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7:52 PM Mon, Sept. 24th

Days Past: Passing the New Year in Territorial Prescott

Arizona Miner newspaper office, c. 1878. (Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum, call number 1400.8135.0003)

Arizona Miner newspaper office, c. 1878. (Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum, call number 1400.8135.0003)

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Varney A. Stephens home. (Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum, call number 1407.4090.0001.)

Victorians celebrated the coming of the new year in a number of ways over the time that Victoria was queen of England, 1837 to 1901. It would seem that she was the reason that people in England and the United States gave the day any importance.

The Queen was taken with the Scottish tradition of celebrating Hogmanay, which was the last day of the year. In Scotland it was celebrated by the giving of small gifts and the tradition of “First-foot,” which meant that one received visitors on New Year’s Day.

By the last half of the Nineteenth Century, Americans were giving themselves more and more to the holiday. It consisted of wealthier married couples holding an open house with food and drink. The men would go out calling and the women would stay home and receive guests. This was a good way for folks to get rid of their social obligations that they had not taken care of for the year and for single gentlemen and eligible young ladies to meet socially. Gifts were occasionally given and calling cards left.

By the time Prescott was established, New Year’s was a minor celebration in town. The first mention in the newspaper was Dec. 29, 1866: “New Years Balls – Two fashionable dancing parties are to come off next Tuesday night – one at the Osborn House, and the other at the new (word unintelligible), lately fitted up at the east end of the Capitol Building.” These would have had an admission charge and would have featured food, beverages and dancing. Nothing further was mentioned in the Arizona Miner until Jan. 2, 1869, with the following announcement: “On New Year’s Eve, there was a dance at the residence of Sam. C. Miller, in Miller’s Valley. Many ladies and gentlemen were in attendance and dancing was kept up to a late hour.” It is not evident whether this was a party at the Millers’ or a larger social gathering with paid admission.

A more extensive article in the newspaper Jan. 8, 1870, indicates that more was going on than what was reported in print. “New Year’s Day, 1870, dawned upon the inhabitants of Prescott and vicinity very pleasantly. The day was fine throughout, and our people celebrated it in becoming style. ‘Callers’ were not as numerous as on the previous New Year’s Day, nevertheless, a great many went ‘bobbing around’ from house to house. Mrs. John G. Campbell, Mrs. H. [Hezekiah] Brooks, Mrs. B. [Ben] H. Weaver and Mrs. V. [Varney] Stephens, kept ‘open houses,’ and lost a great deal of good drinkables and eatables by so doing. Many military gentlemen were in town, calling on their friends, and a great many citizens toddled postwards to make calls.

During the afternoon, the ‘boys’ had a lively horse-race, the result of which made some of them mighty sick of the kind of sport. Others – the winners – felt very jolly while feeling of the money won by them.”

Apparently the custom of holding an open house for visitors had been done in 1869 although not reported in the newspaper, as the article noted that “‘Callers’ were not as numerous as on the previous New Year’s Day….” Perhaps this was an observation that there were not as many callers at the Miner office as they were open and looking for business. Another article in the same issue of the newspaper stated, “New Year’s Gift. – Bowers & Bro. sent us, for a New Year’s gift, a fifty pound sack of flour, made at their Agua Frio mill, from wheat grown on their ranch. The flour is as white and fine as the best quality of California flour, and, we are told, makes excellent bread. Thanks, gentlemen, for the flour. May you be rewarded for your enterprise and outlay of capital.”

It is interesting that more details of the horse race were not given. Just a week earlier the newspaper had reported on a race that took place on Christmas day. “The race was between a horse belonging to Saunders Bros’, and a horse belonging to Mr. Bradley. The Bradley horse won the stakes, $500. Many outside bets were made, and were won by the backers of the Bradley nag.” Apparently the “Miner” editor was not one of the winners in outside betting.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.