Monday, June 3, 2013

The Lost Dutchman Gold Route

May 27, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This plaque was installed at the Lost Dutchman Monument on Sunday, October 22, 1961, by the Don’s Club of Arizona.
How many of you have heard of the Lost Dutchman Gold Route stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans passing through Apache Junction on Main Street? I am sure there are some old timers who would remember the dedication ceremony.

Bill Creighton served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event. The media reported U.S. Highway 70 would be renamed "The Lost Dutchman Gold Route" running from Moorehead City, North Carolina to Los Angeles, California. The highway ran coast to coast.

How did all this come about and why was Apache Junction the center of the activity? The beginning started around 1955 when the "great flood" hit Apache Junction. Water flowed across U.S. Highway 60-70 about eighteen inches deep and much of Apache Junction was damaged by floodwaters. After this flood, control dikes were built north of Apache Junction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This system of dikes and waterways protected Apache Junction from future flooding. Our streets still flood during downpours of rain, but not like prior to 1955 when water would run across U.S. Highway 60-70. This was long before the freeway (c. 1991) south of Apache Junction.

After the "Great Apache Junction Flood" serious development was proposed for the Apache Junction area. First, there was the development on the north side of the road that replaced the old Apache Junction Inn. A Texaco service station went up, then there was the Jones Steakhouse and Bar that became the Lucky Nugget (burned down about 1980). Bayless put in a large grocery store and parking lot. Then in 1959 construction began on the Superstition Ho Hotel (later the Grand Hotel). Also work began on the Apacheland Movie Set by Superstition Mountain Enterprises. All of this was followed by other development along the Apache Trail or Main Street.

This all became reality through the effort of William "Bill" Creighton. He continued to promote projects such as Geronimo Field for major league baseball. For two years (1961-1962) the Houston Colt 45’s held their spring practice in Apache Junction. Apache Junction played host to some famous baseball players including Willie Mays and others.

Bill Creighton was convinced Apache Junction needed something to get it national and international recognition. He started promoting the idea of Highway 70 being named nationally the "Lost Dutchman Gold Route." He encouraged governors along Highway 70 in various states to rename the route. He claimed the route was the trail of 49er gold miners going to California in search of gold.

Creighton’s campaign to change the name of Highway 70 was nationally successful and the task was finally accomplished in the summer of 1961. Creighton and his committee then began the task of organizing and transporting dignitaries from Europe and the United States to Apache Junction for a ceremony dedicating Highway 70 on Sunday, October 22, 1961.

When the highway was dedicated, Apache Junction had grown and changed considerably. It was no longer a sleepy desert hamlet, but had become a more vibrant community. The Apacheland Movie Studio was up and running, Superstition Ho Hotel was open, and Bayless was open for business. There where other businesses active in the area including the Yucca Café, Cobbs, Ribeye, Hacienda, Apache Junction Greyhound Park, Jordan Chevron, and many more.

There were three large cast bronze plaques that designated the Lost Dutchman Gold Route. One would be placed in Moorehead City, North Carolina, one in Los Angeles, California and one in Apache Junction, Arizona. The plaques were put in place according to stories.

The one placed in Apache Junction was soon stolen. Ron Feldman and Tom Kollenborn recovered the plaque many years later. Today this plaque can be found just north of the Dutchman’s Monument at the Focal Center in Apache Junction. Believe it or not there are individuals who still refer to Highway 70 as the "Lost Dutchman Gold Route."

These characters have to be in their seventies because the dedication was fifty-two years ago.