The Delusional Pianist of Ella's Frontier Trading Post

Ella's Frontier Trading Post has sat abandoned on a disused segment of Historic Route 66 for over 30 years.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Only a half hour east of Meteor City, I figured Ella's was worth checking out. It turned out to be much more interesting than I anticipated. As with Two Guns ghost town, the lots on either side of Ella's Frontier Trading Post were home to other interesting abandonments.

I exited the freeway at Joseph City and pulled up to the site, disappointed to find a pickup truck parked out front with its tailgate down. A couple scenarios ran through my head: It could be another explorer checking out the ruins, or it might be a local who'd take one look at my California plates and tell me to get the hell out of there. I realize that might sound a bit paranoid, but I did end up running into trouble several times in Arizona (More on that in future blog entries).

A Native American dude in his late 30s walked up with his two dogs. Much to my relief, he was quite friendly and we ended up talking for a good 15 minutes. He said he moved to the area about 15 years ago, and Ella's Trading post had been vacant since long before then.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

He also told me that Joseph City was one of several Mormon settlements in the area. He said Brigham Young had instructed his flock to build settlements all along their journey west, so that they would have friendly places to return to in case they needed to retreat eastward.

Then he told me a story about a Mormon settlement someplace north of where we were. Apparently they were concerned about a hostile Navajo tribe in the area, and tried to convince the Hopi to move between them, so as to provide a buffer. The Hopi were nonplussed by the suggestion and told the Mormons to piss off (their words, not mine) and leave the area. Allegedly one of the Hopi women correctly predicted that the Mormons would end up settling somewhere along the Colorado River.

I don't know if there is any truth to the story. My research turned up some info about Mormons interacting with the Hopi people and mentioned conflicts with the Navajo, but nothing that matched this story. If you have any info, please leave a comment below.

The guy said he had to head to work. He set up a lawn chair behind his pickup, and the dogs jumped up from it onto the bed of the truck. After he left I explored with abandon and took tons of pictures.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

The trading post, originally "San Diego's Old Frontier" was founded in 1927 by Frederick "San Diego" Rawson. Born in 1861, Rawson was said to have led a very interesting life. As a child he was allegedly enslaved by Plains Indians for several years before the US Army rescued him. It is said that he went on to dabble in many careers: prospecting, trapping, scouting for the army, training circus animals, philosophy, writing, and running a museum. I remain highly skeptical of these claims, but I bet he was a damn good story teller.

The log-cabin style trading post was built from telephone poles and included a workspace for local Navajo to craft jewelry, blankets, and quilts.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

The property eventually passed to Ray Meaney, a Hawaiian band leader and owner of Hopi House, another trading post on Route 66. When Meaney and his wife Ella Blackwell divorced in 1955, each ended up with one of the trading posts.

Meaney later sold Hopi House, but Ella Blackwell held onto the rebranded Ella's Frontier Trading Post until her death in 1984.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Ella, a pianist trained at Juilliard School, was quite eccentric, but a delight to visit. She kept a piano at the store and often played for customers.

It is said that Ella suffered from delusions. She claimed her store was established in 1873 making it the oldest trading post on Route 66. Other times she claimed it first opened in 1940. Later in life she was often seen having conversations with imaginary people and animals.

The building is in pretty rough shape these days.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

But you can still get a sense of what some of rooms were once used for.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

After a thorough exploration of Ella's, I wandered through the adjacent lot, where sits the abandoned Big Arrow Campground.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

There was a fenced off area with shelters for when it rained.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

I have no idea what this thing was used for:

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

A neat row of lamp posts.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

The campground was equipped to accommodate RVs.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

From the back of this sign, you can see they spelled camp with a "K", just like at the KOA campground at Two Guns.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

A few interesting artifacts were lying around:

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

On the other side of Ella's was an abandoned ranch. 

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

The house was in terrible shape.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

It looked like it was pretty nice before it was abandoned. But at the time of my visit, it was thoroughly vandalized and the roof had begun to collapse.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Some of the graffiti was pretty cool.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

I like how this one spills out from the wall onto the window.

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

On the way out I passed this place, but it was not abandoned, so I kept my distance. 

Abandoned Ella's Frontier Trading Post in Joseph City Arizona

I got back on I-40 and headed west to check out some awesome ruins in the town of Leupp.

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14 comments :

  1. I'm always struck by the "sadness" of seeing these places in that condition. These used to be loved, and now they're just torn up and forgotten. It's like part of someone's life is just .......nothing, ya know?
    I love your posts, and am glad someone is sharing this stuff. But yea, it's sad sometimes too.

