. Moore, Jerome, Grace M. Sparkes, Prescott; W. W. Midgley, Flagstaff, O. H. Jett, Prescott."
"Chairman Kuzell, who led the dedication discussion, appointed all directors or their representatives as the dedication committee. The boards of supervisors of Yavapai and Coconino counties have pledged their cooperation."
"President Midgley stated that every civic club and organization in Coconino and Yavapai counties would be invited to participate in the dedication and to assist with the plans and general program."
"The annual meeting of the Highway 79 Association will be in Flagstaff in March, the date to be set by the following committee appointed by President Midgley to complete arrangements. Chairman, Lester Ruffner, Prescott; Ray Simpson, Flagstaff; W. C. Steele, Sedona; R. K. Duffey, Clarkdale; Ersel Garrison, Cottonwood; and Robert Moore, of Jerome."
(Prescott Evening Courier: Friday, January 6, 1939; page 4.)
August: "Plans for the dedication of Highway 79, which will include the entire route from Flagstaff to Prescott, are progressing well, according to information received from the general chairman in charge of the dedication ceremonies, James Babbitt, of Flagstaff. ... The Wilson Canyon bridge will be named Midgley Bridge in honor of Major W. W. Midgley, president of the Highway 79 Association and one who has given much time and energy for the development of Highway 79." ... (Prescott Evening Courier; Monday, August 21, 1939; page 3.)
October 7: The dedication of Highway 79 tomorrow will attract a crowd when the scenic route linking Prescott and Flagstaff will be opened. "Northern Arizona roads will lead tomorrow to Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, site of western festivities in which Highway 79 will be officially dedicated."
"Gala festivities, which are expected to attract the greatest crowd in the history of Sedona have been scheduled by officials of the highway association. Arrangements for the celebration have been completed by a corps of committeemen who include civic leaders of a wide section of the northern part of the state. A western program of entertainment, in keeping with the spirit of the section through which the road passes, has been planned for presentation in connection with the dedication ceremonies. In addition, a barbecue will be served for 2 hours during the afternoon."
"The ceremonies program will include a galaxy of prominent speakers, including Governor Jones [Democrat Robert "Bob" Taylor Jones was governor from January 2, 1939, until January 6, 1941], members of the state highway commission, and officials of both Yavapai and Coconino counties. The program, which is scheduled to start at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, will continue for 2 hours. The climax will follow formation of a motor caravan to the Wilson Canyon bridge where Major W. W. Midgley, President of the Highway 79 Association will clip a ribbon stretched across the bridge entrance, dedicating the bridge and officially opening the highway."
"Festivities of the day will start at 12 o'clock with serving of the barbecue at the Hart ranch, near Sedona. The barbecue menu will include hot Mexican beans, relishes, olives, pickles, radishes and celery, bread, coffee, milk and sugar, and choice of barbecued Arizona beef or mutton."
"All communities and cities of northern Arizona were declared by Highway 79 Association officials today to be cooperating in the staging of the event. Bands and orchestras will gather from all sections of the 'Enchanted Circle' and officials of representative northern Arizona towns will participate in the program."
"Acting Mayor E. A. McCabe yesterday urged all residents of Prescott to attend the ceremonies in a proclamation issued. Prescott will participate actively in the event. A feature of the program, a community sing, will be directed by Gary O. Vyne and Mrs. Mary Ruffner, of Prescott, and residents of this city hold important positions on many of the committees in charge of the program."
"The autumn beauty of Oak Creek is expected to attract visitors from throughout the state. Additional attractions will be 2 national monuments along Highway 79, Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle, which will be kept open throughout the day as a tribute to the dedication by the National Park Service."
