June 18, 2017

The Complete "Lost History" of the Yavapai County Courthouse

The reasons why Yavapai County needed a new, third, (and current) courthouse seemed endless. First, the Old Courthouse had become too small for the growing county. Added to that was this stunning list of deficiencies:

  • "The (old) courthouse tower was so badly out of plumb that the fire bells tolled regularly during wind storms." (*1)
  • The inferior sandstone chosen for the front stairway had crumbled into a rocky, sandy, slippery ramp. (*2)
  • Simply using the interior stairs "caused the floor and the walls to move to and fro" like "a glass of jelly." This was so acute that whenever anyone climbed or descended the stairway, the desk clerk would have to pause his writing! (*3)
  • A recent addition was already becoming "detached from the old building." Daylight was pouring through several gaps. (*4)
  • The roof was leaking with the potential of destroying important records. (*3)
  • One headline related: "COURTHOUSE FLUE IS READY TO FALL: Wide Crevice in Brick Structure Plainly Discernible From Ground to the Eaves of Roof." Pedestrians were warned to stay clear. (*5)
  • Yavapai Magazine revealed the embarrassment that: "It is unsanitary and reeks with foul smells!" (*6)
  • "If it should catch fire, practically all the (irreplaceable county) records would be destroyed since the building does not even approach being fireproof." (*6)
  • Indeed, it was a deadly firetrap: "Practically no exit for escape (exists) except by jumping from the top story windows to the ground, forty feet below." (*7)

The Old Courthouse with its added flue
on the right of the building.
In short, the Old Courthouse had become a living wreck. When it finally closed forever at 9 pm on February 26th, 1916, someone tacked a poignant note to the door reading: "She was a good old house in her younger days, but she's 'all in' now." (*8)

However, the road to building the current courthouse was both bumpy and winding.

Sticker Shock:
"Planning for the new courthouse began in earnest in 1915 when a nationwide contest brought in some 23 plans from architects in a dozen major cities." A budget was set at $250,000 for a 4-story, fire-proof, turn-key ready courthouse. (*8)

However, when bids were opened April 12th, 1916, hopes for a new structure were nearly dashed. The lowest bid for general construction alone was $217,864 by Rogers & Ashton, with erection and equipment pushing the bill to $300,000. (*9) This would not do.

As a result, "the (county) supervisors went over the specifications for the building carefully, crossed out certain materials and equipment that were not absolutely necessary and (with these subtractions,) Rogers & Ashton...agreed to do the general construction work alone for $180,000." (*10)

Biography of one of the most colorful men to reside in Prescott, Arizona: Buckey O'Neill.

The Courthouse Wouldn't Stand-Up In Court:
All of this whittling down of the price-tag raised legal problems, however. When the trimmed-down contract was handed over for review by the county attorney's office, they declared it to be illegal. The action was in violation of Title 40 of the civil code and this "new" bid was not taken in competition. It was insisted by the attorney's office that all bids be refused and re-advertisement be made for new bids. (*11)

However, the County Board of Supervisors completely ignored the advice and signed the contract anyway. (*11) The legal argument made by the attorney's office was clear, straight-forward and well publicized. Yet, so universal was the desire for a larger, fire-proof, fresher-smelling courthouse, that no one ever challenged the matter in court!

Yavapai County would be getting her new courthouse after all.

After the contract to build the new courthouse was signed, preparatory work began immediately.

The Cornerstone:
Of special interest and care was the building's cornerstone. A date of October 19th, 1916 was set for the laying of the cornerstone to coincide with the opening of the Fourth Annual Northern Arizona Fair. (*12) The mayor declared a holiday and all businesses closed for the festivities. (*13)

Special care was taken in picking out the cornerstone. "The piece (was) 4.6 x 3 x 3 feet and is said to to the finest product in that family, exceeding in quality the famed Gunnison granite of Colorado." (*13)

"It is native granite, or strictly speaking, the 'Prescott Granodiorite' that was intruded some 1.7 billion years ago." (*14)

