Stout's Hotel - Gila Bend
Updated: Apr 4, 2022
Edward A. Stout, a railroad man, and his wife Anna settled in the Gila Bend area sometime after their marriage in Tombstone, Arizona in January 1881. Perhaps because of the nature of Edward Stout’s employment, the family appears to have moved back and forth between Arizona and California several times over the next twenty years. So their oldest living son, Charles, was born in California, and their youngest, Albert H., was born in Arizona. Besides working for the railroad, Edward Stout also raised cattle on his homesteaded acreage near Gila Bend.
Anecdotal stories attest that Albert met his future wife Frankie Fogal in 1905 when her family’s wagon got stuck in the mud while crossing the Gila River on their way from the Tempe, Arizona area to Yuma, Arizona. It was a long distance romance that soon led to a marriage in 1906. Like his father, Albert or A.H., raised cattle on the family land.
Gila Bend was growing and A.H. decided to open a store and hotel and rented apartments by the Gila Bend railroad station. The hotel opened in 1914 and was named Stout’s Hotel. It offered accommodations for railroad employees and passengers as well as automobile travelers. The hotel originally faced Murphy Street across from the railroad station grounds. Stout’s Hotel appears to be the second hotel in Gila Bend.
Following a devastating fire in June, 1916, which completely destroyed the hotel and Stout’s store, a new building was constructed. Stout soon observed that more people were traveling to and through Gila Bend and his small hotel could not accommodate this increase in potential patrons. He added sixteen rooms in 1923, along with a pool hall in the basement. Stout also had a mercantile store and a gas station to provide the necessary items which travelers might want. To ensure the careful management of the hotel, the Stout family lived on site.
As the type of locomotives changed and the Southern Pacific Railroad no longer needed to use Gila Bend as a water stop, they leased their water wells to A.H. Stout. Stout formed the A.H. Stout City Water Works in 1926 and it was approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission. This water also supplied the town of Gila Bend which Stout continued to do.
All of these Stout owned businesses required management and his two sons, Eddie and A.H., Jr. gradually took on the oversight as they got older.
Stout’s Hotel was expanded in 1927-1929 to a design by architect Henry Trost of the firm Trost & Trost, headquartered in El Paso, Texas but with offices in Tucson. Trost designed a new addition on the north side of the original hotel and moved the entry onto Pima. This reconfigured entrance faced the newly constructed Highway 80 (now known as Old US Highway 80). The 1931 Sanborn Insurance Map of Gila Bend indicated that there were now 65 rooms with the back part of the building (the “old or original” section) being adobe and the front (the Trost expansion) being reinforced concrete.
This new complex provided even more services both for guests and the residents of Gila Bend. There was a post office, café/restaurant, and store. Over time, the post office moved to larger quarters and a drugstore moved in. The other businesses also changed over time, as eventually their highway-related services were no longer necessary.
A 1955 ad in Arizona Days and Ways touted the modern aspects of Stout’s Hotel with 51 rooms, steam heat, and air cooling. About the same time that the Stout’s Hotel Pima Street façade was altered in 1956 when Arizona State Highway 85 was built, A.H. and Frankie moved from the hotel into a new home. A.H. had “retired” and Eddie now completely ran the hotel while A.H. Jr. and later his son A.H. III oversaw the water company and the other farm holdings. The water company offices were on the Murphy Street side of the hotel building.
Albert H. Stout died in 1959. Frankie later remarried, but did maintain ownership of the hotel. When she passed in 1976, the hotel property was equally divided between two heirs: Edward A. and William C. Stout (Frankie’s son, Edward A. Stout, died in 1966) when the estate was settled in 1981. William deeded his ½ interest in the property to Edward and his wife Rhonda shortly thereafter.
The operation of the hotel had ceased by the time Eddie and Rhonda Stout took ownership. However, the Stouts did allow some people to live in the building rent-free. It was too difficult for the couple to care for the hotel when they lived in Phoenix. After Eddie retired around 2000, he decided that it was time to bring the hotel back to life.
Work began to upgrade the mechanicals and possibly bring a few rooms back to their 1929 style. The Stouts lived in the hotel much like the Stout families before them while planning to operate a small boutique bed and breakfast. Unfortunately this did not come to fruition and the town of Gila Bend purchased the property from Edward and Rhonda in January 2017.
Transportation across Southern Arizona, 1858-1977
The community of Gila Bend owes its existence to the circumstances of geography and the trails, rails, and roads that crossed southern Arizona, connecting California with points east. Prior to its establishment, the Gila River was the focus. Spanish missionaries moved cattle along the river in the later part of the 1700s and early part of the 1800s as it provided life-sustaining water in harsh desert conditions. As the Southwest region was settled, soldiers, trappers, and others heading further west used the Gila River as a guide. Known as the Gila Trail, it became a main southern route to California.
