May 17, 2020

Railroad's Arrival Brought a Gala Day in Prescott

Prescott's 1st depot for the Prescott & Central Arizona RR
As the last month of 1886 began, anticipation in the young capital of Arizona had never been higher. The Prescott and Central Arizona Railroad was inching its way south from the main Atlantic & Pacific line. It would open up Prescott to the world.

The railroad would generally follow along a stage line that reached the Atlantic and Pacific at a station called Prescott Junction; (now known as Seligman.) Its distance would be 73 miles and the stage line to meet it would shrink as the iron horse headed south from the junction.

On December 1st the paper reported that “14 miles of the distance to Prescott…is now completed, and regular trains are running. Another section of 10 miles will be ready to operate this week.”

Some Prescott merchants took a load of their goods to the busy construction camp and set-up shop there. 

Everyone knew the railroad would be an economic boom. “With railroad communication and cheaper transportation, our merchants should be able to sell goods, so that the enormous sum (paid to freighters) would not be sent off every month,” the paper declared.  

Perhaps for the first time in Yavapai County, thoughts turned toward capturing some of the tourist market: “An organized effort should be made on the part of our citizens to secure the diversion of at least a portion of the California bound eastern winter visitors,” the paper observed. “While the temperature of Prescott is not so mild as portions of California, it is, if anything, more healthful… With an altitude of 5600 feet, the air is pure and dry, the scenery cannot be surpassed and it is in every respect a desirable place for the health or pleasure seeker.” There was also talk of Prescott businessmen taking the new road back east to extol the virtues of Prescott to capitalists there. “The idea is a good one and we hope to see it carried out,” the paper proclaimed.

The man behind the plan was Thomas A Bullock, who was a successful lumberman back east. Construction on the “Bullock Road” began on July 16, 1885. Bullock told the paper “that he expected to have the railroad completed to Prescott by 20 December, if he experienced no delays from storms or for want of material being forwarded.” Unfortunately completion was delayed due to some material and mechanical lags. “Both locomotives of the Prescott and Central Arizona Railroad have been disabled which will delay for a few days the completion of the railroad,” the paper reported. 

The history, rise and fall of the Prescott & Mount Union Railway Company--Prescott Arizona's short-lived trolley system.

Prescottonians anxiously awaited the latest news on progress as the paper announced then familiar places being reached. “The end of the track was within a stones throw of the Seven Mile house last night,” the pair reported. “The heaviest cut on the road will be on the summit between Curtis’ (Field) and the Seven Mile house, and a large force of man are engaged there.” Indeed, things were accelerating to complete construction by the end of the year. At one point, “a force of 100 men was kept busy at work all night on the railroad.”

When the railroad came within easy riding distance of Prescott, many made excursions to see the exciting progress. “Every available vehicle was pressed into service yesterday by sightseers to see the boys lay track,” the paper related. “Julius Sanders, 90 years of age, went out yesterday and took a look at the track and locomotive, being the first one he had ever seen. Thomas Simmons, a Hassayamper (early pioneer) of this territory, aged 60 years, went down on horseback a few days since to take his first look at a railroad.” It must have been an impressive sight.

Evidently, many sported wagers on the day the railroad would arrive. “Payment of railroad bets will soon be in order,” the paper related. “Work on the Depot in the Moeller addition, will be commenced shortly...The permanent one will be built nearer town... They say (it) will be a nice and substantial affair." Plans were quickly made for "a big celebration on the completion of the road to Prescott.” That day would be New Years, 1887.

“Saturday, January 1, was a red letter day for Prescott and surrounding country. It marked an epoch in our history, which is destined to start the car of progress on the smooth and easy grade of future prosperity, growth and greatness,” the paper perceived. Mother Nature herself seemed to approve, providing a beautiful 60 degree day.

“The celebration was the largest and most enthusiastic demonstration ever experienced in Arizona,” the paper flaunted. “At 10:30 (AM) the procession was formed on Cortez Street, on the east side of the Plaza, under the direction of Hon. TJ Butler, a director of the railroad, who had been selected as grand marshal of the day. The procession consisted of the local militia and fire companies, civic societies and citizens in carriages and horseback from Prescott, and a detachment of troops from the 9th Infantry USA, from Whipple, and (its) full band. They marched to the Depot grounds on the north side of town where the ceremony of laying the last tie and driving the last spike was performed.” That last spike, which was gilded, was hammered into a red and white painted tie by Governor Zulick, himself.

The first train to enter Prescott 1/1/1887
Two trains of cars slowly pulled into town “with bells ringing and whistles blowing, while a salute of 100 guns were being fired on the military reservation making the surrounding country reverberate with the echoes of these demonstrations of joy and gladness, which was depicted on the countenances of all present,” the paper related. “Even old Thumb Butte, which has stood as a silent Sentinel over the town…seemed to smile as it caught the echo of the steam whistle of the locomotive and sent it back again across the beautiful valley to the pine-clad mountains and snow capped peaks on its other border.”

The band played and several orators spoke. “TS Bullock, the hero of the day, was next called for, loudly. He responded in words very brief, but containing a volume. He said: ‘about a year and a half ago I promised you a railroad and I have brought it here;’ which was received with cheer after cheer,” the paper declared.

After the celebration concluded, many loitered for a close inspection of this revolutionary technology which finally rolled into their wilderness capital. The “Bullock Road" was not yet completely finished, however, and would later reach Phoenix.  

Unfortunately, the life of the Prescott and Central Arizona Railroad was not as bright as that New Year’s day. Mechanical problems were a regular struggle and it was a narrow gauge road which was less economical to transport the livestock, produce, and ore tonnage that the county wanted to export. Additionally, all freight would have to be transferred from one gauge car to the other before it could travel further.

Then in 1892, Frank Murphy, Arizona railroad magnate and Prescott resident, began building a standard gauge line starting at Ash Fork and traveling through Prescott, Wickenburg, Phoenix, and all points in between. The Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railroad entered Prescott on April 23, 1893. 

The old Prescott and Central Arizona Railroad went sour along with its $292,000 in bonds. (These were ultimately made good by the good taxpayers of the Territory.) Facing few choices, Bullock deconstructed the railroad line and sent it, along with the locomotives, to California to become the Sierra Railroad.

The last Santa Fe passenger train left Prescott in 1962.

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.


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Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/1/1886; Pg. 1, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/15/1886; Pg. 2, Cols. 4 & 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/15/1886; Pg. 2, Col. 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/15/1886; Pg. 2, Col. 6.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/15/1886; Pg. 3, Col. 5.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/29/1886; Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/22/1886; Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/29/1886; Pg. 3, Col. 6.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/29/1886; Pg. 3, Col. 1.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 1/5/1887; Pg. 3, Col. 6.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 1/5/1887; Pg. 1, Cols. 2-4.
Arizona Highways; July, 1964; Pg. 10.

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