Masonic Ties:
Like many civic buildings across the country, the cornerstone was placed in a Masonic ceremony. "All of the grand lodge members of the Free and Accepted Masons of Arizona (convened) in the Masonic Temple at 9:30 am" for the 10 am service. Nearly every Mason in the area came to see the rare and momentous ceremony. (*15)

Rare, grainy photo of the Cornerstone laying ceremony,

A large crowd turned out to witness the impressive festivity. "Following a prayer by the grand chaplain, (the) chairman of the board of supervisors welcomed the Masonic order and bade them begin the ceremonies." These mysterious rituals were performed by the Grand Master of the state. After a signal was given and the cornerstone was lowered into place, the Masons "christened it with corn, oil and wine." (*15)

This ceremony was reenacted by the Masons on its 100th anniversary in 2016.

The Hidden Time Capsule:
Before the cornerstone was sealed, a time capsule was placed inside. "All institutions, public officials and, in fact, every organization interested in Yavapai county have filed...records to be sealed and buried in the cornerstone. This packet will not be opened for at least a century, or until such time as Yavapai county will again need a courthouse." (*13) A century later would be October 19th, 2016.

A Yavapai Magazine article goes into further detail about what's inside: "In a copper box," (most appropriate,) "which was embedded in a hollow of the cornerstone, were records of the various local institutions that will be very interesting to those who may look over the same when Yavapai county needs a new courthouse in 50 or 100 years from now. Among the records were the last three issues of Yavapai Magazine. These issues will be of special interest since they tell of the organization of the Northern Arizona Fair and give pictures of the men active in its management. There are also pictures of the high school boys and girls of Prescott and the beginning of Prescott's Granite Quarry. The full page article that tells why Yavapai county wants Tom Campbell for governor and the picture of the big candidate will also unquestionably prove of great interest." (*16)

The story of Morris Goldwater and his oversight of the early development of Prescott.

However, the time capsule was not opened as scheduled. The 2016 Board of Supervisors looked into the cost of removing the time capsule from both the interior and exterior. It was found that costs would be high and there was worry about damage to the integrity of the building itself. As a result, it was decided that given the choice between opening it now (a century later,) and opening it when the county has the need for a new one; the Board of Supervisors chose the latter. 

It was a noble decision to "reinvest" this time capsule to a future generation who would undoubtedly appreciate its contents far more than we.

Once the cornerstone was laid, the massive construction of the new Courthouse began in earnest.

Under the contract, the courthouse was supposed to be finished by the end of 1917.  Although the builders stated that it would be finished "long before that time," it was not completed until 1918. (*17)

The Down-Payment for the Next Courthouse Might Be Underneath the Current One:
As preparatory digging was underway to make room for the foundation and several feet of overburden was removed, flecks of gold were found mixed in the underlying dirt.  It seams our city's founders unwittingly plotted out Prescott's downtown over an ancient and rich placer gold field! (*18)

Out of curiosity, this pay-dirt was assayed at a whopping $40 a ton. That would be approximately two ounces of gold hiding in just one bulldozer scoop! In today's market, a single 5-gallon bucket of this pay-dirt would net $40. (*18)

When citizens found this out, they thought it appropriate for the seat of Yavapai County to be located over a placer gold field (since the discovery of gold in the area brought rise to the city in the first place.) (*18)

As far as can be determined, the breadth and depth of this gold field has never been fully ascertained. However, if the old Capital Hill, just east of the Courthouse, were the ancient bank of Granite Creek, then it's fairly probable that the entire Downtown District may be sitting on this exceedingly rich gold field!

