April 10, 2016

Prescott's "Man of (Her First) Century"

Morris Goldwater 1852-1939
The year was 1964 and Prescott was celebrating her first centennial. As part of the celebration, it was decided to chose a "Man of the Century." That choice was Morris Goldwater.

When looking at the man's resume of civic service, it is hard to imagine that anyone of any future century could come close to what Morris Goldwater accomplished in helping make Prescott an urban municipality. 

In its early years, Prescott struggled to grow from a back-water mining town to a civilized city and whenever Morris Goldwater saw a need for Prescott, he would set out to accomplish it himself.

"In addition to operating one of the most important stores in town, he served as the city’s mayor for a total of 20 years (over a 48-year period, from 1879 to 1927)." (*1)

Goldwater Store 1877
Prior to the opening of the J. Goldwater & Bros. Store in 1876, the cost of living in Prescott was exorbitant. This was due to teamsters having to travel many miles through hostile Indian country. The few willing to make the dangerous trip charged extremely high prices. By developing their own freight company, the Goldwater Store was able to offer some of the cheapest prices in town. For this alone, Morris and the Goldwater family became beloved. (*2)

But Morris's love for Prescott extended to many other civic endeavors. In 1879, "along with his father Big Mike, Morris pledged $5,000 in bonds for a railroad from Phoenix to Prescott. Morris and his two partners helped finance the railroad construction." (*3)

Other civic contributions included "his membership in the Mechanics Hook and Ladder Team and later, an organizer and member of the Dudes hose cart team."(*1) Soon other hose brigades were formed and friendly competitions were held during Frontier Days to see who was the fastest--a practice still commemorated today.

"Goldwater also helped to organize the Prescott Rifles, a voluntary citizen's group formed to assist and supplement the cavalry troops of the Whipple battalion, who were often away from the post during the Indian Wars. Goldwater had at least three personal skirmishes with the Indians and he served as as sergeant of the company and as its secretary. This group later became the nucleus of the Arizona National Guard."(*2)

"He was (also) a supporter of cultural development in Prescott and served on the board of the Prescott Dramatic Society." (*1)

"One of the biggest issues that Morris Goldwater worked on was getting adequate water and sewer systems in town.  In Prescott’s early days, fires were fought by bucket brigades.  In 1885, a water system with reservoir and fire hydrants was developed.  However, in his inaugural address to the city council in 1895, Morris declared that 'Our present water system….gives no water fit for a human being to drink…..and necessity only compels its use for bathing.  At the time water is most needed, we have it not.'”(*1)

"When he found out that the city could not afford to provide itself with an adequate water system, he ran for the state legislature, was elected and personally steered the passage of necessary legislation. He then returned to the mayor's post and successfully led the construction of Prescott's first water system." In all, Morris served as a member of three state legislatures and was vice-president of Arizona's 1910 Constitutional Convention. (*2)

He helped found the Arizona Democratic Party; ironic, since his grand-nephew, Barry Goldwater, was the Republican presidential nominee the same year Morris was named Prescott's Man of the Century.

1877: Early Prescott Super Stores

Morris's "political career also included roles as councilman of Prescott, member of the 12th Territorial Council of Yavapai County, Chairman of the Territorial Democratic Central Committee, Supervisor of Yavapai County and President of the 20th Territorial Legislature."(*2) He was, indeed, a born leader.

Another great accomplishment of his was the paving of Prescott's streets, although this was not easy. During this time, in 1925, three area banks failed. (In the first half of the 1920's, before there was an FDIC, it was common in the U.S. for rural banks to go insolvent when the one and only local industry hit hard times.) The city had on deposit $100,000 in the Prescott State Bank when it became insolvent. Unfortunately, only $20,000 of it was insured. (*4)

This caused a "flash-in-the-pan" effort to recall Mayor Goldwater, but nothing ever came of it. Indeed, the one and only newspaper account detailing the effort confessed that all attempts "to learn who had signed the petitions were in vain and the entire affair seem(ed) to be clouded in mystery."(*4) Without question, Goldwater continued to serve as mayor until 1927. (*3)

Yet, the loss of the city's money was still a big problem. Although salaries could be met through the income of licenses, water bills, and cash on hand, Prescott was in the lurch for the cost of the new paving. To solve this problem, Goldwater successfully secured a loan from one of the very few remaining area banks, The Bank of Clemenceau, for $27,500. He also stated that "it may be necessary to borrow an additional amount" to get through the crisis. (*5)

Undoubtedly more disturbing to Goldwater than any potential recall was witnessing the Ku Klux Klan march past his store through downtown several times in the 1920's. Still, Morris himself was popular, being "very active in the Masonic community in Arizona. He organized the Order of the Eastern Star of Arizona and was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Arizona and Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Arizona. In 1903, Goldwater received the Honorary 33° of the Scottish Rite Masons, one of the highest ranks available. For over 50 years, his role as a mason assisted him in business and politics." (*3)

Sarah Goldwater
Goldwater's mother, Sarah, was devoutly jewish. "So strong," it was written, "that out of respect to their mother, her sons did not marry out of the faith until after she died." This was true of Morris, who in 1906 married his long-time landlady, Sarah (Sallie) Shivers Fisher. (*6)

After his 20th year as Prescott mayor in 1927, Morris, aged 75, went into semi-retirement. He lived happily with his Sallie until her death in 1934. (*3)

The Goldwater family owned burial plots in San Francisco, "but just three days before his death in 1939, (Morris) requested to be buried on a hill overlooking the community he had served for so long." (*2) That hilltop burial site can be found in the Prescott Masonic Cemetery.

Tourist Tips:

The house Morris Goldwater lived in is now the Hampton Funeral Home located in the downtown area at 240 S. Cortez St.
The former Morris Goldwater house.

There are many historic buildings and sites in Prescott! 
CLICK HERE for a complete listing.