Just a quick trip north of Phoenix and you’ll find yourself in Arizona’s prior capital city: Prescott. That’s right, Phoenix was not always Arizona’s capital! There’s much history to our beloved Prescott.
Prescott (pronounced Press-Kitt by natives & locals) was actually just one of Arizona’s previous capital cities. Before AZ was okay’ed by the folks in Congress to become a state, it was a territory much like other states that had awaited statehood.
During its time as a territory, AZ’s Territorial Governor John Noble Goodwin selected Prescott as the capital after he toured it. The territorial capital moved nearby to Granite Creek in 1864. Prescott served as the capital until 1867 when the 4th Territorial Legislature moved it to Tucson. Now, being someone that’s lived here my entire (modern-day) life…this makes zero sense to me. (I’m not hating on Tucson here, I promise.) Tucson is literally 3-4 hours away from Prescott and nowhere near being accessible to most of the folks in the territory. It would have made sense if we were one of the first states in the Southwest to obtain statehood and lines hadn’t been drawn yet, but, seeing that AZ was #48 out of 50, our neighbors were already penciled in with their boundary lines and well Mexico…probably wasn’t going to give us any more land either. Since I wasn’t there, I have to rely on good ole’ research. According to the State Capitol Museum, it had to do with the civil war and the fact that the legislature was a traveling body at the time. If interested, read a short article about it here.
Anyhow, in 1877, the 9th Territorial Legislature said… oops, let’s move it back to Prescott. So they did. Then, the 15th Territorial Legislature came along and said nope…we’re moving it to Phoenix. So they did (and it was officially moved on Feb 4, 1889). And now here we are, with the capital remaining in Phoenix and AZ as a state rather than a territory.
You’re probably thinking–okay, what else is cool about Prescott? Well, lots. Too much to write about here really. If you’ve ever heard of Prescott before, you’ve likely heard of the Courthouse and Whiskey Row. I really like downtown Prescott because it’s truly a “town square”. The courthouse is in the middle and then you’ve got lots of local small businesses and other government buildings all around it. And, you’ve got Whiskey Row originally nicknamed for all of the saloons that lined the street (about 40 at the time). In 1900, the block was completely destroyed by fire (even Hotel Burke, which I’ve read was nicknamed “the only absolutely fireproof building in Prescott”) and they had to rebuild it all–so they rebuilt the block in brick.
It’s really a very cool street to walk down even though it’s not necessarily lined with saloon after saloon anymore. One of my favorite spots to pop in for a bite to eat is (go figure) the Prescott Brewing Company. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll feature them at some point for a Feature Friday post! Here is another photo of downtown:
Prescott is situated in the Bradshaw Mountains and has an estimated population of about 40,000. While Prescott Valley, Dewey, and Chino Valley are so close to Prescott that the boundary lines are somewhat blurred, the region really maintains a big town feel full of sense of community and pride. From central Phoenix, Prescott is a little over an hour drive away. Hard to believe that in the late 19th century, the technology to get from point A to point B was by stagecoach and the 140-mile trip would be done three times a week where they would leave Prescott at 8am and arrive in Phoenix at Noon…the NEXT DAY!! (citation: Marshall Trimble, Roadside History of Arizona 2nd Ed.) Wow, we are so lucky to have the technological advances that we do now. I can’t imagine having to do business trips and travel for that long and just one way for an hour-long meeting or two!
Today, Prescott is known for being “Arizona’s Christmas City” and is a registered trade name for the city of Prescott. I’ll be sure to highlight their Christmas spirit later this year; I can’t wait! There are 5 lakes in the area and the weather is so much cooler than in Phoenix! They even get snow during the winter but it’s usually gone in a day or two (if that). There’s a beautiful blend of mountains, trees, water, and town making it a truly wonderful spot in Arizona to visit.
You can take a walking tour of downtown, visit the Sharlot Hall Museum (which includes the old Governor’s Mansion), the Smoki Museum, or just walk around and visit the little boutiques, shops, cafes, and restaurants/saloons. Whatever you do, have fun and let me know about your trip!