The Museum Club: A Route 66 landmark since 1931

After a dancing drought since Montana… we were definitely excited to start swinging again at the Museum Club in Flagstaff, AZ. The Museum club is a memorable locale with an interesting history. It was a Tuesday night and the crowd was nothing more than a handful of regulars, however we were welcomed graciously into the joint and immediately felt at home. The club, standing right alongside the notorious Route 66, has been around since 1931 and has had many country greats gracing the stage over the years. The decor is an fusion of impressive wooden beams, unique wooden accents such as tree trunk slab tabletops, odd taxidermy, a large fireplace, and tidbits of club history littering the walls.

“The Museum Club, a Route 66 icon in Flagstaff, Arizona, began its life as the boyhood dream of taxidermist Dean Eldredge in 1931. When Eldredge found a petrified frog as a child in Wisconsin, it spurred a lifetime as a sportsman, adventurer and collector. Dean began his taxidermy business in 1918. In the early 1930s Eldredge saw an opportunity when he purchased a piece of federal land, three miles east of Flagstaff on Route 66. Soon, he hired unemployed lumberjacks to cut trees, haul them to his property and built what he touted as “the biggest log cabin in the world.” Later he would revise his claim to “the biggest log cabin in the nation,” then to “the biggest log cabin in Arizona.” In any case, he finally had a showplace for his lifetime collection of stuffed animals, six-legged sheep, Winchester rifles, Indian artifacts, two-headed calves, and more than 30,000 other items. Operating as a museum, taxidermist shop, and a trading post, scores of Route 66’rs stopped in to visit Dean and his collection during the five years that he operated the museum. Before long, locals dubbed the museum “The Zoo,” a name that has stuck with the building to this day.

Unfortunately, when Eldredge died of cancer, most of his collection was sold and the building was purchased by a Flagstaff saddle maker named Doc Williams. In 1936, Williams, profiting from the many travelers of the Mother Road and the end of Prohibition, opened a night club that was an immediate success.

Over the years, the building passed through several owners and survived as a nightclub, recording studio and roadhouse.   By the 1950s, the club had deteriorated to a rough and tumble roadhouse patronized by a crowd that often times preferred a little blood with its beer.

In 1963, Don Scott, a steel guitarist who’d spent time with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, bought the club and moved to Flagstaff along with his wife Thorna.  Scott wasted no time turning the club into a country music dance hall and began to book old friends like Wills, and new ones, like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. “Pappy,” as Scott was called by his friends, had many contacts in the music industry and before long he put the club “on the map” in the western swing circuit.  Wynn Stewart, Wanda Jackson and the Texas Playboys were just a few of the acts which appeared at The Museum Club. Many aspiring recording stars, making the pilgrimage from Nashville to Las Vegas, would book into The Museum Club. Some, like Barbara Mandrell, simply showed up, grabbed a guitar and played impromptu….”

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