John Butterfield started his Butterfield Overland Mail and Stage line in 1858 and established a station, the Gila Ranch Station, near the bend of the Gila River that same year. The location was a critical staging point, as the trail parted from the river for many miles to the east, a short-cut largely without watering points. Although local Indians destroyed the first station, it was rebuilt in 1860. Even though the Butterfield Overland line lasted for less than five years, its station near the Gila River helped cement a presence on the trails east and west.
Gila Ranch Station was also a freighting point on the Gila River. Today one would not know that the Gila River once supported river travel for both cargo and people. Upriver traffic generally stopped near Texas Hill (Dateland, Arizona), but teams of mules could haul the freight to the Gila Ranch Station where it could then be taken to other destinations.
The railroads did not come to this part of Arizona until after the Civil War. It was this mode of transportation which encouraged growth of the area. Gila Bend was located on the Southern Pacific Railroad line about midway between Yuma and Tucson. It served as a loading area for agricultural products and a place to take on water for the engines. It also served as a stopping point for crew members.
The rail stop at Gila Bend, established in 1879, was three miles from the Gila Ranch Station. The small settlement by the former Butterfield Station moved to this new area too. Daniel Noonan built the first hotel in Gila Bend on the north side of the tracks, near the train station. Soon thereafter, the new community of Gila Bend was platted in 1888 on a quarter-section of land spanning the rail line. In a pattern typical of many rail-oriented towns of the day, Murphy (Murphey) Street, paralleling the rails on the north side of the right-of-way, became the commercial main street of Gila Bend. With the train station and Noonan’s already on the north side, the pattern of expansion for the town to the north was established.
The Southern Pacific Railroad advertised this section of the line as the Maricopa Route or “The Cutoff” to California. Passengers would have the option to get off and spend the night. Initially the only choice would have been the Noonan Hotel. But as more people took the option to stop, other hotels like the Stout Hotel provided a place to stay.
Stout’s Hotel was established in 1914 on a key commercial block immediately across from the Southern Pacific railroad station. The hotel served not only rail passengers, but also received consistent business from rail workers, which provided a substantial and stable income for the proprietor. In fact, Stout’s Hotel adjoined “the Southern Pacific eating club and dormitory” for the railroad’s freight crews that changed in Gila Bend.
As the popularity of automobiles increased in the decade of the 1910s, “good roads” movements across the country lobbied for improved highways for cross-country travel. The old Gila Trail wagon road remained a natural route from San Diego to Tucson, and continuing east. In 1914, the Ocean-to-Ocean highway bridge was constructed in Yuma, becoming the first bridged crossing of the Colorado River and increasing the popularity of the route for auto travel.
Between 1917 and 1919 the route became part of the Dixie Overland Highway. Starting in Georgia, it stretched across the U.S. to San Diego, California. Paving of the road between Dome and Buckeye began in 1920. Before the completion of the Gillespie Dam in 1921, cars traveling east or west through Gila Bend had to use a ferry to cross the Gila River. When water was low over the top of the dam, cars could cross the river at that site rather than using a ferry. The Federal Highway Act of 1921 was a major factor in the construction of a route from Douglas, Arizona, northward through Tucson to Phoenix and then west through Gila Bend to Yuma and beyond, This route became U.S. Route 80.
Through Gila Bend, the highway was designated to run on Pima Street, one block north of Murphy Street. As traffic increased, Pima Street began to attract auto-oriented businesses such as hotel courts and service stations. Stout was fortunate that his property ran clear through the block with frontage on both Murphy and Pima Streets and was able to take advantage of both the rail connection and the highway connection. In an addition constructed in 1927-29, he astutely changed the “front” of his hotel from facing the railroad tracks to facing the new highway. Eventually commercial activity in Gila Bend largely shifted to Pima Street in response to this change in the primary mode of transportation through town.
When traveling by car, Gila Bend was approximately halfway between Tucson and Yuma and still a couple of hours from Phoenix. Hot desert temperatures and poor road conditions made Gila Bend a perfect rest stop for overnight stays or even day time stays to avoid the heat for people traveling east by car from either Los Angeles or San Diego or heading to California. The 1947 and 1948 registries of the Stout Hotel indicate that overnight guests came from California, Arizona, Mexico and points as far east as Illinois.
As the traffic through Gila Bend diminished with the Interstate Highway 8 bypass starting in 1973, Stout’s Hotel and the rest of Gila Bend began to decline. The construction of Interstate 8 provided a quick pass-by option for travelers which reduced commercial activity overall and contributed to the demise of the Stout Hotel as a place to spend the night.