Babbitt Brothers, Flagstaf
The Babbitt family has been a household name in Northern Arizona since 1886. So, when it came time to commission a book about Flagstaff, who better to write it than a Babbitt?
© Reprinted with permission from
Images of America: Flagstaff
by James E. Babbitt
& John G. Degraff III
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By Kelly Kramer
Flagstaff James E. Babbitt's grandfather knew a thing or two about the grocery business. After running a successful store on Cincinnati's Price Hill, it seemed only natural that he'd open a grocery when he and his four brothers came to Flagstaff on the railroad in 1886. But the Babbitt boys had a bigger idea — cattle ranching.
"That was a very tough business for a variety of reasons," Jim Babbitt says. "They lost money in the early years, and their financial backer, Gerhardt Verkamp, encouraged the brothers to diversify with something they knew how to do."
So, in 1889, the Babbitts built a sandstone building in downtown Flagstaff, and the 30-by-70-foot grocery quickly became a popular destination for settlers and visitors alike. It expanded rapidly over the years until, at one point, it became the largest mercantile in Arizona. The store also supplied goods, including saddles, oil lamps, food and hardware, to Indian trading posts across Northeastern Arizona, several of which were also managed by the Babbitts.
Today, Jim Babbitt runs a successful retail operation out of the very same building, and the cattle business, which eventually did flourish, operates the same way it did in the 1800s — without the assistance of modern, motorized aids.
Images of the Babbitt Brothers store are just a few of the 180 vintage photographs that appear in Images of America: Flagstaff, which was co-authored by Jim Babbitt and John G. DeGraff III. Although many of the photographs in the book come from the authors' personal collections, Babbitt and DeGraff also drew from the special collection at Northern Arizona University, Lowell Observatory, the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson.
"I always had so much going on that I didn't think I could tackle a project like this," Babbitt says. "But more than a year-and-a-half ago, I cleared my calendar and talked to the publisher again. I set my own deadline and the book was born."
Many of the book's images hold special sentimental value for Babbitt, but one stands out as his favorite — the photograph of Mount Agassiz that appears just before the table of contents.
"The photo was taken by Alexander Gardner, who was the official photographer for the Kansas Pacific Railway survey," Babbitt says. "He took the first shot of what is now the Flagstaff area. It resonates because it shows nothing but the forest and the grasslands and the mountain. There's no evidence of any human occupation. That's the thing that's changed so much about Flagstaff over the years — it's experienced such radical growth."
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