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    1. Thank you! And I know just what you mean. It saddens me too when I think about how meaningful these places used to be to someone. It especially gets me when I see a kid's bedroom walls lovingly painted with designs and when I find personal possessions left behind.

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  2. I always wonder, when the last person left that place, did they know it would be their last time there? As you reach for that light switch or open that door, did they know that would be the last time doing so? The thing that gets me is pictures. When someone leaves a place, and leaves pictures hanging on the walls. Pictures are extremely important and personal to me so, the thought always runs through my mind, "What happened here that they left in such a way that they didn't even take the pictures down?".

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    1. I often wonder too if people realized it would be there last time there. I've found so many pictures in my explorations. It's sad to see those happy memories and realize they are lost to the person who kept them and treasured them. One time I even found dozens of love letters a guy's fiance had written him in the early '60s. Sometimes I'm shocked to discover extremely personal legal documents (info about trust funds or summons to appear in court) just lying around.

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  3. I thought I would bring some light to your exploration here in Joseph City, I am not sure if you noticed the green house and barn that sat across 66 from Ella's Frontier or not, but me and my family moved into that house in 1976 and lived there until 84. When we moved there Route 66 still ran right in front of Ella's and the other building you were unable to explore, most recently was Sitting Bull trading post, run by the late Max Ortega, but was originally called Howdy Hanks, it was a motor court and had rooms with garages and even a huge almost olympic sized swimming pool with a 2 story building with a High Dive. I guess the bypass happened in the late 70's or 1980? I knew Ella, as a kid I would cross over to get a coke or some candy from her or even at the Kampground, they had pinball machines and pool table in a little game room!!, These were great places just not that long ago, or to me does not seem that long ago. Ella was a little extravagant, she even claimed to speak to aliens!! but was a wonderful lady. The abandoned ranch was a good friend of mines Mother and Stepfather, they had to restart their cattle rest after being forced to move off of the one up the road about a Mile. The half of the trailer they got when the other half flipped while being moved and was very nice back then. After their son's graduated and the grandfather passed, it just seemed they drifted off and sold the place. They are still around, just not ranching anymore. I just thought I would let you know of the history of my little spot on the Mother Road since you had stopped to explore, and posted it on this site. Wish I had pictures, the campground was really quite nice back in the day, and that metal thing that you had no idea what it was??? It was a small farris wheel, with like 6 cars, there was places for tent camping, and of course for trailer camping, and they had a small grocery store with supplies and like a said a game room. Thanks for letting me remember, I thought is was so terrible back then but now I realize just how lucky I was to see the end of Route 66. tdixon928@msn.com

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing the history and your memories of this place! I love hearing about what these places were like when people still lived there. It really is a beautiful area. Thank you for helping me form a clearer image. I would never have guessed there was a huge swimming pool inside the trading post across the street. And I thought the metal thing looked like a Ferris wheel, but I wasn't sure! If you ever do find any old pictures, I'd love to see them.

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  4. I thought this was very interesting for you, I hope you enjoy!!! The next two cards come from the Last Frontier, later to become Ella's Frontier. It was built in 1927 by Frederick "San Diego" Rawson, a poet, prospector, trapper and scout. He called it San Diego's Old Frontier Trading Post. He sold the property in 1947 and Ella Blackwell took over in 1955 as part of a divorce settlement. The story goes that Ella had some mental problems as she liked to talk to the mannequins in the store and also claimed the building had been built in 1873. Ella died in 1984 and the property has been abandoned ever since. You can see quite a bit of detail of the outside of the property in the first card and some of the wares that Ella had for sale to travelers in the second card. Today, Ella's site alone and forlorn on an old alignment of Route 66 west of Joseph City - https://goo.gl/maps/mjCaWB3hd2o.
    https://scontent-lax3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xta1/v/t1.0-9/12342654_505689202925639_3656243876741927181_n.jpg?oh=9a1862c8a19a23cc22a54ba8fea83ecb&oe=56D610F4

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    1. Here try this one!!! https://www.facebook.com/Route66MotherRoadPostcardsAndMore/posts/505697746258118

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    2. Very cool! It looked so different way back then. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  5. If it does not work, send me a address so I can e-mail it to you. tdixon928@msn.com

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  6. Where can I find this? Coordinates would be great.

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    1. Check out the map on my "Places I've Been" page.

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    2. Thanks. Do you know of any other places in AZ? Do you know where the old "Saguaro Automotive Mesa" building is? This link has a photo of it: http://photostry.com/urbex-along-the-beeline/

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    3. I've explored quite a few places in AZ. They're all on the map. I haven't seen the Saguaro Automotive Mesa building though. It looks like a neat place to check out, but I have no idea where it is.

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