History in Brief



  • Historic Preservation Specialist
  • 201 S Cortez St

  • 928-777-1142


Prescott was founded in 1864 as the Territorial Capital of Arizona. Though three of the names originally proposed for Prescott were “Audubon”, “Goodwin City” and “Aztlan”, the name “Prescott” was chosen in honor of William Hickling Prescott, author of The History of the Conquest of Mexico. The Arizona Miner reported that the name was accepted because Prescott was “a good citizen, a true patriot, with industry, perseverance under difficulty, amiability of character and love of country.”

At the same time Prescott was established as the Territorial Capital, it was also designated as the County Seat of Yavapai County, one of four original territorial counties. Although the Capital moved to Tucson from 1867 to 1877, the Capital returned to Prescott at the end of 1877 and remained until it was moved permanently to Phoenix in 1889. During these years as Territorial Capital, Prescott was the dominant political center of the Territory and was protected and influenced by the presence of nearby Fort Whipple.

The decade of the 1880s saw fluctuations in the economic condition of Prescott due to slumps in mining activity, especially a severe slump in 1885 which resulted in the closing of several Prescott businesses. The community was strong enough to recover economically based on the rapid growth of the cattle industry in the area. On December 31, 1886, the Arizona Central Railway was opened connecting Prescott with the Atlantic and Pacific. In 1893 it was replaced by a branch of the Santa Fe. By 1895 the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railroad(also known as the “Peavine”) connected Prescott’s mining area with the Southern Pacific line. The access to the railroad bolstered the mercantile sector of the local economy and led to the establishment of several new dry goods and mining supply businesses. Communication and utilities improved along with transportation. An electric light plant was built in 1889 and telephones arrived shortly thereafter. The year 1889 also marked the year that the Capital was moved to Phoenix. In spite of this political loss, Prescott continued to prosper and develop as the 19th Century drew to a close.

By 1900, established residences were clearly reflecting the Victorian era architectural styles: Cottages, Greek Revival, Octagon, Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Eastlake, Stick, Shingle, Italianate. People were moving across Granite Creek and into areas south and west of town. Commercial development was altered dramatically when a disastrous fire on July 14, 1900, destroyed four and one-half blocks of downtown Prescott. Twelve hotels and 20 mercantile establishments were lost. After the fire, citizens soon viewed the event as a chance to replace the old wooden buildings common in the downtown area with more permanent concrete, brick and stone buildings. These buildings reflected a shift from exuberant Victorian styles to a more controlled formality of styles.

The Fire of 1900 not only brought on a new era in architecture, but it also seemed to stimulate a variety of social and public improvements. Downtown, cement sidewalks and paved streets replaced the dusty thoroughfares of the 1800s. Fort Whipple was reopened after a brief closure in the 1890s, which provided the community with a steady influx of federal dollars. Craftsman, Classical Bungalow, Vernacular and Revival architecture became the prominent residential styles during the first part of the century and remained popular through the 1930s.

The Yavapai Chamber of Commerce (now the Prescott Chamber of Commerce) was founded in 1914 to promote Yavapai County and especially the Prescott area for its healthful climate. Prescott, along with Arizona in general, was experiencing an increase in tourism. Summer, in particular, was a busy time of the year for Prescott. Many families from Phoenix would stay in summer homes in or around Prescott, or “camp out” in tents, or sometimes, in elaborate portable houses.

The Copper Mining Industry also supported area growth in the early 20th Century because of the extra demands for World War I. However, by 1919 Prescott suffered the effects of postwar depression along with the rest of the state and nation. Even so, after reduction in population during World War I, Prescott was again enjoying a steady growth rate with a population in 1920 of 5,010.

The pre-World War II depression was also very hard on the state and local area economy. Thousands of banks failed, and people were left without work or savings. However, local and federal assistance programs (the PWA, CCC, WPA) were well organized in Prescott during the late 1930s. Many local unemployed found work with the WPA in Prescott without having to leave their families. There was a definite slump in the tourism industry and almost no growth or expansion between 1932 and 1935. There was very little building during World War II. However, starting in 1946, there was a significant increase in both residential and commercial building reflecting the nationwide boom in growth and home ownership for the middle class. Prescott’s significant growth occurred in the 1980s; and, since the 1980 census, the population has at least doubled.