Prescott History

Early history
Prescott HistoryPhoto Credit:

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.

Prescott HistoryPhoto Credit:

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
Prescott HistoryPhoto Credit: ash

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, the older residential streets are lined with tall trees and pitched-roof frame houses, including turreted

Prescott HistoryPhoto Credit:
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.