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)

Other names were considered including: Goodwin City, Granite, Fleuryville and Gimletville. (*2) Two other contenders were Audubon and Aztlan, "under the mistaken impression that Indian ruins in the area were of Aztec origin." (*3)

Perhaps more than the author himself, the founding fathers of Prescott were intrigued by his book, "History of the Conquest of Mexico." This is demonstrated by the fact that the first street names were actually some of the main characters in Prescott's book. "Montezuma, Cortez, Alarcon, Marina and Coronado (now Pleasant)" are all examples. (*3)

Montezuma was an Aztec emperor at the time of the Spanish conquest. He tried to persuade the Spanish explorer Cortez not to go to Mexico City. (*4)

"Marina" was the only original street named after a woman. She was Cortez's mistress and acted as an interpreter for the Maya and Nahua. (*4)

"Prescott's original 17 streets were laid out by Robert W Groom, for whom Groom Creek was named." He famously used a frying pan as his transit. (*4)

Three of Prescott's original streets were named for Arizona's first territorial governors: Gurley, Goodwin, and McCormick, who served in that order. "Gurley died before he even loaded his wagon for the trip." "Goodwin served from 1863 until 1866 when...Robert McCormick, of New Jersey took over." (*4)

Military men were also honored with street names. "Willis St. bears the name of Maj. Edward B. Willis. He established the Whipple post in December, 1863 in Chino Valley." Speaking of Whipple, that street (and the army post itself,) was named for Brig. Gen. AW Whipple who was in charge of Arizona's boundary survey in 1850. (*4)

Carleton St. was named for James H Carleton of the 1st California Calvary. "He arrived in Yuma in January, 1863 to save Arizona from Southern Confederates." (*4)

Other streets were named for early explorers. These include: Walker, Aubrey, Leroux, Sheldon and Lount. (*3)

Antoine Leroux was one of the most famous of the Southwest guides and Francois X. Aubry (the Prescott street is misspelled "Aubrey") was a notable Southwest trader and trail maker. (*5)

Granite St. was undoubtedly named for the adjacent creek. Mt. Vernon was probably named after George Washington's home and was originally called Whipple because it led to the camp. (*3)

One source cites that the Indian name for Prescott is 'In-dil-chin-ar' or Pine Woods, but it's not clear which tribe used that name.  (*2) According to "Oral History of the Yavapai" (ISBN # 978-1-935089-43-8,) they call Prescott "Wahagsigiita."


Chino Valley:

Many place names are simply descriptive of the the area in which they're located.

"The town of Chino Valley has several theories of origin attached to it. Marshall Trimble, in ‘Roadside History of Arizona’ writes, “During the historic 1853-54 survey, Lieutenant Amiel W. Whipple chose the name Chino Valley after the grama grass that carpeted the vast, windswept region. The Mexicans in the party called the range grass ‘de china,’ or ‘the chino,’ hence the name... Chino grass was often harvested as hay for livestock, and was the primary feed for U.S. Cavalry horses in the area in the mid-1800s. The Baker ranch was located in this area with over 10,000 head of cattle by the 1880s." (*6)

"Farming was carried on until the 1940s, but water was a constant problem. A small oil boom occurred from 1917 to 1918, and some drilling into the 1940s, but it never paid off. By the 1950s, the farms were being subdivided into small homesites and, on September 21, 1970 the Town of Chino Valley was incorporated." (*6)

The first post office in the area was simply named "Chino" and was established October 6th, 1879. (*2)

Del Rio Springs:
"Just north of Chino Valley along highway 89 is a road east to Del Rio Springs. There is an historical marker along the highway at this site. This location is of particular interest for the founding history of Arizona Territory. The name derives from the fact that these springs are a source for “The River” (Del Rio)." Because of this important source of water, the original Ft. Whipple was located here before moving closer to Prescott on Granite Creek. (*6)

Jerome Junction:
Jerome Junction, which was located south and eventually swallowed-up by Chino Valley, was where a narrow gauge railway out of Jerome met up with the mainline of the Santa Fe.



Most sources simply state that Paulden was named after the postmaster's son who was accidentally shot. However, "Paulden Pioneers," the consummate account of early anglo history of the area, provides many more details.