The Granite Came From Miller Valley:
The granite for the Courthouse was quarried locally at the Larkin Quarry, just west and north of Rock Lane off of Gail Gardner Way. Additional stone was provided from a quarry adjacent to the Granite Mountain Middle School. (*18)

Preparatory operations to extract the granite were extensive. These included a "large line of power machinery, derricks, erecting shops and buildings for employees." (*19)

Expert masons from Scotland were brought in to handle the detailed work. (*18)

Preparing granite for the
Yavapai County Courthouse.
It turned out that this native stone made exceptional building material. First, 40 to 50 ton blocks were cleaved off the quarry wall without using explosives. This was accomplished by drilling "3 inch holes at intervals of six inches along the line that the rock is to be cut. A splitting wedge, technically termed a 'plug and feathers' is then inserted into each hole. The feathers are small side pieces of steel. The plug is a small wedge inserted in each hole." (*20)

"A workman drives each wedge into these holes and by striking the plugs, one after another, in regular order, again and again, is able to bring even pressure to bear upon the granite so it finally cleaves along the line marked out by the holes." (*20)

Then the rough-cut stones are lifted out of the quarry and taken to finishing sheds using a narrow gauge tram. (*20)

"Here, each rock is shaped according to the plan provided the workmen and is either surfaced with a bush hammer driven by compressed air or else is finished with a mallet and chisel." (*20)

Every stone was formed to exact specifications. Someday, if and when the Courthouse is torn down, demolishers will discover that every stone has an individual number painted on it to identify where it would be placed during the construction. (*18)

When the finished stones arrived at the Courthouse Square, they were quickly laid into their proper position. (*19)

Rogers and Ashton, contractors for the quarry, were proud of their product. "It is a free working granite and is remarkably tough," Ashton said. "It cleaves easily and evenly and remains remarkably true (in its evenness of color.)" (*20)

Over 25,000 cubic yards of granite would be extracted for the Courthouse. (*17)

Yavapai County Fortress:
In building a fireproof structure, the people of Yavapai County erected a near fortress that should survive remarkably well in her arid environment.

Many area Native American ruins consist of simple stone and mortar and have stood for nearly a thousand years.

The Yavapai County Courthouse, on the other hand, is constructed of reinforced concrete walls and floors, encapsulated with 57,000 tons of solid granite! How long might that last?

As long as the roof is kept in good order, it would take a violent earthquake or a meteor strike to bring the Courthouse down!

To us, the Courthouse is an antique, but taking the perspective of the building's own lifetime, she's just now emerging from adolescence. Undoubtedly, the "Belle of the Downtown Ball" has bones sufficient to become a very old lady, indeed.

Tourist Tips:

Downtown Prescott is both beautiful and historic. A descriptive walking tour has been created that is both entertaining and instructive.

(*1) Arizona Journal-Miner 6/4/1908 Pg. 1 col. 4 (bottom)
(*2) Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 1/16/1895 Pg. 3 Col. 2
(*3) Prescott Journal-Miner 4/20/1913 Pg. 4 col. 4
(*4) Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 2/21/1894 Pg. 3 col. 1
(*5) Prescott Journal-Miner 11/6/1913 Pg. 5 col. 1
(*6) Yavapai Magazine; July, 1914 pg. 8 col. 2
(*7) Prescott Journal-Miner 10/9/1913 Pg. 1 col. 5 (top)
(*8) Prescott Courier; 2/28/1975. "Westward" insert, pg. 2 ff
(*9) Prescott Journal-Miner 4/13/1916 pg. 3 col. 4
(*10) Prescott Journal-Miner 4/16/1916 Pg. 1 Col. 4
(*11) Prescott Journal-Miner 4/21/1916 Pg. 1 col. 1
(*12) Prescott Journal-Miner 8/25/1916 Pg. 3 col. 5
(*13) Prescott Journal-Miner 10/19/1916 Pg. 3 col. 5
(*14) Sharlot Hall Museum Archives; Vertical File: Yavapai County Courthouse. A walking tour guide of the geology in downtown buildings.
(*15) Prescott Journal-Miner 10/20/1916 Pg. 3 col. 7
(*16) Yavapai Magazine. November, 1916; Pg. 5, col. 2
(*17) Prescott Journal-Miner; 8/6/1916, pg. 3 col. 1
(*18) Sharlot Hall Museum Archives. Vertical File: Yavapai County Courthouse.
(*19) Prescott Journal-Miner: 8/10/1916, pg. 3 col. 4
(*20) Yavapai Magazine; February, 1917, pg. 7, cols. 1 & 2.


