Originally Published: May 28, 2010 9:15 a.m.
PRESCOTT - For young Margaret McCormick, the log mansion on Prescott's main thoroughfare would not only be her "own dear home," but it would be her final abode as well.
Just shy of her 24th birthday, McCormick had barely had time to acclimate to her new home in Arizona's territorial capital when she died in 1867 after giving birth to a stillborn child.
The heartbreak of Arizona's second territorial governor Richard McCormick and his young wife - the first first-lady-in-residence - is just one of the compelling stories embedded in the ponderosa pine-log walls of the Territorial Governor's Mansion on the grounds of Prescott's Sharlot Hall Museum.
And it is that deep-seated sense of history that anchors the museum's four-acre complex in downtown Prescott.
"The governor's mansion is just such a jewel," Mike Lange, marketing coordinator for the museum, said. "In my opinion, it competes with the atmosphere here (for being the top attraction of Sharlot Hall Museum)."
Hildegard Sprenzel-Wacker, a volunteer docent who spends one day a week dispensing information in the mansion, also mentions the log building as a favorite feature.
"It is the only building really built on this site," Sprenzel-Wacker said of the 146-year-old Gurley Street log house. "And it's huge for its time (at 40-feet-by 50-feet)."
Margaret McCormick, who had arrived in Arizona just two years before her death, came to love the mansion, calling it "my own dear home" in an 1866 letter to a friend in New Jersey.
As one of few women in the frontier town, the first lady was a popular figure in Prescott, Sprenzel-Wacker said, adding, "She had dances and tea parties here, and she brought in the first Christmas tree."
But as Lange pointed out, the mansion is just one of the myriad attractions at Sharlot Hall Museum.
"Just stepping on campus, you feel like you're returning to a simpler, more relaxing time," Lange said, referring especially to the lush landscaping that includes a heritage rose garden, herb gardens and a variety of trees.
In addition, Lange said, the assortment of historic buildings adds to the atmosphere.
Museum Executive Director John Langellier sees the emphasis on learning as a major part of that atmosphere.
Calling Sharlot Hall Museum a "compromise between 'look but don't touch,'" Langellier noted that the scores of museum staff members and volunteers strive to make history come to life.
"This is where history happened," Langellier said. "You can literally step into the governor's quarters."
Indeed, that feeling of accessibility was the vision of Sharlot M. Hall, the museum's founder and early territorial historian, who worked to preserve the governor's mansion and other historic buildings and artifacts.
"That was Sharlot Hall's idea - that this would not be the museum of the elite," Langellier said.
The hands-on quality of the museum obviously resonated with Chris and Ryan Martin, a father and son who were visiting the museum one morning in May.
Chris Martin, a self-proclaimed "history buff" from Tempe, said he brought his son, who was visiting from Charleston, Ill., to the museum to show him the mammoth feat required to build the large log mansion.
Ryan Martin, a carpenter, was especially interested in the old tools on display that showed the rudimentary building implements of the day.
Along with various displays, the museum also features countless activities throughout the summer, including regular living history programs on the second Saturdays of the month.
And for those interested in shopping in an authentic setting, the museum also offers the Sharlot's Timeless Treasures Museum Store in the historic Bashford House.
Highlighted by an original solarium of intricate wood and glasswork, the building also includes a number of other unique features - a Victorian room, a pantry, a Southwest room - all chock full of items for sale, ranging from Sharlot Hall-themed shirts and tote bags, old-fashioned candy, jewelry, and books chronicling the local and state lore.
"I try to buy unique and original things," Retail Manager Gayle Schambach said of the merchandise. "Every item in here is hand-picked."
Sharlot Hall Museum is located at 415 West Gurley St. in downtown Prescott. From May through September, it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. From October through April, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Museum admission is $5 for adults and free for museum members and children younger than 18.