September 18, 2016

Prescott's First Building

"Fort Misery"

Originally meant to be a temporary store front, the meager two room log cabin would grow a history and reputation as tall as a skyscraper.

Although the structure would never be associated with the military, it would soon earn the moniker: "Fort Misery"...

On what could be called "Prescott's first Christmas," in 1863, Manuel Yrissari, a merchant from New Mexico arrived, bringing with him the first load of supplies into Prescott to sell to the local miners. (*1)

He needed a place to live and do business, so he built a modest, 15x25 foot, two-room log cabin. (*2) "It was hastily constructed from local Ponderosa pine logs. It had a flat pine pole roof covered with a thick layer of dirt to keep out the winter snow and rain." (*3)

Location formally known as Goose Flats
The small building was set on what was known as Goose Flats, (where the Prescott Mile High Middle School athletic field is today.) (*4)

For many years, it was thought that Yrissari sold his inventory and left town. However, "recent research refutes this in that he was advertising in the Arizona Journal-Miner as selling liquor and groceries from his store on Whiskey Row in 1871. (*4)

Before moving to Whiskey Row, one account of oral history recalled that Yrissari built a larger, three room log cabin to do business. (*4)

Yrissari sold his first building to a hispanic woman, known to the early settlers as "Virgin Mary." Genealogists, who've researched her identity, report that it was probably Mary Decrow Ramos who arrived in Arizona in 1861. (*4)

Mary turned the store front into the town's first boarding house. Two goats furnished the milk and the price was a whopping $25 a week to get out of the weather. In spite of the high price, Virgin Mary was well thought of and "received her nom de plume because of her charity and benevolence." (*5)

"As a temporary shelter, it was the hub of the small community. When the Governor’s Party arrived in early 1864, it was pressed into service as a Protestant church and the court room for the first term of court in the Territory." (*3)

It was at this place that citizen posses "planned campaigns against the lurking savage." (*6)

When another boarding house opened and started charging $16 a week, Mary moved on to the ranch life on Lynx Creek and sold the building to Judge John Howard who made it his residence and law office. (*1)

The place remained a social hub. "For there the latch string ever hung on the outer wall and the smile, as well as the liquid in the cheers, was always on tap; and if those old walls could talk, volumes of interesting ancient Arizona history would be preserved for future generations." (*1)

One old-timer recalled: "The historic associations of the place seemed to draw men to it and often we sat in the shadow of the old walls and heard the late Buckey O'Neill and other men whose names are familiar to history talk for hours." (*1)

RELATED: The Short, Colorful Life of Mayor Buckey O'Neill
Had he survived the Spanish-American War, he would have been Arizona's first Governor!

The building was moved by Judge Howard to a location on Montezuma near Carlton street, where he lived until his fiancé informed him that she would not make house there. (*4)

By this time, the structure was showing its "temporary" nature--particularly the dirt roof. It was Judge Howard who gave "Fort Misery" its name due to its dilapidated condition when he moved out. (*4)

The building became a storage shed for a neighboring lot. Due to road grading raising the height of Montezuma street over the years,  for a time, Fort Misery looked as if it had been half buried. (*5)

It may have been forgotten, or even lost to history had it not been for chief Arizonan historian, Sharlot Hall.

Hall knew that "in this building was held the first term of (federal) court after the organization of the territory... Here also was held the first religious services and the first boarding house." (*7)

Additionally, it had become the oldest existing log structure in the state as well as the oldest surviving structure connected to the Hispanic community in Prescott. (*4)

Hall was able to talk the owners of the building into donating it to the old capitol grounds (later, the Sharlot Hall Museum.) (*2)

"It was photographed, sketched and the logs were numbered by Civil Works Administration personnel (during the Great Depression.) It was disassembled and the logs moved to the Museum grounds and placed west of the flagpole; it's current location." (*4)

"All logs were marked with copper tags stamped with a code to denote the logs place in the structure prior to the Museum staff disassembling it. New logs were acquired to replace...(those) damaged by rot and insect damage." (*4) Still, the structure was not in its original condition.

Fort Misery today.
In 1994, Arizona State Parks awarded a grant to bring Fort Misery back to its original state. It was disassembled again in June, 1995 and completed in 1996. (*4) The only difference is that a permanent roof in the style of the mid-19th century was constructed to replace the dirt roof.

When Judge Howard, the last person to live in the building departed, an "Adieu to Fort Misery" was written which proclaimed: "You reared your head proudly above all other buildings in town and were 'monarch of all you surveyed.'" (*8)

Fort Misery: The silent sentinel of the earliest anglo history in Yavapai county.

Tourist Tips:
You can see Fort Misery, as well as many other pioneer Prescott buildings at The Sharlot Hall Museum

If you come to visit Prescott, it's a must!

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(*1) Prescott Evening Courier; 5/15/1907; pg. 1, col. 5
(*2) "Fort Misery to be Moved Soon" Sharlot Hall Archives; Vertical File: Ft. Misery
(*4) "Docent of Fort Misery" by Micheal Woodcock, 1997. Sharlot Hall Archives; Vertical File: Ft. Misery.
(*5) "An Ancient Landmark" Sharlot Hall Museum Archives; Vertical File: Ft. Misery.
(*6) "Shrine of the Hassayamper" Sharlot Hall Museum Archives; Vertical File: Ft. Misery.
(*7) "Early Recollections" Sharlot Hall Museum Archives; Vertical File: Ft. Misery.
(*8) Arizona Miner. 7/18/1868; pg. 3 col. 1


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