April 14, 2019

Prescott's Old Gateway to the World

For decades, Prescott’s front door was her railroad depot. Thousands entered and left the city through its doors. However the acquisition and construction of the iconic structure was not without its hurdles.

As Prescott’s “Historic Preservation Master Plan” points out: “The Santa Fe Depot has always been a focal point for Prescott, whether in sending or receiving men back from war, greeting visiting dignitaries (in­cluding one President), or simply in conducting the daily business of the town. The surrounding area was also affected, spawning various railroad support facilities, worker's housing and other functions to serve the needs of the trains. With few exceptions, most of these are now gone, including the rails themselves. The Depot remains as the largest and most significant symbol of an era when roads were few and much of the livelihood of early Prescott depended upon what came and went through the portals of the Santa Fe Depot.”

The need for a larger depot came at a bad time. A financial “panic” swept the country and every business was cutting costs. However, the President of the railroad was Frank Murphy and Prescott was Murphy’s hometown. He wanted the Depot to be special. It was his personal influence in both Prescott and Washington that gained the city “one of the most pretentious passenger depots ever erected in a city twice its size in the west…”

One of the first issues that needed to be addressed was drainage. After storms, water would pool in large amounts at the intersection of Sheldon and Cortez. So a 41 inch, concrete sewer pipe was installed to drain the water directly into Granite Creek with the railroad and the city sharing the cost. After this, the entire rail yard was expanded and improved.

The biography of Prescott, AZ's empire builder Frank Murphy. The philanthropist was the primary force in the development of Arizona's railroads and mining industry.

The tallest hurdle involved the purchase of property that fronted the streets. Two property owners held-out trying to receive a price above the fair market value and a third refused to talk to the railroad at all. “It will be a thing forever deplored,” the City Council grimly stated, “if the selfishness of a few individuals is allowed to prevent the city from obtaining this desirable improvement.” 

The railroad believed it was being generous and threatened to scrap the project altogether. Instead, the two who overpriced their land relented and finally came to an agreement. The third, however, required a court order of condemnation of her property before she was compelled to leave. The land was finally secured on November 23, 1906.

The next step was to move the Depot Hotel 50 feet further south on Cortez. Finally, construction on what would become “the largest and best preserved Prescott building designed in the Mission Revival style,” began.

The two-story building, measuring 100x35 feet, offers over 8800 square feet and, in today’s money, cost well over a million dollars to build. Its construction is of solid concrete. Exterior walls are all 6 inches thick, while the interior walls measure 3 inches. The floor is 10 inches thick. “The exterior concrete is textured with plaster in a heavy stippled finish.”

“A one story wing measuring 20 feet by 34 feet extends to the east. This was once terminated by a 40 foot high smokestack which has been demolished.”

Originally, there were two lobbies built; providing gender segregation and an early “no smoking” section. In 1907 women were not allowed to smoke in public, while the general lobby allowed the men to smoke. “Another reason for the addition of the ladies’ lobby was the problem of the men enjoying a few too many drinks on famed Whiskey Row.” Too often they would harass the fairer sex at the Depot, so the ladies were provided their own waiting room.

“The old building had a cement floor and no heating system. During winter months, travelers, families, and friends relied on fireplaces in each lobby to keep them warm.” The Depot was completed and in full use by September, 1907.

“The location of the Depot was a definite terminus not only in terms of the view along Cortez Street, but it also de­fined the northern edge of town for many decades.” 

Prescott's Depot "was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in February of 1988, and the local ordinance establishing the (historic) district was passed in March of the same year.” It is now “the largest and best preserved Prescott building designed in the Mission Revival style,” housing several business tenants. The former rail yard is now the Depot Marketplace, providing retail space for several services, retailers and restaurants.


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“History of the Depot,” July, 1993. Prescott Public Library Vertical File: Depot.
“100 Years of History Found on the Tracks” by Kim Simko, Prescott Courier. Sharlot Hall Archives, Vertical File: Depot.

1 comment:

  1. Nice! Great history. Can you do an update on why the politicians killed one of the few North/South Railroads in the west?