Days Past: History of Prescott's Sharlot Hall Museum: Part I
Recently, we have presented Days Past articles about museums in Prescott. Today, and the next two Sundays, we will conclude with our own Sharlot Hall Museum.
Soon after the territorial governor's party arrived in 1864 to what was later named Prescott, a log house was built near the banks of Granite Creek to serve as both home and office for Gov. John N. Goodwin and Secretary Richard McCormick. The rough-hewn log house was built hastily using oxen and mules to drag the logs to their position - the very position where they may be seen today. The log house, though named "Pinal Ranch," became better known as "The Mansion" when compared to the sod houses and tents in the area.
In 1865, Goodwin was elected Territorial Delegate to Congress and returned to the east with McCormick becoming our second territorial governor. He brought his new wife, Margaret, from New Jersey and the couple shared the log house with Judge Henry Fleury who served as personal secretary for the governor. In October 1867, the territorial capital was transferred to Tucson and McCormick went with it, with Margaret having died during childbirth in April 1867.
Judge Fleury bought the log house in 1868 and continued to live there by himself. In 1889, he sold the house to Judge French, justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, but retained the right to live there until his death.
Enter Sharlot Mabridth Hall. Sharlot came to Prescott from Kansas in 1882 with her parents when she was just 11 years old. She was fascinated with the West and was interested in every aspect of it. She had a special interest in Indian cultures, pioneers and artifacts of every kind. As a schoolgirl in Prescott, she would frequently visit the gray-bearded man who lived in the old log house by the creek. He would share tales of earlier days and instilled in Sharlot a great desire to collect relics of the disappearing frontier and as her collection grew, in her own words, so did her "desire to own the old log house and put all these things of story and romance into it."
Judge Fleury died in 1895 and as he was carried out of the old log house, Sharlot was determined as ever to save the house and make it into a museum. But the house was sold in 1899 to Joseph Dougherty and he "modernized" it as a duplex, living in the south half and renting out the other side. He made many improvements including porches, flooring, windows, clapboard outside and sheathing inside. Sharlot's dream seemed to be shattered.
Beginning in 1902, Sharlot traveled throughout Arizona collecting pioneers' stories and artifacts, writing and selling poetry, promoting fundraising events and dreaming of her museum. Territorial Gov. Richard Sloan appointed her Territorial Historian in 1909 and she pursued her work with passion, never forgetting her dream of a museum in Prescott.
Then in 1917, the State of Arizona purchased the "Governor's Mansion" with the city agreeing to maintain the property and suggestions were accepted as to how it would be used. In the meantime, the house was empty and deteriorating. Finally, in 1927 at age 57, Sharlot signed an agreement to install her collections in the mansion and to operate it as a museum. The dream she had carried since her youth was finally becoming reality. She opened the museum's guest register for her first official guest, Arizona State Historian George Kelly, on June 11, 1928.
Though funding was nearly non-existent, restoration of the mansion continued for the next six years including removal of the clapboard siding, new roof, porch enclosed and a stockade fence of Juniper poles was built. Much of the work was done by friends, relatives, volunteers and even Sharlot herself.
In 1936, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) completed the stone "Sharlot Hall Building" behind the mansion to house the artifacts she had collected over the years. Sharlot called the building "the house of a thousand hands." Many pioneer families and prominent citizens continued to offer additional photographs, letters, furniture and other items. Today this building houses high-quality museum displays. In addition, the CWA also re-assembled Fort Misery on the museum grounds and constructed the replica of an old ranch house.
Sharlot served as museum docent, local lecturer, exhibits designer, author and publisher. She provided consistent outreach to the community and tourists through radio interviews and local history publications. She made the most of every educational opportunity.
Because of a back injury as a child, Sharlot suffered great pain, which was aggravated by the hard work involved in managing the museum. She began to experience heart problems around 1933 and these chronic flare-ups would keep her down for weeks and even months at a time. After a heart attack on April 2, 1943, she entered the Arizona Pioneers' Home hospital and on Friday, April 9, Sharlot Mabridth Hall died. She had accomplished what was most important to her. "I simply refuse to die until this job is done so well nobody can ever spoil it."
The museum was re-opened to the public three weeks after her death. Sharlot's estate, including her collections and her Durant Star Four touring car (which can be seen today in the transportation building), was turned over to the Prescott Historical Society.