Days Past: Old West lives on thanks to Sharlot Hall Museum
For 85 years, Prescott's Sharlot Hall Museum has been an eye-catching landmark, and a focal point of the local community. Its unique mix of historic buildings, galleries, research center, living history village, and much more, annually attracts upwards of 40,000 visitors from all fifty states and dozens of foreign countries.
Named after its founder, Sharlot Mabridth Hall (1870-1943), the now regionally significant complex was begun in 1927, with the first Territorial Governor's residence and offices as its cornerstone. This rustic structure became Miss Hall's residence and the home for her extensive personal collection of pioneer and American Indian artifacts as well as documents and books. In 1928, she opened the Governor's mansion as the first of a series of structures that would evolve into an impressive heritage campus and arboretum.
During the remainder of her life, Miss Hall worked to preserve Arizona's historic past. Her diligent efforts inspired others to continue to contribute to the preservation of early Arizona history. For many years she shared the stories and artifacts she collected in periodic articles in the Courier that were the forerunner to the "Days Past Column" that has been featured for the past 15 years in the Sunday edition of the paper.
Over the decades since the museum's founding by Hall, a four-acre campus came into being with a array of historic buildings, a modern library and archives, exhibit galleries, an outdoor amphitheater, and many educational programs which are presented throughout the year, including the annual Folk Arts Festival each June, the Prescott Indian Art Market in July, the annual Folk Music Festival in October, and the charming Frontier Christmas celebration in December.
At the heart of the museum are the collections that began with Sharlot M. Hall. Early on, she began gathering items related to the native peoples of the area along with objects from early settlers of the region. In 1927, she wrote that her main goal was to showcase "every object of interest in reach connected with our past - old books, old pictures, old furniture that came to Yavapai in covered wagons-old cooking utensils-all the home things of our everyday life...."
She went on to share: "I hope to make this building [The Governor's Mansion] and the grounds around it a center of historical and literary interest and a sort of civic center for the pioneers of Yavapai County and for such organizations of young people as might be benefitted or inspired by its ideals and purposes."
In this venerable link to Arizona's origins she envisioned one room "to be made entirely for things of the old cattle range - spurs, bridle bits, stirrups, saddles, real riatas and "MCartys." Elsewhere in the former governor's residence, "homely old cooking things and china and glass beloved to some of our pioneer women..." would be preserved and presented. She believed that her own collections would be supplemented by items from "every corner of the county," and she was correct in this matter.
In fact, many of the items were donated by people whose families used these everyday objects when the territorial was young. The Museum continues to acquire a wide range of materials from the ancient past to the twentieth century that reflect the natural history and history of the central Arizona highlands. Among the many treasures are more than 400 Native American baskets, over half more than 100 years old. The basket collection, a portion of which is on public display in the Hartzell Room of the Sharlot Hall Building, features examples from more than 25 tribes. The baskets are as exquisite as they are utilitarian.
The museum's other exhibits explore the region's natural history and earliest people as well as feature the adventurers, entrepreneurs, miners, ranchers, and soldiers who poured through the territory ushering in one of the most turbulent and lively periods in Western American history. Changing exhibits offer a wide array of artistic and cultural experiences, allowing the museum to tell many stories that draw on the rich collections housed on the campus and anchored by the Helen and John Lawler Museum Center.
Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Call 445-3122, ext. 14, or email at email@example.com for information.