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Area History


Flagstaff is located in northern Arizona near the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. It has a four-season climate and is among the highest cities in the U.S. with an elevation of almost 7,000 feet. It is bordered on the western side by the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest on earth at an elevation of 6,910 feet. Flagstaff is also adjacent to 9,299-foot (2834 m) Mount Elden, just south of the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountain range in the state of Arizona. The San Fransisco Peaks are home to Agassiz, Fremont, and Doyle Peaks summits with its highest point 12,643-foot Humphrey's Peak, located about 10 miles north of Flagstaff. It has the shape of a horseshoe, and was once a 16,000-foot volcano.

The name of Flagstaff came into being on July 4, 1876, as members of a scouting party from Boston were celebrating the United States Centennial. It refers to a Ponderosa Pine that was stripped of its branches, and was used to hang a U.S. Flag for the celebration. People could see it from miles away. The town became a symbol, a landmark and, eventually, a name. It is the county seat of Coconino County, an important railroad town, and home to Lowell Observatory and Northern Arizona University.

About 940 years ago, the area's original settlers, the Sinagua people (sin agua is "without water") first watched the ground break open at what is now Sunset Crater as it sprayed a geyser of molten rock on and off. This went on for as long as 200 years. The ensuing ash, which improved the dry lands' farming ability, ultimately drew other tribes to the Wupatki Basin. Among the newcomers were the Anasazi, who are believed to have shown the Sinagua how to build pueblos. Some of the pueblos can be found northeast of the city as the main attractions of Wupatki National Monument.

Thomas F. McMillan, who arrived in 1876, built his cabin near a spring, at the base of Mars Hill. He is recognized as being the town's first permanent inhabitant. The town began to grow, and by 1886, became the biggest city on the main line between Albuquerque and the West Coast. It's economy consisted consisted of timber, sheep, and cattle with a booming railroad industry. In 1891, Coconino County was established and Flagstaff had grown to 1,500. The U.S. Forest Service set up their regional headquarters, among other governmental offices. The town was becoming the second-largest county seat in the United States. In 1894, astronomer Percival Lowell chose Flagstaff to build the now famous Lowell Observatory, primarily due to its high altitude and good astronomical seeing conditions. In 1930, it became internationally known, as the Planet Pluto was discovered. The Northern Arizona Normal School was established in 1899, which later became Northern Arizona University in 1966.

During the 1920's, Route 66 was built and passed through the city making Flagstaff a popular tourist and vacation stop. In 1928, Flagstaff was incorporated as a city, and today is a thriving community and gateway to the Grand Canyon.