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Tue, Jan. 28

Prescott's downtown is steeped in Old West history

The Hotel St. Michael on the corner of Whiskey Row and Gurley has welcomed visitors since 1891. Prescott boasts a collection of historic hotels.<br>
Courtesy/Sharlot Hall Museum

The Hotel St. Michael on the corner of Whiskey Row and Gurley has welcomed visitors since 1891. Prescott boasts a collection of historic hotels.<br> Courtesy/Sharlot Hall Museum

Prescott's historic downtown with its venerable Whiskey Row has a lot of Old West stories to tell.

As the first territorial capital, the city was a prominent locale in the state's early years.

Among the more famous visitors to Whiskey Row were the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, who gained infamy during the shootout near Tombstone's OK Corral.

Virgil Earp - who was Tombstone's only lawman when he deputized his brothers and Holliday for the shootout - spent several years in the Prescott area as a lawman, miner and rancher.

While the exact location of the Whiskey Row establishments that the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday visited is unknown, it's safe to say they walked Whiskey Row and historians seem to agree that Holliday won a good bit of money gambling there.

Holliday's long-time girlfriend, Big-Nose(d) Kate Elder, spent her final nine years of life at the Arizona Pioneers' Home in Prescott and is buried in its cemetery under the name Mary K. Cummings.

The Barry Goldwater family also has a strong Prescott connection.

Barry Morris Goldwater spent his summers here while growing up, after his father and uncles established the Goldwater mercantile store here in 1876. Barry's Uncle Morris served as Prescott's mayor for a combined 20 years. He also held many other political titles.

Morris lived in what is now the Hampton Funeral Home. His brother Henry lived in a home on Union Street's "Nob Hill" that now is marked with an historical sign.

Prescott's Whiskey Row was born 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 face of Whiskey Row was about to change drastically, however.

First came the fire of 1883 that destroyed most of Whiskey Row, then an even more devastating fire on July 14, 1900 that torched more than 80 businesses including about 25 saloons and all of the bawdy houses, according to the City of Prescott's Historic Preservation Master Plan by Historic Preservation Specialist Nancy Burgess.

Many property owners decided it would be a good idea to turn to masonry and brick during reconstruction. Within three years, Prescott's entrepreneurs had rebuilt most of the buildings surrounding the courthouse plaza that exist today.

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 several years ago.

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 downtown area now is home to approximately 18 saloons, including seven on the main block of Whiskey Row. Some of them are located inside restaurants.

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