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Home » Visitors » History

Prescott History

Early history

The city of Prescott, Arizona has a rich history. Did you know that 100,000 people inhabited the Prescott area more than 9,000 years ago? These people were likely early ancestors of the Yavapai tribe, meaning "people of the sun," whose reservation now borders the city. Pre-historic Yavapai and Sinagua Indian artifacts can be found in ancient Indian Pueblos and mounds throughout the Verde Valley, in the nearby dwellings at Tuzigoot and Montezuma's Castle.

Spanish explorers, the U.S. Cavalry, Indian tribes, gold rush "49ers," silver miners, and homesteaders also left their influence on Prescott. In the mid-19th century, Prescott developed rapidly.

Many historians have called Charles D. Poston "the Father of Arizona" for his efforts toward creating the Arizona territory. He was an explorer and prospector in the territory, and in 1864 he wrote the following in a letter to a friend:

The granite mountains, covered with great pine forests, give a grandeur and beauty to the country which I have not seen elsewhere. The atmosphere is the perfection of temperature, seldom varying from 75 during my visit. The water is pure, cool, and refreshing, and abounds in every direction.

Here, in what is considered a wilderness, a desert, or what you will, a thousand miles from anywhere...a number of people gather around...and commence the business of life with a vigor and confidence which inspires the most inert and timid with a desire to accomplish something.

Nearly 150 years later, the grandeur and beauty remain.

Great Fire of 1900

Prescott, Arizona was founded in 1864 at the behest of Congress and President Abraham Lincoln in an effort to secure the area's mineral riches for the Union forces during the Civil War, the town was named for historian William Hickling Prescott by the settlers.

In 1865, Prescott carved it's unique place among early communities in Arizona because it was reportedly built exclusively of wood and was inhabited almost entirely by Americans as a result of the nation's Westward expansion. As Arizona's Territorial Capital and county seat, the land use and general townscape character clearly evidenced the Midwestern and Eastern roots of the populace. The town plaza, with its courthouse surrounded by a park, reflects the influence of the larger American culture rather than that of the Southwest. Prescottonians may now refer to the center of  town as the Plaza, but the design portrays a desire to keep Prescott American and unique among southwestern cities.

Prescott eventually lost it's place as the state's legislative seat to Tucson and finally to Phoenix in 1889. A year later, a devastating fire burned the wood-constructed buildings of Prescott to the ground.

Prescott had always had a fire problem. In May of 1879, the Arizona Miner recommended that at least four deep wells be made as a means of saving the town should a fire break out in the wooden buildings on Montezuma Street. Nothing was done, however, and on July 4, 1883, fire destroyed most of Montezuma, and wells were finally dug on the four corners of the plaza, solely for fire purposes.

On Saturday night, July 14th, 1900, fire swept through downtown Prescott with an uncontrollable fury, almost totally destroying the business district of the small mining town.

The fire began at the southwest corner of Goodwin and Montezuma, then quickly swept up Montezuma - a.k.a. "Whiskey Row." Building after building rapidly went down in flames that then moved across the street to burn and destroy all of Gurley before moving to Cortez. Most of North Cortez went down before the wind died down and the slowing flames were finally put out. Despite its four-hour and estimated $1.5 million rampage of destruction, everyone survived "The Great Fire of 1900" and Prescott was soon triumphantly rebuilt (all with brick or stone - no more wood!) and many of the buildings you see today are reminders of Prescott's past.

20th Century

One hallmark of mid-20th Century Prescott is Fort Whipple. Originally a tactical base for the U.S. Cavalry and later the headquarters for the Arizona Volunteers (Rough Riders) in the previous century, Fort Whipple was converted to a tuberculosis sanatorium during WW I and was transferred to the Public Health Service in 1920 for continued use as a hospital for disabled Veterans. In the early 1930s, the facility was transferred to the newly created Veterans Administration as a general medical / surgical hospital. Today, the site retains it's early-to-mid Century style and architecture and is still locally referred to as Fort Whipple.

The "happy days" of the mid-20th Century still linger around Prescott. All one needs to do to "go back in time" is stroll around downtown, stop in at a converted soda fountain, attend a classic car show, or check out the resurrected 1950s-era Senator Drive-In sign out on Senator Highway and Summit Point Drive.

Today

Today, the older residential streets are lined with tall trees and pitched-roof frame houses, including turreted Victorian homes. Prescott has many homes and businesses on the National Register of Historic Places and its trademark white granite Prescott courthouse, set among the green lawns and spreading trees of the town square, reflects the Midwestern and New England background of Prescott’s pioneers. In fact, in March 2006 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Prescott one of its "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" appealing to tourists' taste for historic places.
 

Written by: Christina Hecht

Driving Directions

Prescott driving directionsNeed driving directions to Prescott from Phoenix, Las Vegas, and other cities nearby? Our handy directions will get you here. Prescott is ideally located in central Arizona at the intersection of two major state routes – Highway 69 and Highway 89. It’s also fewer than 90 miles from I-10 and I-40, two coast-to-coast interstates. And once you’re in Prescott, you’ll experience the Gateway to Northern Arizona. Within just a couple hours driving time, Prescott visitors can find themselves in Jerome, wine country, Sedona, or the Grand Canyon. Prescott is the perfect central Arizona location from which to venture out, and we're sure you'll always want to find the road back.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions FAQs and visitor informationDo you have some questions about Prescott, Arizona? Curious about the history of Prescott? Wondering what Prescott is like today? Do you need directions or a map of the area? We’ve got answers on every topic from Whiskey Row to where to go; from what to pack to weather facts. You’ll find answers you can use when researching your next vacation or your next change-of-address. Prescott.com, THE online resource for Prescott visitors and locals, has put together a full list of Frequently Asked Questions and answers about Prescott, Arizona. We hope they'll help you plan a nice long visit to Prescott soon, or even entice you to make Prescott your next hometown.

All Things to Do in Prescott

Things to do in PrescottYou probably don't need help finding things to do in Prescott; there's a ton to do! Nevertheless, we can help you narrow down the list to fit into your perfect Prescott vacation. Looking for family friendly attractions that kids and adults will both love? Or maybe a winery tour, a casino and some grown-up fun is more your style. Whether you want to go for outdoor adventures, embark on an area tour, horseback riding, or golf, the best things to do in Prescott are at your fingertips. Enjoy Prescott attractions like art galleries and museums and historical sites, entertainment and nightlife on Whiskey Row and beyond and dozens of other Prescott attractions.

Prescott Arizona Real Estate

Prescott real estate guideAre you dreaming about Prescott Arizona real estate? You are certainly not alone. Prescott real estate and Prescott Valley real estate together are one of the most popular targets for Arizona retirement, resort style living communities and new homes. Who wouldn't want to find Prescott, Arizona homes for sale and start enjoying year-round outdoor weather, diverse landscapes, rock formations, pine forests, majestic mountains and rolling foothills? Find a Prescott realtor - someone who's a true expert in Prescott, Arizona real estate? Browse Prescott Arizona homes for sale - like golf course homes - inside resort living communities. You'll find it all on Prescott.com.