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Wed, June 26

Women's role in recording area's history was pivotal<BR>

Sharlot Mabridth Hall died on April 9, 1943, and accolades about her life achievements rolled in from across the state. 

Dwight B. Heard, co-founder of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, said, "In Sharlot Hall this country found the unusual combination of the sturdiness of the pioneer with the beautiful spirit of the poet. 

She will be long remembered for both characteristics."  For the previous 16 years she exhibited those traits in the museums she founded – the Old Governor's Mansion Museum and Sharlot Hall Museum that sat directly behind it. In the next 30 years the two museums became one and created a history of its own.

One of the more remarkable aspects of Prescott history is that women have documented and protected it so well.

Of course, there is Sharlot, but women wrote the seminal pieces of our region's history: Pauline Henson ("Founding a Wilderness Capital"), Elvina Potter ("Many Lives of the Lynx"), Melissa Ruffner (Prescott: a Pictorial History), as well as many others.


After Sharlot's death, it was the good "Graces" of Prescott that filled this role – Grace Sparkes and Grace Chapman.  From the Graces up until 1973 most of the museum's leaders were women.


Grace and Grace reopened the museum on May 28, 1943, a little less than two months after Sharlot's death, and Mellie Boblett was a guide for the exhibits. 

By the end of the summer the loose affiliation of museum supporters became an official historical society. 

However, the new historical society faced a challenge immediately when a Chicago consulting firm was hired to review the museum's operations as they related to the state of Arizona. 

The firm recommended discontinuation of state financing, but thankfully that went unheeded.  Chapman and Sparkes directed the Prescott Historical Society activities through 1946.

The board of directors handled the smallest details for many years.  In the spring of 1944 a local rancher needed his 30-30 rifle back that his father had donated to the museum. 

It turned out that the rancher normally used a "25-20 rifle to slaughter cattle at the packing house," but ammunition for the 25-20 was not manufactured during World War II. 

The board also approved the use of prison labor in the '40s, '50s, and '60s.  In 1948 the board "decided" that Miss Workman (the curator) was to have a vacation that yearf and that she would take it in either November or December.

The museum's physical appearance was changing in this time period.  As early as 1938 it was suggested that the museum have a memorial rose garden to commemorate early women pioneers. 

By 1948 the idea was off the drawing board and sitting on the museum grounds just south of the Governor's Mansion (the garden was moved to its current location in 1974). 

In the mid 1950s Dr. Clark Hartzell financed the addition of the Hartzell Room to the north end of the Sharlot Hall Building. 

Created to house Hartzell's extensive collection of native-American artifacts, it now holds our exemplary exhibit about the Yavapai people and their history in the community.


Shortly after the construction of the Hartzell Room in 1954, the board decided to remove the stockade-like fence that Sharlot had built when she first occupied the grounds. 

It may have been endearing to Sharlot, but the fence had been a "bone of contention with some members of the community" since it was first constructed.

By the end of 1962 the Prescott Rotarians and the Prescott Education Association were finishing up a replica of the first school in Prescott. 

Not too far from the site of Mile High Middle School today, the original schoolhouse burned in 1948.  The new one was built west of the Sharlot Hall Building and still stands there today.


In the following year a renovated stagecoach and recently donated train were now available for public viewing on the grounds, as was the herb garden and a "gift shop."

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the years between Sharlot M. Hall's death and the museum's first professional staff in 1973 was the establishment of the Prescott Historical Society as an Arizona state agency. 

Although the museum did receive financing from the state, it was Boyd Tenney's bill carefully guided through the state Legislature in 1964 that created a new society that now had more power to manage an institution and begin the transformation away from a "stuffed owl" museum. 

Indeed, it was in 1964 that the board first suggested hiring "a young man" just out of college who was beginning a career in museum work to be the museum's first professional staff.  In addition, the Governor's Mansion was reopened after its "reconstruction/remodel."

The board also considered in the summer of 1964 that "Tanner Tours might help with donations since they use the rest rooms here." 

The first "director" hired in 1966 was Dora Heap.  A lifetime Prescott resident, Heap ably guided the museum through its next set of growing pains until she stepped down in 1973. 

It was under her supervision that the Governor's Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the lot across Capitol Drive was purchased in preparation of doubling the museum's acreage. 

The lots now contain the Bashford House, Fremont House, Transportation Building, as well as a parking lot and the east end of the Museum Center. 

In late 1970 William "Buckey" O'Neill's gun was stolen from the mansion (today each building is blanketed in a high-tech security system). 

This burglary was not the first at the museum.  In 1961 28 guns and a Civil War era sword were stolen from the collections. 

At least one gun was recovered in Phoenix.  Citizens at the time were asked to provide any information about the burglary to Lt. Ken Lindley of the Prescott Police at "HIckory 5-3500."

During his tenure as governor of the Arizona Territory from 1878-1882, John Charles Fremont actually spent a few days in Prescott (where he technically was supposed to be most of the time).  While here he stayed in a small house on Gurley Street. 

Today this house sits on the Sharlot Hall Museum grounds, thanks to the efforts of the staff, board, and community. 

However, it was a struggle.  The removal and restoration cost almost $30,000 and the caved-in roof (from a recent fire) did not appeal to the aesthetic senses of the community. 

Many questioned the whole process and one architect suggested that the best way to deal with the old house, even after it was moved, was to burn it down. 

Eventually, the "Fremont House" was restored and is an integral part of the Sharlot Hall Museum experience. 

The problems with the Fremont House, talk of a new multi-purpose building, hiring a new director, and more theft caused more strife at the board and staff level. 

The first order of business in 1973 was to hire a professional director for the museum. On July 1 1973, Ken Kimsey was hired to direct a staff of 10. 

He was the first director at Sharlot Hall Museum with museum training.   Meanwhile, the Fremont House was not resolved until 1974 and the multi-purpose building was not built until 1979.

(Michael Wurtz is the Archivist at the Sharlot Hall Museum.)


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