"A colorful program with a western theme will be presented. Band participation will include: Romaine Lowdermilk's Hillbillies, from Rimrock; the Tuba City All-Indian Band; Rachel's [Becchetti] Accordion Band, of Cottonwood; Holbrook's Kiltie Band; the Grand Canyon's Cowboy Band; and a W.P.A. Mexican Orchestra, from Phoenix. The Devil Dance of the Camp Verde Apache Indians will be presented by Verde Apaches. A skit outlining the life and career of Major Midgley will be given by the Arizona State Teachers College at Flagstaff students under the direction of Dr. T. J. Tormey, president, and Burdette Stampley, of the English department. The a cappella choir of the college will provide music."
"The program will be broadcast over a state-wide hook-up through KCRJ, Jerome, and KTAR starting at 2 o'clock. A special announcer car will handle the broadcast from the scene of the event."
"The Arizona Highway Patrol and Sheriff's officers both of Yavapai and Coconino counties will direct traffic at Sedona and at Wilson Canyon bridge."
"Members of the reception committee who will greet visitors at the ceremonies are: Dr. A. G. Pilcher, Flagstaff; Merle Allen, Prescott; Jesse Boyce, Williams; Acting Mayor E. A. McCabe, Prescott; Dr. A. J. Mackey, Flagstaff; Bob Chambers, Ashfork; Charles Hartin, Prescott; T. E. McCullough, Flagstaff; Grace M. Sparkes, Prescott; Joe Heap, Prescott; Jim Walkup, Flagstaff; Sherman Hazeltine, Prescott; Wid Raudebauch, Flagstaff; James Walden, Prescott; A. A. Johns, Prescott; E. Hill Leith, Rimrock; Senator W. E. Patterson, Prescott; William Saben, Jerome; C. K. Siegfried, Clarkdale; Leonard Kline, Clarkdale; Frank Snider, Flagstaff; Tom Knowles, Flagstaff; Charles Isham; Flagstaff; W. C. Steele, Sedona; W. C. Broadgale, Prescott; M. J. Pinkerton, Flagstaff; and George Washington, Ashfork."
(Prescott Evening Courier; Saturday, October 7, 1939; pages 1 and 2.)
Text of the speech of Wilmot Whitworth Midgley presented at the dedication on October 8, 1939:
"I am touched by your generous expressions of friendship and am deeply appreciative of the honor you have bestowed upon me in naming this magnificent structure Midgley Bridge."
"Those early settlers were made of the stuff that heroes are made of. It was their love of the beauties of nature and the handiwork of God, their vision, their untiring energy, and their sacrifice that made accessible to us and to future generations this marvelous canyon of enchantment. Without a survey, and with the crudest of tools, they managed their course and left us trails and roads that challenged the skill of the engineers and the accuracy of the chain and transit."
"They pointed the way, and the Highway Department and the boosters of 79 have carried on. The bridge closes the gap in the highway that has already obliterated the boundary between our counties and brought us closer together in a sincere and lasting friendship. It has made Arizona's wonderland easily accessible to the people north of us and to those south of us."
(See complete text: NAU Cline Library Collections, Call # AHS.ND.854.)
"HIGHWAY 79 IS DEDICATED" on October 8, 1939.
"A 180-foot span which bridges Wilson Canyon 4 miles north of Sedona stood today as a commemorative tribute to the road building efforts of Major W. W. Midgley, following its christening as Midgley Bridge in rites which followed the dedication of Highway 79 at Sedona."
"The span was declared Midgley Bridge by Governor Jones on behalf of the state in ceremonies at the bridge which followed a 2 hour dedication program at Sedona which was attended by approximately 1,000 northern Arizona visitors. Major Midgley cut a strand of ribbon after Mary Phyllis Babbitt, 5-year-old daughter of Senator James Babbitt, of Flagstaff, had christened the bridge with champagne. The governor led a procession across the span as the road was officially opened."
"Tributes to Mr. Midgley included a resume of his campaign for better roads in Arizona in a dramatic skit presented by Arizona State Teachers College of Flagstaff drama students."
"Governor Jones said 'these people of northern Arizona are fighters; they are energetic workers," when he praised highway building accomplishments of northern Arizona leaders in a speech at Sedona. He paid tribute to Mr. Midgley in the speech at the bridge in which he declared it Midgley Bridge in the name of the state."