June 11, 2017

1865: The Clever Ambush at Battle Point (Skull Valley)

It was a usual day in the freighting business for Sam and Jake Miller. Yet in 1865, freighting through the Arizona wilderness was unusually dangerous. Indian raids on the toll road from Ft. Mohave to Prescott were happening regularly and this time the Miller brothers would be taking mostly passengers as well as some supplies and stock.

"People wishing to come to Arizona traveled with freighters for protection." Every precaution would have to be made to protect both riders and supplies. (*1)

June 4, 2017

Story Behind the Names: Mingus Mountain; Cherry & Yeager Canyon

The first mention of the mountain that would become known as Mingus is found in the origin story of the Yavapai people. A girl named Kamalapukwia was placed in a water tight log to survive the worldwide flood. After the waters receded she went to Mingus mountain before dawn and allowed the rising sun to hit "her inside" in preparation for having a child. (*1)

May 28, 2017

Spencer Repeating Rifle Rules the Battle of the Black Mountains

It was April of 1867 and ranchers in the area were both highly anxious and on alert. "Information of the presence of a large body of hostile Indians in Hell Canyon" prompted General Gregg to send two companies "to examine and explore that locality, and if possible to break up this band." However, by the time the army arrived, the Indians had left and were heading southeast towards the Black Mountains, several miles south of Woodchute and Mingus. (*1)

It would take several days for the Army to catch up, but such a large party of Indians and their animals left a trail even anglos could follow. But this time, for the first time in Arizona, the troops were armed with the lethal and already legendary Spencer Repeating Rifle. It had already been used, with devastating effectiveness, against Confederate soldiers.

May 21, 2017

1867: Territorial Capital Departs for Tucson

Governor's Mansion

When word first came out that there was a movement to relocate the capital from Prescott to Tucson, most of Yavapai County thought the idea to be both unfathomable and impossible.

Traditionally American capitals had always been located near their geographic center. Even Washington, DC, now far to the east, was centrally located in relation to the 13 original colonies.

But now there was a movement to relocate the capital hundreds of miles away from the majority of the population, close to the Mexican border, where it's so hot that "one can fry a rattlesnake without a fire."

In the end, it was politics that made the unthinkable become reality.

May 14, 2017

The Endless Work of the Pioneer Ranch Mom

The pioneer ranching mother was one of the true unsung heroes of the West. Her lot was an especially hard one; not only because of a lack of conveniences, but because her toils were a necessity in order to survive.

May 7, 2017

I Was the Cause of the Battle of Skull Valley

Sure--I've seen more than my share of Indians--most of them hostile.

I ran freight on two roads--one that ran from La Paz to Prescott and one from Hardyville (or what you call Bullhead City,) to Prescott.

One time in particular I had a seriously close brush that ended-up in a military battle.

My name is Freeman and not only did I fight in the Battle of Skull Valley, but you might say that I was the cause.

April 30, 2017

The Dynamite Attack on JS Acker's House

It seemed just a normal sleepy night in Prescott early on Saturday, April 21st, 1917, when at 2:30 am an explosion rocked the city.

It was "a diabolical attempt to blow up the home of JS Acker, (at) 205 North Mt. Vernon Street." (*1)

It seemed someone wanted to see the future donor of park land to Prescott dead. But why?

April 23, 2017

1872: The Gruesome Fate of the Young Braggart

It was 1872 when the John Sturns family was making its way from Arkansas to Del Rio Springs. On the way they picked up a young man heading in the same direction.

It was prudent for the family of five (as well as the lone traveller) to join together as they headed deeper into Indian country and the lawless wilderness. An extra gun could mean safety and survival.

The young man told the family not to worry. He wasn't afraid of any injuns. He boasted that he was going to shoot the first Indian that he laid his eyes on!

Perhaps he thought doing so would mark a passage into manhood. Perhaps he wanted to amass a fearless reputation in his new haunts. Whatever his motivation, it would all end up horribly wrong.

