Route 66 landmark lost: Goffs General Store burns down under suspicious circumstances
The Mojave Desert lost a piece of Route 66 history last week after a fire consumed an abandoned building that once served as the restaurant, saloon and social hotspot for the unincorporated community of Goffs.
The Goffs General Store — which had stood since 1946 — burned down in a blaze Tuesday afternoon, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said.
As firefighters battled the fire with no steady water supply, they saw a plume to the north in the 119000 block of Circle Drive and found multiple outbuildings and piles also burning.
Crews kept the fire contained to the general store and extinguished the second blaze in about 30 minutes.
“Both fires are under investigation and suspicious in nature,” the fire department said.
Several commenters expressed disappointment after news of the fire was posted on the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association’s Facebook page. Photos there showed the store in more prosperous times, as well as its gutted aftermath.
The association is a nonprofit that researches and conserves the history of the Mojave Desert. It has also restored the Goffs Schoolhouse and built an archive.
“A ‘then and now’ I never wanted to see,” said Darelyn Casebier, a member of the organization, in response to the photos.
“Another 66 ‘monument’ gone,” another commenter added.
A popular spot in a tiny community
Goffs is located about 30 miles west of Needles along the highway known as America's “Mother Road.”
The unincorporated community was founded in 1883 as a station for the railroad and became known for mining and as a stop for westbound travelers, according to Digital-Desert.com.
When the original Route 66 was rerouted away from the area in 1931, however, Goffs began to lose businesses and residents.
As of last year, there were likely only about 10 to 25 residents still living there, the Daily Press reported.
Morris Swain said the general store remained somewhat popular in subsequent years.
Swain’s aunt and uncle owned the store in the early 1950s and sold it to Swain’s parents in 1960 when he was still in high school.
A gallon of gas cost about 38 cents back then, Swain said.
The store had, at one point, not only a full-service gas station but a bar, restaurant and dance floor, as well.
Cowboys would frequent the place along with big-rig truckers. Thursdays were square dance nights and a “big country dance” took place once a month, according to Swain.
“We had a pretty good clientele,” he said. “I made more money there than when I was working for the government.”
Swain said he “personally ran” the store in the 1980s and expanded the kitchen during that time before selling the property in the mid-1990s.
According to one Route 66 travel website, the store may have remained open until as late as 2000.
Swain said owners after him likely faced “too much red tape” and regulations in attempting to restore the building. It ultimately fell into disrepair.
Despite the memories the building held, he said the store had been “pretty rough looking for the last 10 years” due to vandalism and graffiti.
As to the fire: “Probably the best thing that could’ve happened to it.”
Store's sign saved before fire
Although the store is gone, a piece of it remains.
In November 2019, photographer Ken Lee took a night photo of the store's sign.
Later, he donated it to the MDHCA for preservation, which he saw as a "very small silver lining in all this."
"I feel like more of the old Route 66 is going up in smoke ... (and) it also seems tragic since it appears like it may (have) been set purposely," Lee said.
"I was going to photograph that building at night again in about two weeks," he added. "So on a personal level, I was saddened by that as well."
Daily Press reporter Martin Estacio may be reached at 760-955-5358 or MEstacio@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_mestacio.