Whiskey Row: Prescott's venerable center of fun
Originally Published: August 4, 2007 7:22 a.m.
“Oh, they starts her in at the Kaintucky Bar, At the head of Whiskey Row, And they winds up down by the Depot House, Some forty drinks below. They then sets up and turns around, And goes her the other way, An’ to tell you the Gawd-forsaken truthThem boys got stewed that day.”– From “Tying a Knot In the Devil’s Tail” by the late Gail Gardner, Prescott native and storyteller (1892-1988)Click here to see a photo gallery featuring historic photos of Whiskey Row. Prescott’s Whiskey Row was born when its first saloon, the Quartz Rock, moved from the banks of Granite Creek to Montezuma Street shortly after the founding of the territorial capital city in 1864.By the 1870s, about 20 saloons and three breweries surrounded the downtown plaza, according to Melissa Ruffner’s book “Prescott: A Pictorial History.” The first courthouse went up in 1878.The Cob Web Hall was one of the more classy early saloons, Ruffner wrote. It had the best wines, cigars and liquors, and it was relatively orderly. Its proprietor was P.M. Fisher, a retired Colorado River steamboat captain.The earliest recorded reference to one of the most prominent establishments on Whiskey Row today, the Palace Hotel and Saloon, was in an 1877 edition of The Arizona Weekly Miner. The face of Whiskey Row was about to change drastically, however.First came the fire of 1883 that destroyed most of Whiskey Row. Business owners rebuilt, including the owner of The Palace, who went with brick this time. But that didn’t stop it from burning down again in an even more devastating fire on July 14, 1900.It started in a room at the Scopel Hotel on the southwest corner of Goodwin and Montezuma streets (now mostly a vacant spot). The fire jumped across Goodwin and leveled Whiskey Row, continuing all the way to Granite Creek and Willis Street. When it was over, more than 80 businesses including about 25 saloons, and all the bawdy houses were gone, according to the City of Prescott’s Historic Preservation Master Plan by Historic Preservation Specialist Nancy Burgess.But Prescott was a bustling center of commerce, and its businessmen weren’t going to let a little old fire get in their way this time, either. Within a few days, merchants had set up tents and sheds on the plaza lawn, and reconstruction was underway. Even more property owners this time decided it would be a good idea to avoid wood frame construction, turning instead to masonry and brick. The Palace Hotel and Bar was completed by June 1901, less than a year after the fire. Within three years after the great fire, Prescott’s entrepreneurs had rebuilt most of the buildings surrounding the courthouse plaza that exist today. “Their spirit has given the citizens of Prescott an irreplaceable and invaluable asset of history which must not be destroyed,” Burgess wrote. While plaza businesses came and went through 1960, few of the plaza structures changed. The county built a larger courthouse in 1916, and the federal government built a post office and federal courthouse in the 1930s. The city built its headquarters in 1962, tearing down an historic 1876 building that once housed Howey’s Hall opera house and the first Goldwater mercantile store. Ironically, then-Sen. Barry Goldwater dedicated the new structure. A few other historic plaza structures are gone too, including a later Goldwater building that now is a church parking lot. All but two of the buildings on the main section of Whiskey Row (the plaza block of Montezuma Street) date to the time period of 1901-1912. The current site of the Galloping Goose came after 1913, and the newest is the building that houses Moctezuma’s Bar and the Prescott Museum and Trading Co. (post-1945). The lack of setback and common features, such as plentiful windows and masonry facades, give the historic plaza buildings a cohesive feel. So do the wide streets, originally created to be 100 feet wide so mule-drawn wagons could turn around without backing up, Burgess wrote. Only three buildings on the plaza predate the 1900 fire, and none of them are on Montezuma. Two are on Cortez (housing Priscilla’s and Kachina Travel) and one is on Goodwin (housing the Chamber of Commerce building). The Cortez building once was the city firehouse and jail. One area where the fire burned –through the clapboard bawdy houses that once stood along Goodwin Street behind Whiskey Row – remained partially undeveloped until the city built its new parking garage a few years ago.Prescott has seen a lot of change in the past century, but thankfully, little of that change has occurred in the core structures along Whiskey Row.City codes protect those structures, but they don’t protect their specific uses. The wildest drinkers no longer can hit 40 downtown saloons as they did in Gail Gardner ’s poem, which talks about starting on South Montezuma and ending on north Cortez near the former the train depot. The downtown area now is home to approximately 18 bars, including seven on the main block of Whiskey Row. Some of them are located inside restaurants.As some building owners continue to shift the downtown uses away from entertainment and towards tourist sales in recent decades, one must wonder whether someday Whiskey Row will find itself without whiskey – and the tourists.(All historic Whiskey Row photos are courtesy of the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott. Prints are available for purchase at the museum, which is located along Gurley Street just west of the courthouse plaza.For more information, call 445-3122 or visit the museum online at www.sharlot.org.)Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.