April 9, 2017

1868-71: The Last Indian Raids on Kirkland Valley

One method used by Native Americans during the Indian Wars could be described as "guerrilla attrition"--sudden, stealthy strikes aimed at absconding with the very things the settlers needed to survive.

Kirkland Valley was not immune.

April 2, 2017

Highway 79: the Prescott to Jerome "Shortline"

When it first opened August 1st, 1920, it was declared "Yavapai's Greatest Attraction." (*1)

"Members of the National Geographic Society...proclaimed (Highway 79) as 'the most beautiful drive in America.'" (*2)

To cynics (and the carsick) the curvy, mountain road might seem to have been designed by a carnival-ride engineer, a drunk, or both. In fact, Highway 79 would be considered an engineering marvel even by today's standards. It cut the travel time and distance between the two cities nearly in half.

While some history is buried under the sands of time, Highway 79 was eventually buried under a ribbon of asphalt and given a new number: 89A. Still, the twists and turns of this roadway only mirror the odyssey taken to construct it.

March 26, 2017

The Findings at the Fitzmaurice Indian Ruin

The Fitzmaurice Indian Ruin today.

Most of the commuters who go up and down Stoneridge Drive each day probably have noticed a peculiar zig-zagging fence surrounding a hilltop east of the road.

They might wonder: "What is this fence guarding?"

Answer: Perhaps the most significant, undeveloped tourist attraction in all of Yavapai county!

The Fitzmaurice Ruin is far more than a few scattered rock formations. The 27 room main pueblo and its several satellite structures encompass the largest Indian ruin in the Prescott region.

March 19, 2017

Entrepreneur Joseph Mayer & His Town

Joseph Mayer

It was with a small amount of irony that Joseph Mayer's funeral was held in Prescott. For it was a fateful trip to that city that unexpectedly ended 30 miles short that would define his life and his legacy.

"He was loved and mourned by all who knew him. People came from all over the state, rich and poor alike, hundreds of them. They said among themselves, 'There will never be but one Joe Mayer'" (*1)

An Apache chief who lived across the creek came to pay his last respects. "My people have lost their Big Chief," he said, "our brother and best friend." (*1)

"Tears were shed by both men and women as the remains were lowered into their last resting place." (*2)

As both an entrepreneur and a kind-hearted man, Joseph Mayer brought a great deal to both his town and Yavapai county.

March 12, 2017

Prescott's 1st Ordinances Reveal the Charm of a Small Village

It was May 12th, 1873 when the Village of Prescott's Council met to pass its first two ordinances.

The two simple and quaint laws offer an interesting insight into the everyday life of the early, small settlement.

The first ordinance dealt with the job descriptions of the four primary city workers. The second dealt with criminal laws concerning "Breaches of the Peace."

March 5, 2017

The Legend of Burnt Ranch

The Burnt Ranch house that replaced the burned cabin.
It was 1961 when plastics manufacturer Arthur Edison bought the 160 acres for future development. He paid $150,000--less than $1000 per acre for the land located west of Williamson Valley Drive between Iron Springs Road and Pioneer Parkway. (*1)

By then the property had been known as "Burnt Ranch" for nearly a century.

This is the tale of the Apache-Mojave (aka "Date Creek") Indian raid that gave the ranch its name.

February 26, 2017

"Story of a Hanged Man" by Parker Anderson

A review...

It was around the turn of the century when author and Prescott historian Parker Anderson was reading an account of (Fleming) "James" Parker, notorious outlaw and subject of many wild west dime novels. It was an interesting account, but much to Anderson's chagrin, it did not include proper sourcing.

Perhaps it was at this moment that Anderson succumbed to a syndrome not uncommon to historians: he was bitten by the "dig-up the truth" bug. Little did he know that he would be embarking on a sixteen-year odyssey that included hurdles, difficulties, and an occasional dead end.

February 19, 2017

Meet the Kakaka: The Little Indian People Who Live in the Mountains

Granite Mountain--one of the homes the Kakaka.

