Originally Published: May 6, 2018 6:05 a.m.
Last week’s Days Past article reviewed Prescott’s experience in establishing a reliable system of residential water storage and distribution. This week, we’ll examine Prescott’s current water supply and the celebration of “The Biggest Splash.”
In 1946, a comprehensive water study was completed for the City of Prescott. This was during Mayor James Whetstine’s administration. Plans included developing a series of wells, constructing pump stations, and installing a large holding tank facility in Chino Valley just north of the Chino Valley High School.
Whetstine’s administration laid the ground work for new Mayor Hillard Brooke to carry out the project. Brooke’s administration brought the issue before voters in April 1947, with an $800,000 bonding provision. Out of the 858 ballots cast only 25 were opposed. At that time, water was provided by surface water from the Goldwater Lakes and Hassayampa Lake (83 percent), the Sun Dog infiltration gallery (10 percent) and the Weston Well (7 percent).
Along with developing wells in the Chino area, building storage and pumping facilities, and laying pipe to the City of Prescott, a new reservoir was constructed on Douglas Street off Willow Creek Road. Additional pipe was installed to connect the new reservoir to the 1884 reservoir off Mount Vernon Street. This was accomplished during the winter of 1947-48.
To celebrate the completion of this large, complex and important project a community-wide celebration was planned for Saturday, May 15, 1948.
First, there was a proclamation by Mayor E.C. (Doc) Seale, “inviting Prescott citizens as well as others from miles around to help celebrate the occasion and come and have a drink of water on us.” The proclamation goes on “to celebrate the first water from Prescott’s new wells in its big water development program which marks a great forward step in the development and welfare of Prescott and future growth,” and “whereas the people of Prescott after passing through one of the most critical droughts in the history of the city have reason to rejoice, now therefore, I hereby designate May 15, 1948, as Prescott Biggest Splash day.”
A full day was planned and celebrated on May 15 starting with a soap box derby held on Elks Hill (Gurley Street). This was followed by school children doing baton twirling, school band music, bike racing, three-legged races, football throwing and relay races.
The afternoon included a parade around the plaza, with dedication ceremonies with invocation and addresses by the Mayor and VA Director. After that, a beauty contest was held with judging by several local personalities and the guest of honor, Miss Hillary Brooke, a Columbia Motion picture star. (She recently had starred with Red Skelton in “The Fuller Brush Man.”)
A positive, festive, party mood carried into the evening including music by old time fiddlers and a street dance.
Current Prescott resident and Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame member Elisabeth Ruffner was in her late 20s at the time and participated in Biggest Splash activities. In a recent interview with her, this author captured her euphoric recollections. “The downtown plaza area was the center of activities. Pickup trucks were lined up along Whiskey Row, with friends sharing libations and food off the pickup tailgates. The ‘open carry law’ wherein no open alcohol containers were allowed was loosely enforced. Later as the night grew cooler, a small warming fire was made in the street much to the alarm of law enforcement officials. The intervention of some silver-tongued attorneys in the group and the lenient understanding by law enforcement of the ‘excitement of the occasion’ resulted in a warning with no arrests. The hub-bub was noticed and friends along the Row came to our aid with warmer clothing.”
The end of the day’s festivities was the orchestra playing “Home, Sweet, Home” at 12:30 a.m.
A follow up newspaper article stated that “there were huge crowds, the weather perfect and the courthouse lawn never looked greener or more inviting.”
Coincidently, the Los Angeles area had been experiencing a severe drought as well. The Prescott Mayor, E.C. (Doc) Seale, in a gesture of good will, sent a four-gallon barrel of water to the Mayor of Los Angeles, Fletcher Bowron, with supportive comments. The barrel was donated by the Bucky O’Neill War Surplus store.
Since 1948, Prescott has relied on five wells in Chino Valley for its water supply. Construction of two wells near the airport was completed in 2006. The 70 years of pumping has served Prescott water customers, including approximately 725 residents in Chino Valley.
The current demand on the potable water system is approximately 6,700 acre-feet (2.2 billion gallons) per year and the system’s daily storage capacity is 28 million gallons.
“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 also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at email@example.com for information.