July 17, 2016

Lost History: Yavapai County Courthouse: The Construction

After the cornerstone was laid, (story here,) construction started immediately.

Under the contract, the courthouse was supposed to be finished by the end of 1917.  Even though the builders stated that it would be finished "long before that time," it was not completed until 1918. (*1)

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. This granite, or "Prescott Granodiorite" to be exact, was "intruded some 1.7 billion years ago." (*2)

Preparatory operations to extract the granite were extensive. These included a "large line of power machinery, derricks, erecting shops and buildings for employees." (*3)

Expert masons from Scotland were brought in to handle the detailed work. (*2)

Rare photo of worker 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." (*4)

50 ton block falls to earth.
"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." (*4)

Then the rough-cut stones are lifted out of the quarry and taken to finishing sheds using a narrow gauge tram. (*4)

"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." (*4)

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. (*2)

When the finished stones arrived at the Courthouse Square, they were quickly laid into their proper position. (*3)

Newspaper ad for the quarry that
provided the Courthouse's granite.
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.)" (*4)

Over 25,000 cubic yards of granite would be extracted for the Courthouse. (*1)

Due to its high quality and low freight costs, the quarry ended up providing the granite for buildings all over town. However, eventually, the finest granite in the mountain began to peter-out and the business did not survive the Depression. (*2)

The Down-Payment for the Next Courthouse Might Be Underneath the Current One
There is an urban myth that Prescott's downtown area has several tunnels running underneath it. This has been debunked by historians several times. However, if someone were to try to dig tunnels under the Courthouse, they would do well to save the dirt!

The complete, heartbreaking story of the Walnut Grove Dam Disaster of 1890 in Yavapai County. It is still regarded as the worst natural disaster in Arizona history.

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. (Perhaps in ancient times, what we call Granite Creek used to run there.) In any case, our city's founders seemed to have unwittingly plotted out Prescott's downtown over an ancient placer gold field. (*2)

Out of curiosity, this dirt was assayed at $40 a ton. Of course, back then, gold was $20 an ounce. In today's market, a single 5-gallon bucket of this pay-dirt would net one $40! (*2)

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.) (*2)

As far as can be determined, the breadth and depth of this gold field has never been fully ascertained.

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

There already are some ancient buildings in the southwest; the dwellings at the Granite Mountain National Monument in Prescott's own backyard, for example.

The Wupatki Ruins are nearly 1000 years old.
One also thinks of the Wupatki pueblo ruins near Flagstaff. These ruins consist of stones 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 enveloped with 57,000 tons of solid granite! If Wupatki can last a millennium, how long might the Courthouse last?

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.

In 1986, the Courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. (*1) With regular maintenance, she should be with us for a very long time to come...

Long may she stand!

CLICK HERE for The Need
Find out how the building of the Courthouse was illegal!

CLICK HERE for The Mysterious Cornerstone
Find out about the mysterious Time Capsule!

Tourist Tips:

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

CLICK HERE for info on the Prescott Downtown Walking Tour

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(*1) Prescott Journal-Miner; 8/6/1916, pg. 3 col. 1
(*2) Sharlot Hall Museum Archives. Vertical File: Yavapai County Courthouse.
(*3) Prescott Journal-Miner: 8/10/1916, pg. 3 col. 4
(*4) Yavapai Magazine; February, 1917, pg. 7, cols. 1 & 2.


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