"'All of Arizona, not only northern Arizona, owes a debt of gratitude for the work of Major Midgley in advancjng good roads and in lending such untiring effort to the construction of Highway 79,' the executive said. 'Today we are gathered here from all over Arizona to pay our respects to Major Midgley, and, in his honor we name this fine bridge across Wilson Canyon "Midgley Bridge." Midgley Bridge will be an inspiration for other citizens and it will be a constant reminder of the work of one man who gave a great deal to his state. As governor of this state and on behalf of all citizens of Arizona I declare this bridge "Midgley Bridge" in honor of a man who I am happy to be with today in dedicating this great highway.'"
"Major Midgley termed dedication of the road the 'realization of a dream, yours and mine, and of the pioneers who broke the trail,' when he spoke at Sedona. He said that Arizona's present system of highways was due to the work of pioneers who 'without instruments, mapped the trails,' and that efforts to improve and increase those highways 'should be continued in an appropriate manner.'"
"Senator Paul Keefe reviewed the history of Highway 79 when he delivered the opening speech of the dedication program at Sedona, thanking persons who, in his position as a state official, were responsible for its growth."
"Senator James Babbitt, of Flagstaff, was another speaker at the Sedona program and commented on telegrams of congratulation which included a message from Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, of New York, a native of Prescott." [Fiorello La Guardia, 99th Mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945, was born in Greenwich Village on December 11, 1882. He moved with his family to Arizona where his father was bandmaster at Fort Whipple until 1898. Fiorello attended Prescott schools.]
"Speeches at Sedona were interspersed with music. The program of the afternoon was launched at 2 o'clock with an Apache Devil Dance performed by 6 Camp Verde Apache Indians who danced a spirited shuffling step brandishing swords against 'devils.' Music of 6 Arizona groups provided a background for the ceremonies of the day."
(Prescott Evening Courier; Monday, October 9, 1939; pages 1 and 2.)
Wilmot Whitworth Midgley was born at Excelsior, Minnesota, on March 17, 1872. He is the son of Charles and Louella (Tuttle) Midgley. At the age of 3, "Billy" (as he was known) moved with his family to Gadsden, Alabama. After graduating from high school, he traveled west during 1888, settling at Pomona, California. Mr. Midgley was a citrus farmer and a dry-goods merchant. He enlisted in the National Guard and was promoted step by step to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was instrumental in having an armory built, and was the commanding officer of the unit for several years.
W. W. Midgley moved to Valinda Ranch in Williamson Valley, near Prescott, during 1912, where he was engaged in the livestock business. He moved to Clarkdale in 1917, where he was engaged in the grocery business and renewed his interest in the National Guard becoming known as Major Midgley.
He became the second president of the Arizona Good Roads Association in 1920, and traveled every mile of road in Arizona. He helped draft bills which resulted in the creation of the State Highway Commission (established in 1927). Wilmot W. Midgley was elected to serve as 1 of 3 members of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors from 1919 until 1927, and was the chairman from 1921 to 1923.
Midgley Food Market at Flagstaff was opened about 1927, with his only son, Gerry, in charge. Major Midgley moved from Clarkdale to Flagstaff about 1929. W. W. Midgley served as a State Senator from Coconino County before 1939.
Wilmot Whitworth Midgley, a retired grocer, died at Flagstaff on December 5, 1949, and is buried in the Masonic Cemetery. The informant on the Certificate of Death is G. T. Midgley, of Los Angeles.
(See: Coconino Sun; "Who was W. W. Midgley?" by Platt Cline; October 1939, Yavapai County records, and Certificate of Death.)
Wilson Canyon and Wilson Mountain were named for Richard Wilson, who lived in a cabin near the John J. Thompson family. See: The Verde Independent; "1885: OAK CREEK; Richard Wilson Killed by a Bear;" June 8, 2013.