Days Past: Squatting on the Plaza, 1867-style: Part II
By KEN EDWARDS
Originally Published: December 27, 2008 9:14 p.m.
A squatter is an individual who settles on property belonging to someone else or to the government. This two-part article is the story of H. W. Ward who attempted, in 1867, to claim half of the Prescott Plaza as his own by using squatters' rights. Last week Part I ended with the strong objection of local merchants to Mr. Ward's action.The entire town was enraged. The Arizona Miner stated that the identities had not been established of the "party thus trespassing upon public opinion and private rights, with one exception, and that individual has been but a few months in the Territory. He has a good reputation as an engineer and millwright, and has been regarded as a very valuable man among us. We regret the step he has taken, and hardly believe he will persist in the course he has begun; in fact, knowing the gentleman as we do, we think he is joking."It was no joke. The "best men and owners of property" in Prescott held a meeting on the matter, resulting in the signing of the following "mild and modest" notice: "We, the undersigned, request that the parties who have jumped the public Plaza in the town of Prescott, desist from further operations." The notice bore 84 signatures.The squatter(s) on the plaza did not desist. The Miner reported, "The parties who jumped a part of the Plaza some months since began to build a house upon it." An injunction was issued by Judge Turner at the request of merchants "who, having paid high prices for lots facing the plaza, have no idea of letting any one occupy that public ground." Construction was halted until the courts could sort out the legalities of the situation. The situation was tense.A complaint filed in District Court and signed by Herbert Bowers, John G. Campbell and Levi Bashford, a formidable group of downtown merchants, named only H.W. Ward as the squatter. The complaint alleged that the commissioners appointed to survey the town site of Prescott in 1864 "surveyed and appropriated to public use, to be used and enjoyed in common by the citizens of said Town, as a public Plaza" the tract on which Ward had squatted. The plaintiffs said that erection of houses on the Plaza would greatly obstruct and prevent the free use, occupation and enjoyment of the Plaza by the citizens, and would be a public nuisance. They further alleged that the properties fronting on the Plaza had been purchased for elevated prices and that, if Ward were allowed to have his house on the Plaza, their property values would be greatly depreciated and there would be irreparable damage to the plaintiffs.The court issued an injunction and temporary restraining order requiring Ward to cease construction. A jury was appointed to hear the case. Court records do not include any testimony for the trial, but the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Ward was ordered to remove his partially built house.The Miner reported on Dec. 7, 1867, "The Plaza is now naked without fence or other improvement upon it, save and except the flag-staff. Mr. Ward is about to leave the country, satisfied, no doubt, that his action was, to say the least, unwarrantable, and unprofitable. Our citizens should club together and fence in (the Plaza) right away, and, next spring, trees should be planted on it." Our treasured plaza was saved from the evil opportunist.Postscript: City council notes, "In April 1877, a special election was called to inquire the wishes of the people if permission should be given to Yavapai County to erect a building on the Plaza. Proposition voted favorable 178 and 10 against." The first courthouse was begun later that year. On Oct. 13, 1879, city council notes, "On this date after acceptance of the Plaza fence the following ordinance appears: 'Every person who shall climb or whittle upon the Plaza fence or shall willfully do anything to mar or injure the appearance of said fence or who shall hitch or tie any animal to said fence shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof before the Village of Prescott shall be fined $7.50 to $25.'"Days Past is available at www.sharlot.org/archives and via RSS e-mail subscription. Check out www.sharlot.org for more information.HELP! We need your stories and experiences! The public is welcome to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Sharlot Hall Museum at 445-3122 for more information.