For those of us whose minds were formatted in the style of Western Civilization and culture, the Kakaka pose a paranormal puzzle. Are they spirit beings? Are they aliens? Are they elementals? Do they even exist at all? However, for the Yavapai and other Arizona tribes, the Kakaka aren't only real--they're a vital part of their culture.

For it is the Kakaka who give instruction and teaching to their medicine men.

February 12, 2017

Story Behind the Names: Route 89: Prescott to Ash Fork

In this edition of "Stories Behind the Names" we look at: 
Prescott, Chino Valley, Paulden, Drake, Hell Canyon, Ash Fork and other minor locations along the way.

Prescott: (Includes Early Street Name Origins)

Most students of Prescott history are aware that the town "was named in honor of Massachusetts-based historian William Hickling Prescott, who was already deceased at the time and had never set foot in the west.  (*1)

It was unusual for towns to bear the names of people who were not involved with their founding, yet the start-up community of Fort Whipple officially renamed itself Prescott in May, 1864. (*1)

February 5, 2017

1890: The Dam, The Drunk, & The Disaster

Walnut Grove Dam

The Dam:

"Besides being the largest piece of solid masonry in the United States, (the Walnut Grove Dam) also drain(ed) the largest watershed in the world, being upwards of 400 miles of territory." (*1)

But in the dark, early hours of February 22, 1890 heavy rains would cause the dam to "literally explode."

"The disastrous breach of Arizona's first major dam poured 4 billion gallons of water into a canyon above Wickenburg and killed approximately 100-150 people, although no one will really ever know how many people drowned." (*2)

January 22, 2017

The Crazy, Two-Hour Jerome Junction Gold Rush

The railroad's section foreman was five or six miles out toward Jerome doing his usual job, when it was time to take his dinner break. He found a nearby rock to sit on and began eating the food from his pail.

There wasn't anything particularly new to look at, so he happened to look down at the rock he was sitting upon.

Soon he noticed something shiny and matted within the rock that caused an instant double-take. It was shiny; it was heavy; it was gold!

The foreman stood up and examined further. Not only was there some gold in the rock, there was a great deal of it!

Not only was there one gold bearing rock, but an entire vein was visible!

He couldn't wait to rush back to Jerome Junction and tell of his unbelievable luck. So he broke off several pounds of the ore as a sample and took his handcar to get back to the hotel in town.

January 15, 2017

1875-86: The Murderous Stanton Syndicate

Charles P Stanton in front of his hotel.

When Charles P Stanton first set his eyes on the town of Antelope Station, he coveted to make it his own personal empire. Eventually he would name the town in honor of himself and rule it with a murderous tyranny that would even make Al Capone blush.

"While Stanton, Arizona never had the glamor of Tombstone, in the days of Charles Stanton, no town in the West could equal the murderous, evil environment predominating life in this (otherwise) thriving gold-mining community." (*1)

In fact, Stanton gained such a heinous reputation that travelers in the area steered clear of the town. (*1)

January 8, 2017

Arizona Pioneers' Home: A Gibraltar of Civic Pride

Whatever happened to the pioneer miners when they got too old to work?

As Prescott began to mature at the beginning of the 20th century, this was hardly a theoretical question. The old pioneer miners were becoming aged, infirm and could no longer toil after years of back-breaking work.

They worked in extraordinarily tough and dangerous conditions, bringing wealth and the very founding of the community and the state. Now, in their sunset years, they needed Arizona to help them.

January 1, 2017

1915: 6 Ft. Snow Drove Lions Onto Ranches--Hardly a Colt Survived

The winter of 1915 in Yavapai County was one of the wettest in the area's history.  Wave after wave of heavy moisture came through the Prescott area stretching all the way down into the Sonoran desert. (Ultimately, this unusually wet winter would change the ecosystem of the Prescott National Forest forever introducing the white-tail deer to the area.)

In the valleys, there were copious amounts of rain with Williamson Valley flooding several times.  Initially, ranchers were excited that "the ground was soaked to the grassroots" and they anticipated "one of the very best ranching seasons ever." (*1) However, this wet abundance would prove to be a two-edged sword.