The first post office in the area was established on April 21, 1925 and was called "Midway Grocery." (*7)

"The Pownall family settled in this area in May 1924 and operated the Midway Grocery, cafe, service station, garage and several tourist cabins. Its location halfway between Prescott and Ash Fork made it a popular stop." (*6)

Paul Pownall for whom Paulden was named.
(c)1999 Gilpin Publishing
Used by permission.
In actuality, "the name 'Paulden' was derived from the name of the first two (anglo) boys to settle here--Paul Pownall and Tom Dryden. Only three months after his parents settled here, Paul was accidentally shot and killed." Using his name "would serve as a memorial to perpetuate his memory." (*8)

"The Pownall’s had a daughter, (Paul's sister,) Ruth Pownall Gilpin who received the 2008 Sharlot Hall Award for her contributions to an awareness of Arizona history. She authored the "Paulden Pioneers" book cited. (*6) (See source (*8) for info on obtaining a copy.)

Sullivan Lake:
North of Del Rio Springs Road there is a turn-off to the east for "Old Hwy 89." "Along this road you will come to a concrete bridge and beside it, a railroad bridge crossing a canyon. There is a dam on the west side of the bridge and a large lakebed (usually dry) called Sullivan Lake. The name comes from a member of the 3rd State Legislature, J. W. “Jerry”  Sullivan, who had a ranch in the area of Williamson and Chino Valleys. (*6)&(*8)

This area is known as the “Upper Verde Region.” The damming of the Big Chino Wash formed Sullivan Lake. Over the dam and under the bridges runs the headwaters of the great Verde River. (*6)


Drake Cement Plant


"Originally the little village beside the Santa Fe Railway between Prescott and Ash Fork was called Cedar Glade." (*9)

One early resident said: "when the place was named, they must have thought the surrounding trees were cedars. 'They're not. They're junipers.'" (*10)

"As was common in those days, the railroad named the community after one of its bigwigs, so Cedar Glade became Drake in 1920. William Drake was in charge of building a cut-off line to Jerome's copper mines on the railroad at Cedar Glade, between Prescott and Ash Fork." (*11)

"Herman Schwanbeck and his family arrived in about 1918 and built a hotel, general store and restaurant for the local workers. A schoolhouse went up on national forestlands, as well as a U.S. Forest Service ranger station that was in operation between 1911 and 1963." (*11)

"Early in the 20th century, "Howard Grey unearthed the first of the magnificent rose and buff sandstone that was to adorn thousands of buildings throughout the southwest." (*12)

"At the peak of its popularity the mountain and surrounding claims were purchased from Grey by...character actor Walter Brennan, who built many of the now deserted (and lost) houses for his workers." (*12)

"The community started to fade in the 1930s when the nearby Puntenney lime works shut down and the railroad centralized its maintenance elsewhere." (*11)

Today, the main feature of Drake is its large cement plant.


Early, rare photo of the Hell Canyon overpasses.

Hell Canyon:

Hell Canyon got its moniker very simply. It was not because it was infernally hot; nor was it because it smells like brimstone or sulphur. Instead, it was named Hell Canyon due to the difficulties and consternation early pioneers had trying to cross to the other side!

"Judge Joseph P. Allyn, traveling with the Governor’s Party to Prescott in 1864 writes of this canyon, 'About ten o’clock we got under way and an hour brought us to the most infernal canyon for wagons I have yet seen. It was about 300 ft deep and the sides nearly perpendicular, and covered with rolling stones.'” (*6)

"Hell's (sic) Canyon was mentioned in histories in the writings of Col. Banta in the Expedition of 1863. They had to blaze their own trails from Flagstaff down to Chino Valley. It apparently took them two days to find a crossing over Hell's (sic) Canyon." (*8)


Ash Fork:

Ash Fork was founded in 1882 with the arrival of the Atlantic & Pacific (later the Santa Fe) Railroad. (*13) It was named by FW Smith, General Superintendent of the old Atlantic and Pacific RR. (*7)

Before then "freighters taking supplies to Jerome journeyed along Ash Creek, named for the ash trees there." Near its mouth, the creek separates into three branches forming a fork. Where the branches rejoin, a stage depot was constructed under the ash trees. Hence the name "Ash Fork."(*2)

