A nearly perfect climate, if you like four mild seasons, a colorful history, Victorian architecture, a variety of events and activities throughout the year, and lots of wide open spaces make the city of Prescott a popular Arizona destination for tourists and a favorite retirement location.
Approximately 100 miles northwest of Phoenix in the Bradshaw Mountains of central Arizona at an altitude of 5,300 feet, Prescott is Arizona’s third largest metropolitan area. The towns of Prescott Valley (7 miles east) and Chino Valley (16 miles north), Dewey-Humboldt (13 miles east) and Prescott, together comprise what is locally known as the “Quad-City” area. Some consider this a reference to central Yavapai County in general, and include the communities of Mayer, Paulden, Wilhoit, and Williamson Valley.
As of the 2010 census, Prescott’s population was recorded at 39,843.
The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe reservation is located adjacent to and partially within the borders of Prescott.
Downtown Prescott has a distinct small-town feel, where preservation of its history is evident. The downtown area features a variety of Victorian, Edwardian and Craftsman style homes on tree-lined streets. There are 809 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places located in Prescott. Whiskey Row, on Montezuma Street, between Gurley and Goodwin Streets, with its reputation as a red-light district and location of several famous saloons, is ever a popular tourist attraction.
The downtown area’s centerpiece is its central courthouse plaza, surrounded by lawn under great old elm trees, which is the scene of cultural events, art and crafts shows, performances and holiday festivals throughout the year.
Four golf courses within the city limits and more located nearby in surrounding towns, plus superb opportunities for hiking, mountain climbing, birding, boating, hunting and fishing nearby, make Prescott a year-round outdoor mecca.
Prescott hosts annual events such as Frontier Days, The World’s Oldest Rodeo (1888) (featured in the 1972 film Junior Bonner), the Bluegrass Festival, Tsunami on the Square, World’s Largest Gingerbread Village (actually on the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe reservation), Prescott Film Festival, Folk Arts Fair, the Acker Music Festival, The Cowboy Poets Gathering, and the Prescott Highland Games, to name only a few.
Prescott is also home to a variety of educational institutions. It is the primary site of Yavapai College, which also has other campus locations in the county. Established as a community college in 1965, Yavapai College offers more than 30 certificate, degree, and transfer options to students in more than 60 different programs of study.
Prescott College, an independent liberal arts college, offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, is one of the few colleges in the U.S. that offers adventure education as a major.
The western campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is located in Prescott, as well. ERAU teaches “the science, practice, and business of the world of aviation and aerospace.”
In addition, Northern Arizona University, Old Dominion University and the online university, Northcentral University, have specialty campuses in Prescott.
The city has a municipal airport, Ernest A. Love Field, located seven miles (11 km) north of the downtown courthouse.
In 1863, the Walker party discovered gold in the mountains on north central Arizona and soon miners were flocking to the area to seek their own fortunes. Soon after, Arizona’s Territorial Governor, John Noble Goodwin, chose the Prescott area as the site for the new capital of the new Arizona Territory. Goodwin replaced Governor John A. Gurley, who was appointed by Abraham Lincoln, but died before taking office. Streets in downtown Prescott are named in their honor.
The original site for the territorial capital was 20 miles (32 km) south of the temporary capital on the east side of Granite Creek near a number of mining camps, but was later moved to the new site along with Fort Whipple. The new town was named in honor of historian and author William H. Prescott during a public meeting on May 30, 1864. Prescott was officially incorporated in 1883.
Prescott served as capital of Arizona Territory until November 1, 1867, when the capital was moved to Tucson by act of the 4th Arizona Territorial Legislature. The capital was returned to Prescott in 1877 and finally moved to Phoenix on February 4, 1889.
The Sharlot Hall Museum houses much of Prescott’s territorial history, and the Smoki and Phippen museums also maintain local collections. Historic buildings can be found throughout the downtown area, especially Whiskey Row, where The Palace, Arizona’s oldest restaurant and bar, is located.
In 1900, a great fire destroyed almost all of the buildings on Whiskey Row. Legend has it that the patrons of the various bars along “the Row” simply took their drinks across the street to the Courthouse square and watched it burn. In fact, the entire bar and back-bar of the Palace Hotel was moved there and was re-installed after the structure was rebuilt.
Prescott also figures into the wealth of folklore surrounding the Earp brothers. Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp’s older brother, lived in Prescott and ran a sawmill in the late 1870s, and reportedly told Wyatt of the opportunities in Tombstone, Arizona. It is rumored that Doc Holliday spent some time in Prescott gambling at the Palace just before heading to Tombstone himself. Holliday’s girlfriend, “Big Nose Kate,” also lived in Prescott and is buried in the Arizona Pioneer’s Home Cemetery in the Prescott city limits.
Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee for president, launched his presidential campaign from the steps of Prescott’s Yavapai County Courthouse, as did John McCain in 2008.
While Prescott itself is located in a forested bowl at 5,300’, suburban communities spread out on open prairie type land surrounding it. Much of the undeveloped land to the north and west is either high elevation grassland or mountain ranges.
Granite Mountain is a 7,626-foot peak that covers 12 square miles. It was once known as Mount Gurley after the first governor of the Arizona Territory, John A. Gurley, who did not live to take office. Its southwest face has a sheer granite cliff approximately 500 feet high that is one of the best locations for rock climbing in the state of Arizona. It is located in the Granite Mountain Wilderness, a federally designated urban wilderness area, in Prescott National Forest.
The Bradshaw Mountains are approximately 5 miles south of Prescott, between the Agua Fria River on the east and the Hassayampa River on the west. The range, consisting of mostly Precambrian granite, gneiss and schist, is 40 miles long and almost 25 miles wide. It is known for gold, silver and copper mining, and it was there that the Walker party found gold and paved the way for settlers.
Economics and Resources
The area acts as a regional hub for a wide range of retail, service and professional needs. While ranching and mining played a significant role in the past, these activities have moderated in importance and been supplanted by a more diverse range of business activities.
Prescott together with surrounding communities are part of a state mandated Active Management Area, which is a legislative designation that provides for regulatory oversight of water resources. The mission of the Prescott AMA is to achieve safe-yield through the promotion of conservation and the development and utilization of renewable water sources.
The Prescott AMA has a statutory goal of achieving safe-yield by 2025. Safe-yield is a groundwater management goal, which attempts to achieve and thereafter maintain a long-term balance between the amount of groundwater withdrawn in an active management area and the annual amount of natural and artificial recharge in the active management area. The safe-yield goal is a basin-wide balance. Under current groundwater rules, pumping from one location in the AMA can be offset by recharging a volume of water at another location.