Being a big fan of history that means I am also a big fan of museums and the best museum to check out when visiting Prescott, Arizona is the Sharlot Hall Museum. The museum is located just a short walk from Courthouse Plaza which makes it a convenient side trip when spending time checking out downtown Prescott:
The museum has a number of preserved buildings, artifacts, and displays that provides a very good overview of the frontier history of the Prescott area. The museum is named after the lady that made preserving the history of the area her life’s work. Here is a biography of Sharlot Hall from the museum’s website:
Sharlot Mabridth Hall was an unusual woman for her time: a largely self-educated but highly literate child of the frontier. Born October 27,1870, she traveled with her family from Kansas to the Arizona Territory in 1882. Her impressions of this journey remained with her all of her life. She loved ideas and the written arts and expressed her fascination with Arizona frontier life through prose and poetry.
The Hall family raised horses and mined gold on Lynx Creek, then built a homestead that they called Orchard Ranch. James and Adeline along with their children, Sharlot and Ted, kept pigs and cows and grew vegetables, apples, and pears. Sharlot attended school for a couple of brief terms in a log-and-adobe schoolhouse four miles from the ranch, then boarded in Prescott for one year of schooling in town. There she met Henry Fleury, who had come to Prescott in 1864 as secretary to the first governor, John Goodwin, and who lived in the old log Governor’s Mansion. The gruff, grey-bearded Fleury told Sharlot many fascinating stories of Prescott‘s early times.
In 1909 Sharlot was appointed Territorial Historian and became the first woman to hold territorial office. At about this time she was also very active in the national political arena, first as a lobbyist and later as a presidential elector. In 1927 Sharlot agreed to move her extensive collection of artifacts and documents into the Old Governor‘s Mansion and open it as a museum. Her diligent efforts inspired others to contribute to the preservation of early Arizona history. After her death on April 9, 1943 a historical society continued her efforts to build the complex that bears her name. In 1981 Miss Hall became one of the first women elected to the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. [Sharlot.org]
Her life work continues today with the museum continuing to collect items to add to the museum. The items are even extending outside of the museum now such as this old steam engine on display in the parking lot:
The steam engine as well as the pulley system pictured below would have been prominent pieces of equipment used in the mines during Prescott’s frontier days in the late 1800’s:
From the parking lot I then walked inside the museum’s grounds. Once inside the sidewalk leads to the main museum which is surrounded by other historical buildings on the grounds:
The inside of the museum is where the admission is paid. Since it was just my 3-year old daughter and I visiting I was just charged the $7 for adult admission and my daughter was free. This is a relatively cheap museum to visit. The museum has all the historical displays you would expect such as the history of the Native-American Yavapai tribe that to this day still calls the Prescott area home:
What I enjoy the most at museums such as this is looking at the old pictures which there was plenty of at the Sharlot Hall Museum. Here is a picture from the city’s courthouse in 1900 that shows how the entire downtown area of Prescott was devastated by a fire:
Speaking of the courthouse here is a picture of the original brick courthouse that once stood in Courthouse Plaza that was replaced in 1916 by the current structure:
There was even a few stuffed animals on display such as this mountain lion that to this day roam the mountains outside of Prescott:
After checking out the museum I then went outside to see the various historic structures. All the structures outside were acquired and moved on to the grounds of the museum by Sharlot Hall over the years except for the Territorial Governor’s Mansion that still sits in the same spot it was originally constructed:
According to the display within the Governor’s Mansion, this structure was built in the summer of 1864 by laborers working for a man named Samuel Blair. This log house was to serve as both the office and home for Arizona’s first territorial governor. Due to its preservation over the year’s the Governor’s Mansion is now the oldest building associated with the Arizona Territory still standing in its original location. Looking at the building today this large log cabin may not seem very impressive, but for being located in gold camp where many people still lived in tents the Governor’s Mansion would have seemed like quite a luxurious home back in 1864.
The first territorial governor at the time was a man named John Goodwin from Maine. He served as the governor from 1863 to 1866. He was replaced by the Territorial Secretary Richard McCormick from New York. Goodwin spent much of his governorship touring the state with a military escort in order to establish counties and create local government. During McCormick’s time in the Governor’s Mansion he was very proactive about moving the Native-Americans on to reservations and heavily promoted mining in the area. When the state capital was moved to Tuscon in 1867 McCormick went to with it, but the Governor’s Mansion in Prescott remained. The inside of the mansion had a number of period items on display such as the governor’s desk:
Here is the bedroom the governor would have slept in:
Here is where the governor would have sat down to eat:
There were also a few displays that showed correspondence the governor had written:
There was also a number of every day items on display such as these candles that would have been used for lighting within the mansion:
Outside of the Governor’s Mansion there is a number of other structures on display that were moved to the museum’s grounds such as Fort Misery:
This structure is considered the oldest log cabin in Arizona. It was built in 1864 and was moved on to the museum’s grounds in 1934 from a location only a half mile from the museum. There are some various theories on how the name Fort Misery came about, but all of them seem to link back to the area’s difficult and bleak living conditions in the 1860’s.
Another small cabin on the museum grounds was this small School House:
This building is actually a re-creation that was built in 1962. The re-creation shows how simple schools were during the frontier days of Prescott:
Another re-creation was this Ranch House:
Sharlot Hall had it built in 1936 in tribute to the early ranchers that moved to the Prescott area. Just like the School House, life for these early ranchers would have been pretty basic as well:
Besides log cabins the museum also features more modern buildings that shows how quickly Prescott developed from the log cabins of the 1860’s to Victorian homes in the 1870’s. The Fremont House was built in 1875 and was the home for Territorial Governor John C. Fremont when the capital moved back to Prescott in 1877 before giving it up for the final time to Phoenix in 1889. The Fremont House was relocated to the museum in 1972:
Another beautiful structure at the museum is the Bashford House that was built in 1877 and nearly a hundred years later was moved onto the museum’s grounds in 1874. Today it serves as a store for the museum:
There is plenty of more to see at the museum, but I feel like my daughter I and got our money’s worth spending about 2.5 hours checking everything out. By the time we finished my 3-year old was pretty tired and ready to go. Older kids may find the place boring, but my daughter had a blast going inside all the old buildings and the museum workers dressed in period clothes had fun playing with her as well. I learned a lot about the Prescott area at the museum and recommend that others do so as well.