Ella's Frontier Trading Post – Joseph City, Arizona - Atlas Obscura

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Ella's Frontier Trading Post

Joseph City, Arizona

Along the old Route 66 is an abandoned trading post made from old telephone poles, built by a former circus clown. 


AElla’s Frontier is one in a long line of Route 66 trading posts that the shiny new highway passed by. Despite being able to see the trucks and travelers rumbling down Interstate-40 from what’s left of the back door, the only thing left of Ella’s today is a tumble-down building and a history rife with unforgettable characters.

Originally built out of telephone poles, former circus clown, taxidermist, and sometimes poet Fredrick “San Diego” Rawson established San Diego’s Old Frontier Trading Post in 1927. Depending on the source, the Old Frontier was either sold to Don Lorenzo Hubbell (of the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona, now a National Historic Site), to Hubbell’s son Ramon, or straight to Hawaiian band leader Ray Meany and his wife Ella Blackwell. However it happened, by 1947 it belonged to Ray and Ella, and they called it The Last Frontier.

In 1955 Ella and Ray divorced and she got the business in the settlement, and with a final name change it became Ella’s Frontier Trading Post. A former Juilliard student, Ella was an eccentric who played her piano for travelers and, in later years, imaginary people and animals. She would often claim that Ella’s Frontier was built in 1847 or 1873 (predating the very telephone poles it was made of) and proudly proclaimed it the oldest trading post on Route 66. She stuck to that story until her death in 1984.

Since then, Ella’s Frontier has been resting and rotting quietly beside another Route 66 casualty: the abandoned Big Arrow Campground.

Update as of April 2023: There are no complete structures remaining on the Ella’s site, but there is still a fair amount of evidence of what was once there. 

Know Before You Go

Joseph City is 80 miles east of Flagstaff on I-40. Take exit 274 and follow to Main Street. Turn left on Main and Ella's will be down about a mile on your left. Look for the campground site and it is just past that.

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