November 11, 2018

The Plaza's Early History

Before the Courthouse was built,
the Plaza fielded baseball games.
As Robert Groom plotted out Prescott and created the Plaza in the middle of downtown, it wasn't necessarily meant for the county courthouse. The first courthouse was located on the street facing the plaza.

Instead, it was left as an open public space and its uses were many and varied.

The first community use of the Plaza was the Fourth of July celebration in 1864. On July 2nd, a flagpole standing 14 and a half stories tall was erected "in the southeast corner (across from the present downtown post office) of a Plaza covered with pines and junipers," and on the 4th, "the Stars and Stripes were first thrown to the breeze."

"Prescott was only thirty-five days old, born at the May 30th meeting of Governor Goodwin and his staff." It was estimated that 400 men, mostly miners, came into town to celebrate. 

A month later, an artesian well was successfully dug on the Plaza providing fresh water for those in need. By September, the newspaper reported that “fruit is beginning to become quite plentiful. We see the plaza full of boys selling apricots.”

In Prescott's earliest days, lodging was both scarce and expensive. Many travelers simply pitched camp in the Plaza during their visit and were welcome to do so.

The early Plaza was often the scene for baseball games. One match pitted the boys from Prescott versus a strong, well-practiced team from the Verde Valley. Verde won the lop-sided contest by the ridiculous score of 66 to 27.

The outfield must have been toward the north side of the Plaza. When one of the Verde boys clubbed the ball especially hard, the paper cracked that it must have landed "in Sam Miller's meadow," (that's Miller Valley today.)

In another "match" game on the Plaza, an "all-star" team called the Prescott Champions faced off against the boys from Fort Whipple. Whipple won that contest 47 to 21. The hometown paper lamented that Prescott simply had to spend more time practicing.

3 early accounts of Prescott revealing its growth from a mining camp to an all-American community in seven short years.

In March 1867, the public place was nearly purloined. "We are sorry to announce the arrival of the notorious and vagabond called 'squatter' in our devoted town…but it appears, from some mysterious cause, a party of man, mostly strangers in our country, have deliberately located or ‘jumped' our town plaza, and are now proceeding to take and fence it in,” the paper proclaimed.

The plot brought both disgust and consternation. 84 prominent citizens signed a petition demanding the jumpers “desist from further operations."

“We will once again proffer a word of advice to the jumpers,” the paper wrote. “Take your post and rails to some other locality, where, if you desire to cultivate ground you can get a legitimate title to it for a mere trifle--not one quarter the cost of litigation which is sure to follow your recent operation."

Indeed, litigation did follow which Prescott happily won. By December, the last remains of the squatter's "improvements" were hauled away. 

From the late 1860s to the early 1870s, people were allowed to plant personal gardens in the plaza. Documented crops included watermelon and corn. “The patch of corn growing in Judge Berry’s garden, on the east side of the plaza, is worth looking at, it is so tall and vigorous,” the paper declared. Considering it endured three frosts, the paper attributed the judge's success to his constant weeding.

Band concerts were a regular feature, most often featuring Ft. Whipple's band. Indeed, these were so popular that by 1875 a bandstand was constructed there.

The early history of Arizona's first Masonic Lodge located in Prescott highlighting Morris Goldwater's role.

The first grass planted on the Plaza was by Bucky O'Neill when he received 100 pounds of Bermuda grass from the Department of Agriculture in April 1890. Two years later, it was put to good use when “permission (was) given the Lawn Tennis use a section of ground on the Southeast corner of the plaza."

“Deputy Recorder Tritle is looking joyously ahead to the opening of the lawn tennis grounds on the plaza,” the paper reported, “when a fine form beckoned in a neat striped suit of regulation tennis clothes will be shown to great advantage.”

Lawn tennis was quite popular in Prescott, with a club that was already well-established in 1887. The sport also doubled as a social mixer. The newspaper explained that the game "provide(d) some source of amusement for the social enjoyment of our young men and maidens. The game of Lawn Tennis has met with remarkable success in the East, being beyond doubt the most popular of all outdoor sports, enjoyed alike by both sexes.”

The second or "Old Courthouse" took center stage when it was built in 1878 and people began referring to the public area as "the Courthouse Plaza." Although some have mistakenly taken to calling the rectangular-shaped Plaza "the square," it never was called that in the past.

As time went on, the Plaza grew rich in history hosting both annual and special events. In 1909, President Taft spoke there. The Plaza also saw the launching of Barry Goldwater's and John McCain's Republican presidential campaigns. 

It will undoubtedly remain a beloved Prescott icon for the foreseeable future.

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