Back in its heyday in the late 1800s, Hackberry was a thriving ranching and mining town in the northwest Arizona desert, producing over $3 million in gold and silver before the Hackberry Silver Mine shut down in 1919. It’s believed the town was named for the large hackberry tree that grew near the mine.
When US Route 66 was established a decade later, it followed the railroad tracks through Hackberry and the town became a major service stop for travelers on the old highway.
After Route 66 was decommissioned in favor of the new Interstate 40, Hackberry was left abandoned 15 miles from the new highway with no exit ramp for its local thoroughfare, Hackberry Road. The last remaining services, Northside Grocery and Conoco Station, finally closed their doors in 1978 due to lack of traffic.
These days, the tiny community (don’t blink or you’ll drive right past it) has been resurrected from ghost town status. It now sits on Arizona State Route 66, a scenic road that meanders through the Hualapai Reservation. The Hackberry Post Office serves 68 residential mailboxes. And the town has its own attraction for Historic Route 66 aficionados: Hackberry General Store.
There wasn’t much left of Hackberry when Bob Waldmire, an itinerant artist known for his depictions of Historic Route 66, opened the Hackberry General Store on the former site of Northside Grocery in 1992. The store became a roadside tribute to Route 66 as well as a visitors’ center and souvenir shop. According to the Victoria Advocate, Waldmire was the town’s only resident in 1997. The store changed hands a year later to its present owners, John and Kerry Pritchard, and remains a pit stop for highway tourists and a museum of Route 66 relics.
Hackberry General Store has been called “the mother lode of Mother Road memorabilia,” and houses a charming clutter of vintage gas pumps, tin road signs, and classic American hot rods, all out in the open for people to enjoy.
We were en route to Peach Springs (the town on which the Pixar film Cars was based) and happened to stop in Hackberry to stretch our legs after a five-hour drive across California.
If any place could perfectly encapsulate what Route 66 was all about, it would be Hackberry General Store. Situated on the other side of the tracks from the town of Hackberry (I did see a few homes out there, large homes on even larger lots at the base of the Peacock Mountains), the store was bustling with visitors. Well, bustling as much as a middle-of-nowhere destination could bustle, that is.
The store stood as a shrine to American road junkies, and a wander around the property unearthed all manner of memorabilia, from a Model T flatbed truck to a pile of vintage hubcaps. They came from the various mini markets, service garages, and service stations that once existed on Route 66 — I even spotted an antique enamel stove and an old wooden outhouse!
Though we didn’t go inside the actual general store, we were told it carried the finest Route 66 beer on the whole highway. We filed this fact away in our brains for the next time we pass through… hopefully on a longer road trip on the Mother Road!