When Arizona became a territory in 1863 it lacked any organized system of roads. Counties were responsible for roads with no legislative funding and little oversight. “All ‘able-bodied men’ in the county were required to either pay a $6 annual road tax or donate two days of labor to road work. Property taxes designated for road projects also provided funding [Arizona Transportation History:16]. A Territorial Engineer was appointed in 1909 to oversee construction and maintenance of roads. At that time “there still was only one major bridge in Arizona…and none of the Territory’s roads were paved” [Arizona Transportation History: 23]. The full text of most of the articles quoted below can be found in the Library of Congress database, Chronicling America. Arizona Transportation History, ADOT Final Report 660, 2011 can be downloaded at: https://www.azdot.gov/docs/media/read-arizona’s-transportation-history-in-its-entirety-.pdf.
A private national Good Roads Movement began in 1880 to promote the development and improvement of local roads. The movement gained momentum with the advent of affordable automobiles and shifted focus to cross-country highways. Arizona joined the movement in 1909 when the Arizona Good Roads Association was created. The Association proposed a $5 million bond effort in 1914, which was soundly defeated. At the time there were five named roads in Arizona, including the Borderlands Highway, a regional route that connected El Paso to Los Angeles” [Arizona Transportation History:32]. A map published by the Arizona Good Roads Association in 1913, shows the route of the highway from Fort Huachuca to Tucson complete with gates and difficult terrain. (See illustration)
The Borderland Highway was generally praised by motorists, except for the stretch near the Empire Ranch. Tourists who were advised “to take the Empire Ranch route from Vail, but now they say ‘never again’ and that the mud holes on the Empire Ranch route were very bad. They were in one hole for three hours and clear out of the reach of help” [Tombstone Epitaph 2/17/1918]. “R. W. Barry sustained a broken arm and Mrs. Barry severe cuts about the head Wednesday afternoon when their car went partly over an embankment along the road near the Empire ranch” [Bisbee Daily Review, 12/27/1918]. “An enterprising [local] in the vicinity of the Empire ranch…has unlocked the dykes and flooded the road, making it impossible for a car to cross over without assistance. However, the [local] is always on the spot and perfectly willing to ferry the cars across for the modest sum of 35 simoleons…. Motorists…are warned to carry 35 [cents] in currency or a pontoon bridge” [Bisbee Daily Review, 5/5/1918].
The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 and a statewide road tax eventually provided funding for improvements to Arizona’s roads. “At last there is to be a change in the road situation in the Empire ranch country. About five miles of the impossible, as well as impassable road way is to be changed and if Si Perkins, division engineer of the state highway department can accomplish it, the mudholes and adobe flats of the region will soon be only a memory” [Bisbee Daily Review, 5/22/1918]. The communities of Douglas, Tombstone, Bisbee, and Elgin lobbied for the retention of the Borderland Highway route as the U.S. interstate highway system was developed, but the more direct route through Benson won out. Sections of the Borderlands Highway eventually became State Routes 82 and 83. SR83 now runs three miles west of the Empire Ranch headquarters.