Originally Published: June 10, 2008 9:01 p.m.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt remembers meeting Sharlot Hall when he was a youngster.
"She was everything people say about her," Rosenblatt recalled. "There was a certain magnificence about her."
She was fearless, yet she was kind, gentle and petite, he said.
Rosenblatt's late sister Dora Heap introduced him to Sharlot. Heap also was hugely important to the survival of the museum, as an early board member and then its director in 1965-72, who helped preserve the museum's independence while expanding its grounds.
Like the museum, Rosenblatt is celebrating his 80th birthday this year.
Sharlot first invited the public to visit the new museum on June 11, 1928. At that time, the museum consisted only of the 1864 territorial governor's mansion.
"She saw that we were losing our pioneer past, and we needed to preserve it," Museum Director John Langellier said.
Sharlot filled the mansion with priceless historical items that she had collected throughout her years in
Arizona, including her years traveling the rugged landscape after Gov. Richard Sloan of Prescott appointed her to be Arizona's territorial historian in 1909-1912.
"I think there were a lot of similarities between us in that way," said Arizona's current official historian Marshall Trimble, who grew up in Ash Fork and has been spreading his knowledge of history across the state since 1997.
Sharlot was the first woman to hold public office in Arizona, back when women couldn't even vote.
"She was quite a contributor to the history and culture for this state," said Richard Prouty of the Arizona State Library's Carnegie Center.
Sharlot Mabridth Hall was born in Kansas in 1870 and moved to the Arizona Territory in 1882.
Sharlot was instrumental in making sure Arizona became a state separately from New Mexico, touring Arizona and writing a poem that ended up on the desk of every member of Congress.
She was a prolific writer, publishing more than 500 articles, stories and poems.
Sharlot described her dream for the museum grounds in a 1927 letter to the City of Prescott, requesting permission to live in the governor's mansion.
"I wish to develop the land around the building into the most beautiful park possible, and to place upon it whatever buildings or objects may be in harmony with the original purpose," she wrote. "I hope to make this building and the grounds around it a center of historical and literary interest and civic center for the pioneers of Yavapai County and for such organizations of young people as might be benefited or inspired by its ideas and purposes."
The Civil Works Administration built the Sharlot Hall exhibit hall in 1934.
Sharlot moved an 1863 log cabin called "Fort Misery" a few blocks north to the grounds that year. The ranch house was built under her watch, too.
Many influential friends helped Sharlot develop the museum, including Morris and Barry Goldwater, the Riordan family, Grace Sparkes and Sen. Alpheus Favour.
Workers converted the 1937 transportation building to museum use in 1974. Decades after Sharlot's death in 1943, two historic Victorian homes moved to the museum grounds. They built the museum center in 1979. Today, the museum attracts more than 40,000 visitors a year.
What would Sharlot Hall and Dora Heap think of the museum today?
"Both of them would be impressed and pleased and delighted that the community is as supportive as it is, and it's taken a prominent place in the community," Rosenblatt said. "That's what they were trying to do."
And the museum continues to grow. Most recently, the library and archives moved to a larger, newly acquired building across McCormick Street.
Museum officials will celebrate the 80th anniversary with cake and talk of the future at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.
"Eighty years later, we're still bringing people in to educate and entertain," Langellier said.
As Sharlot so eloquently stated, "No generation lives for itself alone, but tomorrow rests upon the shoulders of today - as today rests upon the shoulders of yesterday."
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