Before the railroad, freighters and stage passengers had to drive from there to the station at Williams. "They agitated for a more convenient railroad terminal, and in 1882 a second siding was established (at Ash Fork.)" (*2)

One source says the first name suggested for the new railroad settlement was Ash Canyon, but Ash Fork won out. (*2)

Escalente Hotel in Ash Fork, Arizona.
After a line was built south to Prescott, the Santa Fe Railroad built the beautiful Escalente Hotel which opened on March 1st, 1907 and closed 50 years later. The building was eventually razed in 1968. (*13)

Currently there are many flagstone yards in Ash Fork and it calls itself the Flagstone Capital of the World. (*13)


Drew's book is now available!

Available in paperback and Kindle!


Paperback: $21.99

Kindle ebook $12.99 

CLICK HERE for Amazon (PB or Kindle)


Also available at:

Western Heritage Center, 156.5 Montezuma (Whiskey Row)


And everywhere Prescott history books are sold!



Did You Know... that #PrescottAZHistory publishes a new article four times a month on Sundays? Follow the blog in one of the following social media to be sure you get the latest article!

Want more Prescott history? Join the "Celebrating Historic Prescott" group.
(Daily pics and featured articles.)
Drew Desmond is on Facebook (For the latest article.)

(Daily pic featured at 6:30 am & 6:30pm and featured articles.)

(For the latest article.)

Follow PrescottAZHistory on Instagram

(*1) http://sharlot.org/library-archives/index.php/blog/cat/2009DP/post/so-how-did-prescott-get-its-name/
(*2) Arizona's Names: X Marks the Place, by Byrd Howell Granger; 1983; Falconer Publishing Co. ISBN# 0-91-8080-18-5
(*3) Prescott Yesteryears Life in Arizona's First Territorial Capital by Melissa Ruffner Weiner Primrose Press Prescott, AZ (c)1976-78. pg 7. (Author's note: This book is a very pleasant and instructional read.)
(*4) "Streets of Prescott Recall Southwest Historical Figures" by Karen Gurley; (dated 5/15/1976) via Prescott Public Library Vertical File: "Prescott Streets."
(*5) http://sharlot.org/library-archives/index.php/blog/cat/2004DP/post/where-did-some-of-these-prescott-names-come-from/
(*6) http://sharlot.org/library-archives/index.php/blog/cat/2011DP/post/history-along-route-89/
(*7) Arizona Place Names by Will C. Barnes. University of Arizona Press, 1988. ISBN # 0-8165-1074-1
(*8) "Paulden Pioneers" by Ruth Gilpin. (c) 12/31/1999. Pg. 3.
(This book is the best resource the author has found regarding the early (anglo) history of the area from Chino Valley to Drake. It costs $20 (at the time of this article,) shipping included. Send a money order to: Terri McPherson, PO Box 297, Paulden, AZ 86334. Via PayPal: send money to this email: firestruck@msn.com. If you are in the Paulden area and would like to pick up the book yourself, call 928/636-2272.)
(*9) "Drake: Remanent of Prosperity" by June P. Payne. Arizona Days & Ways Magazine, 10/21/1962.
(*10) The Courier 7/3/1981 pp 4-5
(*11) Courier 6/22/2007 p1c c2 "Drake Harbors Many Stories from the Past"
(*12) "Flagstone From Drake" By Erle MacPherson; (Possibly from Prescott Courier 9/22/1968) Via Sharlot Hall Museum Archives, Vertical File: Cities--Drake.
(*13) "Ash Fork, Arizona: A Pictorial History 1900-2000" Via Sharlot Hall Museum Archives, Vertical File: Cities--Ash Fork.




  2. I appreciate your enthusiasm and passion, but I think it would've been easier to fight the Indians. Ft. Whipple was built close to Granite Creek which is supplied by all the run off of the facing mountains; plus the water table was MUCH higher then. There were beavers living here! It would have taken a mighty engineering work to keep the water out of a tunnel a mile long. In fact, it took them a while to build a stockade around the camp. Still, I appreciate your comment. Thank you.