Visitors to Prescott’s Sharlot Hall Museum are treated to a fascinating look at life in central Arizona, from the days before the first white prospectors and settlers arrived, to the present. The Museum’s nine buildings and four special gardens, including the famous Territorial Women’s Rose Garden, hold a wonderful collection of artifacts, photographs, and exhibits that tell the stories of Indians, soldiers, pioneers, and politicians, all of whom left their mark on the region.
The museum’s roots date back to its namesake, Sharlot Hall, a self-educated but highly literate child of the frontier. Sharlot Hall was born on October 27,1870, and her family came to Arizona Territory two years later, homesteading on Lynx Creek near Prescott.
With few opportunities for formal schooling, Sharlot managed to attend a few classes in the old log and adobe schoolhouse located four miles from her family’s ranch. She also boarded with a family in town for a school year, her longest stretch of education. But she had a fascination for art and history and loved reading and hearing the tales told by the local old timers. Early in life, Sharlot began collecting everything from Native American artifacts to prospector’s tools, along with paintings, drawings, and other works of Western art.
In 1909, Sharlot became the first woman to hold Territorial office, when she was appointed Territorial Historian. In 1927, she agreed to move her extensive collection of artifacts and documents into the old Governor’s Mansion and open it as a museum dedicated to Arizona history. This was the beginning of the world famous Sharlot Hall Museum. In 1981, Sharlot Hall became one of the first women elected to the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. She was an accomplished writer, with more than 500 published articles, stories and poems to her credit by the time she died in 1943.
We began our visit to the museum at the Museum Center, which had a gallery of Western artwork and a theater where we viewed a movie on the history of central Arizona. From there, we toured the original Arizona Territorial Governor’s Mansion, which stands in the same place where it was built, in 1864.
The “mansion” is actually a sprawling log building that may look rather Spartan by today’s standards, but compared to the crude cabins, tents, and other cobbled-together shelters that most people lived in at the time, it was quite impressive. Arizona’s first Territorial Governor, John Goodwin, lived in one side of the building with his family, and the Lieutenant Governor and his family lived on the other side.
The Sharlot Hall Building, located behind the Governor’s Mansion, is the museum’s primary exhibit hall, with two galleries of exhibits and dioramas on early Arizona history. Here we saw Native American pottery and baskets, military weapons, and pictographs carved into stone by early Native peoples.
A small log building called Fort Misery is the oldest log building associated with Territorial Arizona. It was originally built on the banks of Granite Creek, two blocks south, in 1863. Over the years, the cabin served as the first law office in Arizona, the first general store in central Arizona, the first Protestant church, first boarding house in the region, and the first courthouse in Arizona. Nearby is a small one room schoolhouse and a ranch house built in the 1930s.
The Fremont House, built in 1875, was the home of John Charles Fremont, the fifth Territorial Governor of Arizona, who held office from 1878 to 1881. Nearby, the beautiful Bashford House is an excellent example of the Victoria homes Prescott is famous for. Built in 1877 by merchant William Coles Bashford, the house serves as the museum’s store, with an excellent selection of books and souvenirs.
Next to the Bashford House, the Transportation Building was originally built in 1937 as an auto repair shop. It now houses the museum’s collection of antique cars and bicycles, including Sharlot Hall’s personal 1927 Durant Star Four touring car. There is also an 1867 Modoc twelve passenger stagecoach and a covered wagon on display.
The museum’s library and archives, located across the street at 115 S. McCormick Street, has a huge collection of rare books, original documents, photographs, maps, and oral histories that provide in-depth research opportunities for historians and researchers.
Besides the buildings and their exhibits, the four-acre museum campus features gardens with diverse plants and trees which form a genuine arboretum with few equals. At different times of the year the museum features living history presentations by costumed interpreters demonstrating old time skills, as well as arts and craft festivals, a folk music festival, and Native American art market.
The Sharlot Hall Museum is a wonderful place to explore Arizona’s history, learn about the people who carved a state out of the raw frontier and to come to appreciate the sacrifices and hardships of those men and women.
The museum is located at 415 W. Gurley Street, just a block or so from Prescott’s historic Whiskey Row and courthouse square. The museum is operating under limited Summer hours during the current pandemic and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
Due to their age, some of the museum’s buildings are not handicapped accessible. Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, and those 18 and younger are free. Because it is located in downtown Prescott, parking is unavailable for large RVs. Visitors are advised to stay at one of the many local RV parks while visiting the museum and other Prescott attractions. For more information, call the Sharlot Hall Museum at (928) 445-3122, or visit their website at https://www.sharlothallmuseum.org/
Congratulations Marcy Krauss, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Free Ride, the thirteenth book in my pal Ben Rehder’s excellent Blanco County mystery series. If you like small town mysteries that come with a chuckle or two (or more), you really need to try Ben’s Blanco County series. We had 54 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.
Thought For The Day – It’s okay if you don’t agree with me. I can’t force you to be right.