October 17, 2021

Gurley: The Man Behind the Street Name


A year following John Addison Gurley’s untimely death on August 19, 1863, the first edition of the Arizona Miner wrote: “Be it ours to erect to him a lasting monument, by giving his name to one of the loftiest hills, or to a district glistening with the brightest gold.” Instead, the downtown main street of Prescott, Arizona’s first territorial capital, would be named in his honor.

The story of why is most compelling.

Gurley was born in East Hartford, Connecticut on December 9, 1814 and at the age of 21, he completed theological studies in Hartford.

He became a preacher in the denomination of Universalists. He took a church in Metheun, Massachusetts and served there for three years, but he desired to move westward.

In 1838 he relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio where he edited and published “The Star of the West, a paper devoted to the interests of the denomination with which he was connected,” the Miner revealed, “and which had a very large circulation throughout the South and West.” He held this position for fifteen years.

However, it was during this time that Gurley started experiencing “mystery pains” and sufferings. So, he “retired to a beautiful farm in the suburbs of Cincinnati.” Then in 1856, he was nominated to run for Congress, but lost. He ran again in 1858 and won “by a flattering majority,” the paper declared. After serving in the Civil War as a Colonel under the command of John C Fremont, he was re-elected to Congress in 1869 “by an increased vote.”

“He was popular with all parties and acknowledged to be one of the cleverest men in Congress.” He was also Arizona’s biggest champion; striving hard to make it a recognized Territory. “He was proud of the boundless resources of the West, and was one of the earliest to advocate the organization of Arizona,” the paper recounted. 

The initial reason for the founding of Fort Whipple in Yavapai County, AZ was not to protect the miners in the Indian War, but rather to keep an eye on the suspected southern-sympathizing Walker Party.

In 1863 he was appointed the Governor of Arizona Territory by President Lincoln. The Cleveland Daily Leader stated: “The appointment of Hon. John A Gurley of Cincinnati to the Governorship of Arizona was urged upon [Lincoln] by the entire Ohio delegation, including the two Senators, the visitors from Ohio and all the Arizonans in Washington.” The paper further reported that the President received the recommendation with "great apparent favor.” "He had a distinct understanding with the President, at the time of his appointment, that he should have until midsummer to arrange his business affairs in Cincinnati and Chicago, in which cities he had a valuable property, the result of his careful investments some years since.”

Still, he needed to “act in haste,” and by the time he reached New York early in July, “he was much worn and fatigued. When he made it back to Cincinnati, he had to delay further due to a sickness in the family. When he was finally getting set to depart, he was taken seriously ill and his health became progressively worse,” the paper described. Many modern accounts say he died of appendicitis, but the initial newspaper reports stated that he had a large abscess in his right side, “which probably been forming for several years,” and turned gangrene.

“The death of a citizen so public spirited, and universally esteemed,” the Prescott paper wrote, “was keenly deplored throughout the country…and yet in the prime of life… No man was more sincere and true in his friendships.” He had a “social and frank nature, [with] a headwall developed in the intellectual and moral regions.” 

In a Courier column entitled “Colorful Names Abound Throughout Arizona,” Budge Ruffner revealed that it wasn’t just the street name that was under consideration to honor Gurley, but “Gurley Peak” was considered as the name for Granite Mountain. 

Although he never set foot in Arizona, the congressman from Ohio was one of its first champions and his influence in Washington would lay the groundwork to bring the territory into the union. He was buried at the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.

Gurley's gravesite


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Arizona Miner, 3/9/1864; Pg.1 & 4.

Arizona Miner, 3/14/1866; Pg. 1, Col. 2.

Arizona Miner, 6/13/1866; Pg. 1, Col. 3.



Cleveland Daily Leader, 8/24/1863; Pg. 2, Col. 3.

Prescott Courier, 9/15/1988; Pg. 4A, Cols. 3-6.

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