Kingman’s Mysterious Underground Past: Can You Dig It?

Santa Fe steam railway locomotive 4759 Kingman, Arizona, USA. August 7, 2007.

When motoring along Route 66 near Kingman, Arizona, adventurous travelers can find innumerable opportunities for fun and excitement along the “Mother Road.” From the wild burros of Oatman to the site of a crashed meteor, there’s always something interesting to do above ground—but what about the thrills lurking below the surface?  

Roots in the Railroad

Kingman, Arizona, started as a small railroad town and not as a mining town as so many western settlements of the era did. With the railroad came workers like Tom Devine. Tom had been a railroad employee working on the line as it came out of nearby Flagstaff. A drastic work injury prevented him from continuing on with the project, leaving him with a large settlement from the railroad and one less leg. Undaunted, Tom saw it not as a loss, but more as an opportunity and moved his family on to Kingman, putting down roots and purchasing the Beale Hotel, becoming a businessman and his own boss.

From Happy Trails to Hidden Tunnels

The Beale Hotel sits on what is now known as Andy Devine Avenue in downtown Kingman. If that name sounds remarkably familiar, it’s because the avenue’s namesake is, in fact, the son of that entrepreneurial hotelier. Tom’s son, Andy Devine went on to become a legendary character actor in American film, starring most notably as “Cookie” alongside Western icon Roy Rogers.

However, Andy Devine is not the only legend connected with the Beale Hotel. He may have hit the “happy trails” with Roy, but you have to dig a little deeper to ferret out more of Kingman’s mysterious past—the underground tunnels.

Secret Escapes and Speak-Easies

Kingman lore is rife with stories of an underground network of tunnels. It is even more rife with reasons for the existence of the tunnels. For instance, there is widely-held belief that the passages were dug and used by Chinese rail workers to escape the prejudice and ill treatment they often faced from the law, immigration authorities, and local cowboys. But, this memory has become clouded. The closest thing to tunnels their long term Kingman residents now accept as real are their businesses, which had cellars!

For the curious who keep digging, however, you might learn about the tunnels running beneath the Beale Hotel. During the Roaring Twenties, the music was hot and gin was cold…albeit illegal. Of course, in the entrepreneurial spirit of Tom Devine, bootleggers weren’t about to let a little thing like Prohibition stop the booze from flowing.

Like the moonshine, the stories about the Beale Hotel’s large basement and interconnected secret tunnels flow from older residents of the area, many who claim to have explored the warren of tunnels which run north and east from the Beale basement for about a block with branches connecting to the basements of other buildings in the area. The Beale, now permanently closed, once served as a thriving hub for illicit activities. While everything appeared above-board topside, drinking and gambling were taking place in the bowels of the town. Secret walls hid the entrances to these raucous dens of iniquity. The basement was partitioned, one half serving legitimate hotel business and the other half serving as a gambling hall.The entries were hidden behind a secret moving wall.  But these “secret” playgrounds weren’t immune to the long arm of the law. Warning systems had to be put in place to warn of pending raids, like a warning light and bell, though many of the patrons were lawmen themselves!

The tunnels and the Beale Hotel have long since been sealed off. How much is true and how much is legend is not entirely clear. One thing is certain—when you’re traveling those happy trails and are looking to rest for a spell, there’s no place better than Kingman, Arizona and the Zuni Village RV Park where the legends “speak easy” and you don’t have to dig deep for incredible history.

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