“I leave my patriotism to be judged by my actions.” Lamar Cobb, Tucson Daily Citizen, 1918. Lamar Cobb did not live in Vail, but his service to Arizona and the legacy of good roads statewide that he began as Arizona’s first State Highway Engineer are commemorated here. At the beginning of State Route 83, the Sonoita Highway, which he designed and engineered, is a lonely concrete obelisk. It is devoid of the brass plaque whose words identified its purpose. Standing off the southwest quadrant where Hwy. 83 intersects Interstate 10, hardly noticed, carpoolers surround it with parked cars and trucks. It is a monument to an Arizonan who rolled up his sleeves, was part of turning a territory into a state, writing its constitution and making the communities that dotted the landscape accessible to each other through planning and good design.
Lamar Cobb was born in Athens, Georgia in 1870 and died in Phoenix, Arizona in 1926. He served in the 23rd Territorial Legislature as a delegate from Graham County and one of the framers of Arizona’s constitution. He was Arizona’s first Highway Engineer from 1912–1915. By June of 1914 his report to Gov. Hunt stated that Arizona’s official road system had two roads consisting of 251 miles. Almost every city, town, and county needed to be connected with someplace else. As we approach the Arizona Centennial there are about 6,000 miles of roadways that connect us.
In 1914 Lamar was invited to be a founding member of the American Association of State Highway Officials, this group began laying the groundwork for a planned national network of roads. Up to this time roads were built mostly as a local response, often out of a need to get farm products to market. They were often a dirt patchwork whose travel conditions alternated between miry mud and clouds of dust. By 1916 he was one of seven on the executive committee that met in Washington D.C.
In 1918 Lamar ran for governor of Arizona against Gov. George Hunt. It was an unpleasant contest, whose financial and emotional cost was very high. Mr. Cobb returned to his native Georgia for a time, but soon came back to Arizona to work for Portland Cement until his death in 1926. In 1927 Governor Hunt had the state highway department place a monument to honor his service to Arizona along one of the roads he had designed. It was the road leading to Sonoita, Hwy 83. You can see an historic photo of the monument in better days on the Arizona Memory Project website at: http://azmemory.lib.az.us/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/histphotos&CISOPTR=11022&CISOBOX=1&REC=3 .
Lamar Cobb’s vision for connecting the communities of Arizona touched our region creating better transportation between Vail and Sonoita. As the greater Vail area grows it becomes ever more important to connect to each other and to our past as we plan for our future. With Arizona’s Centennial and Vail’s 132nd birthday coming up in 2012 this is a perfect time to preserve and present our heritage. The Vail Preservation Society has several projects that need your help. We are looking for photographs that show the people and places in the area surrounding Vail, basically an area encompassed by the Vail School District. Do you have photos of people at work or play, that show ranches, homesteads, business, the railroad, the school, post office or the Lamar Cobb monument?
We won’t keep your originals, but would like to scan and have permission to incorporate them into our Centennial projects. These include the Voices of Vail film documentary and exhibits for the Vail Centennial Celebration. Please email us at Vailpreservationsociety@gmail.com or call 520–419-4428 for more information and to share your photographs or community story.