The Great Fire of 1900 compelled the glorious rebirth of Prescott and its famous Whiskey Row. However, three major fires transpiring before 1900 also played a part in shaping Whiskey Row’s geography.
Like most western frontier towns, Prescott’s embryonic days featured makeshift saloons. Saloons were the social hubs of the Old West; they alacriously arose while church construction slogged behind. Prescott was the epitome of this phenomenon.
Prescott’s first go-to saloon was established on the east side of Granite Street below Gurley: the Quartz Rock. According to local legend, Quartz Rock’s disoriented patrons kept falling into Granite Creek, hence “the business was moved to Montezuma.” Other saloons sprang up nearby and thus, it was said, Whiskey Row was born.
Actually, the Quartz Rock, established in late 1864, remained in one place for almost seven years. Around 2 a.m. on March 26, 1871, flames were sighted through the Quartz Rock windows. Its owner, Andrew Moeller (who’d been living there) woke up amidst fire but escaped to Granite Street. More than twenty barrels of his whiskey exploded, guaranteeing the destruction of Prescott’s first legendary saloon. A three-building conflagration developed that threatened to make a right turn toward Montezuma, and would have if not for the heroics of volunteer fireman Dr. George Kendall. The Quartz Rock was never rebuilt.
One of the imperiled buildings during the 1871 fire sat on the corner of Montezuma and Gurley streets where Hotel St. Michael stands today. The Diana Saloon, the true cornerstone of Whiskey Row, had been established in late 1868 by, ironically, Andrew Moeller. Mammoth for its time, and first-class, it became the true inducement for other early Prescott watering holes being constructed on Montezuma Street.
The overwhelmingly popular Diana was the queen of Prescott’s saloons for several years until Dan Thorne’s Cabinet Saloon seized the throne on 118 Montezuma in the mid-1870s. Thorne repeatedly found ways to attract patrons to his saloon, and it became the heartbeat of Whiskey Row for more than two decades.
On July 6, 1883, around 8:30, the courthouse bell sounded, alerting Prescott’s volunteer firefighters. Prescottonians sprinted toward the Cabinet. Plumes of smoke gushed from its restaurant section, located in the rear. Soon the entire saloon burned down. Two doors north the Montezuma Saloon met the same fate, as did the Arcade Brewery, a cigar shop, an auction house, and a fruit store.
Next in line was the Diana. It was hastily dynamited to the ground, which halted the fire’s northward march. The fire’s southward movement found its deterrent in one of Prescott’s only stone and brick buildings, John Campbell’s mercantile store located on 124-126 Montezuma. This reinforced the persistent argument that more stone and brick buildings were needed.
The northern half of the former Whiskey Row became the “burnt out district” for several months. Exactly two weeks before the July 6 fire, Nathan Ellis and Al Whitney opened Prescott’s newest state-of-the-art saloon on Goodwin Street: the Palace Saloon! However, as it was being erected, the Courier expressed a prophetic wish, and concern: “[W]e sigh for a stone or brick structure.”
With the Cabinet and Diana in ashes, the Palace had no legitimate competition; Prescott now relied heavily on this “much admired” saloon for good times. But when the fire alarm bell sounded in the early morning of Valentine’s Day 1884, déjà vu struck Prescottonians like a thunderbolt. The Sherman Block Fire destroyed Prescott’s finest hotel, the Sherman House, and all buildings associated with it, including the Palace.
Several Montezuma Street businesses were still being reestablished, but lot 19, 118 Montezuma, where the Cabinet was situated for nine years, was still vacant. Ellis and Whitney rebuilt their Palace there; the Cabinet was re-erected on lot 21, 122 Montezuma. There they both operated as the two best saloons on Whiskey Row until the fire of 1900.
After the Great Fire, the Palace’s Bob Brow, and the Cabinet’s Ben Belcher and Barney Smith pooled their resources, bought lots 19, 20 and 21 (118-122 Montezuma Street) from multi-millionaire Hugh McCrum and built the finest saloon the Southwest had ever seen. At first, they planned on calling it the National Saloon, and then the Palace-Cabinet, but later simply, and appropriately, settled on the Palace.
Join Brad Courtney, author of Prescott’s Original Whiskey Row, for a fuller version of “The Origins of Whiskey Row” at the Sharlot Hall Museum on Saturday, October 22, at 2:00PM in the West Gallery of the Lawler Exhibit Center. Admission is FREE.
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.