May 6, 2018

1903: First Automobile Drives Into Prescott

The first automobile to drive into Prescott was a brand new 1903 "Curved Dash" Oldsmobile, which was also the first car ever to be mass produced. It was the evening of February 26, 1903 and the welcoming of this new invention brought a surprising amount of civic pride to the city.

"Prescott is fast becoming a metropolitan city," the newspaper proclaimed. "A brand new automobile was seen last night on the street."

The car belonged to champion shooter, avid hunter, and popular Jerome merchant, Walter C. Miller, who made the trip with associate LA Hawkins. The automobile journey did not start from Jerome, however.

Back then roads were simply wide, well-used, horse trails. They were littered with rocks, roots, holes, and occasional mud and wash-outs. Even worse, what we know today as Highway 89A did not exist. The only way from Jerome to Prescott was a circuitous, rough trip through the towns of Cottonwood, Cherry, and Dewey!

The early history and construction of what is Arizona State Route 89A today. It was originally known as Arizona Highway 79: The Prescott to Jerome "Shortline."

So instead of taking the car the entire way, Miller took his Oldsmobile onto the train to travel from Jerome to Jerome Junction, located just south of Chino Valley on the Prescott - Ash Fork line. Today the location of this former rail connection is located within Chino's town limits.

The two men reported "a rather hard trip, as much sand was encountered, which does not add in the least to the joy of the automobilist." The 17 mile trip from the junction to Prescott took them a bone-shaking hour and a half to complete.

Advertisement for the 1903 Oldsmobile.

Technically, Miller's Olds was not the first automobile ever seen in Prescott. "There was a machine here with a circus, but that one was such a poor speciman that Mr. Miller can well be awarded the palm for bringing the first automobile that really would 'auto' to Prescott," the newspaper reported.

The two men would spend only one night in Prescott before returning.

"Even though their stay was short, the gentlemen and their carriage are very welcome to come back again and stay longer," the paper wrote.

Despite the widespread civic pride, not everyone was impressed. When Miller brought his Olds into the Plaza Stables where it would spend the night, the man in charge drolly asked: "Shall I give him oats and groom him?"

"It will not be long," the newspaper hoped, "until many autos will glide along our streets, making the onward march of progress and the growth of Prescott to a large city."

Be careful what you wish for!

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Prescott Weekly Courier, 2/27/1903; Pg. 4, Col. 3.

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