March 1, 2020

1921-23: Downtown Prescott Becomes Modernized

“Yesterdays in Prescott are memorable for their mud, their amiable let-it-alone (attitude) and their slow fight to weld public opinion into a lever,” the paper editorialized in 1922. “Tomorrow, Prescott will be a city, beautifully located, clean, sightly and well cared for. Today, Prescott is in its period of transition. 

“By fall, at least, this city will have been transformed. No longer will its charm consist only of the scenic setting, the beauty of its women and the open-hearted hospitality of its citizens. It will have the city touch.” 

Morris Goldwater, named Prescott’s “Man of the Century” in 1964, led the way to bring modern infrastructure to the downtown area. This would include paved streets, street lighting, gas lines, water mains, and sewers that could take on growth.

Originally, it was hoped that bids to pave downtown would be received by the end of 1920. Portions of Mt. Vernon street had already become “hard-surfaced” due to the homeowners willingness to help finance it themselves. This brought a degree of admiration and popularity among citizens who thought that such improvements were sorely needed around the Plaza.

Previously, attempts to pave downtown were thought to be too expensive and failed to pass. In 1920 it would fail again—not for a lack of desire or money, but because it was realized that it would be far more economical in the end to upgrade the city utilities that ran under the streets first. 

The desire was to cover 11 blocks of the downtown section: “from the firehouse to the Santa Fe depot; from Mount Vernon St. on Gurley to the bridge across Granite Creek and entirely around the Plaza,” the paper reported.

The following summer new water mains were laid. “The district is now being equipped with new cast iron water piping, replacing smaller water mains that have stood the test of time and done it badly,” the paper observed. Indeed, just how badly the pipes faired was revealed two weeks later when “a broken water main in front of the Bashford-Burmister store…kept a night crew of the city water department working and temporarily deprived part of the business section of its water supply.” The new water main, 8 inches in diameter, would “supply the entire west side” of the city. 

August, 1921 saw the installation of new gas mains. The old, 2 inch pipes were still functional and were retained. Beside them 4 and 6 inch pipes were installed.

Prescott, Arizona's first two ordinances (passed May 12, 1873) reveal a charming time when things were much simpler and the village was much smaller.

At this point it was hoped that the entire upgrade would be completed by the end of 1921, but when bids were invited in September, all were rejected. Advice from engineers suggested that “wintertime is not good for construction—cement needs to be warm for best adhesion,” the paper reported. “Additionally, the pipes laid down need to settle, and in the spring, construction costs would be cheaper.”

Despite this, Autumn would bring further modernization of downtown. In August the city council approved funding for “lighting…(to) extend along Gurley street from the Granite street bridge to Mount Vernon St. (as well as) on the four blocks around the Plaza, and on Cortez Street from Goodwyn to the Santa Fe Depot.” The lights were described as “ornamental” and matching those installed on Mt. Vernon St. the previous year.

In September another unique light was installed on the roof of the Prescott State Bank building. Given the monicker of an “Automatic Cop,” it would be illuminated when the police received a call about a crime taking place in the downtown area. The on-duty police officer would then “rush to the telephone office” to learn the cause of the trouble.

Overall, progress was sluggish. However, when the Arizona Highway Department announced that the road now known as Highway 89 would be a primary north-south thoroughfare in early 1922, desire rose to pave downtown with expediency. Having people drive on a beautifully paved highway just to arrive into a dusty (or muddy) Prescott downtown was unacceptable.

“Now we are to get busy and see that Prescott downtown streets are paved right away, pronto,” the paper exclaimed, “so the tourists, visitors and travelers will come into this town and instead of saying ‘what a slow burg!’ will remark with enthusiasm, ‘Well, this Prescott's a live little city, isn't it?’“

“With all this going forward, there is a new spirit in the community,” the paper observed. “Two or three years ago an advocate of paving walked softly and slow. Today, we are told, ‘Why, they would murder anyone who tried to stop paving.’”

“One of the chief items in the downtown (paving) cost is grading,” the paper reported, due to “the amount of dirt to be moved, approaching 18 inches at some points. It has been arranged for the city to require the dirt removed from the streets to be placed in three certain spots: the grounds of the Governors Mansion, S. Granite St. and East Gurley beyond the Mount Vernon line.”

Finally, the paving of downtown streets began in mid-April 1922. Contractors were given until July 27 to complete the work, but it was hoped it would be finished in time for Frontier Days, 1922.

This failed to occur. In fact, visiting the rodeo that year must have been a logistical nightmare. Downtown streets were a complete mess as the concrete foundation was still being poured. 

Frontier Days 1923 would be the first one where the firehose companies would not have to wet-down the dust on the streets before the parade. 

The city and its citizens beamed with pride.


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Weekly Journal-Miner, 3/1/1922; Pg. 4, Col. 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/24/1920; Pg. 2, Col. 3.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/13/1921; Pg. 1, Col. 4.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/27/1921; Pg. 2, Col. 6.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/24/1921; Pg. 3, Col. 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 9/14/1921; Pg. 4, Col. 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/24/1921; Pg. 5, Col. 4.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 9/14/1921; Pg. 2, Col. 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/1/1922; Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 3/29/1922; Pg. 3, Col. 2.

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