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Prescott, Ariz., preserves, celebrates its storied past


Prescott has been a hub of activity in central Arizona since frontier times. This charming Western town honors its heritage by preserving much of its past and promoting activities that spotlight arts, entertainment and history. Not many weeks go by without some festival, special event or other entertaining public gathering.

Prescott is 235 miles from Las Vegas. Follow U.S. Highway 93 into Arizona. In Kingman, get on Interstate 40 and head east about 100 miles to the junction with U.S. Highway 89 near Ash Fork. Follow this highway south about 50 miles to Prescott.

The old town enjoys a beautiful forested setting and cooler temperatures that create a haven for retirees. A center for county government and regional commerce, Prescott offers many amenities. Visitors find it a convenient hub for exploration of a region replete with splendid scenery, fascinating history and many recreational attractions. The town’s selection of hostelries, eateries, shopping opportunities, cultural events, museums and services makes it a major tourist stopover.

Prescott’s historic downtown area remains intact, centered around the stately Yavapai County Courthouse. Venerable buildings have been repurposed to house boutiques, designer stores, antique shops and cafes. The handsome 1927 Hassayampa Inn and several revamped historic hotels still house guests. The Elks Opera House, built in 1905, once again draws audiences. Old Whiskey Row now boasts restaurants, shops and bars that attract people downtown after dark.

The Prescott Chamber of Commerce has published a booklet with a self-guided walking tour that includes many of the 525 structures in town that are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Explore some of the residential streets near downtown where refurbished Victorian homes still house families or serve as inviting inns.

An early activist, historian and politician, Sharlot M. Hall sought to preserve Prescott’s historical buildings before modernization erased its territorial beginnings as a center for government, mining, logging and military activities. Hall collected Native American and pioneer artifacts and materials and acquired the first territorial governor’s residence and office in 1927. After restoration, it opened as a museum exhibiting some of her collections in 1928.

Today, the Sharlot Hall Museum occupies 3½ acres not far from the courthouse. Historic buildings, replicas, an exhibit hall, theater and satellite buildings are set among gardens and shade trees. The museum sponsors many living history programs and special events, including the upcoming 35th annual American Folk Music Festival on Oct. 5 and 6. The museum also is a partner in the community’s Western Heritage Days festival, which will take place Sept. 16 to 18 downtown.

The Sharlot Hall Museum is open daily. Visit sharlot.org for hours of operation and admission prices.

The museum recently installed exhibits in a restored military officer’s house on the VA hospital campus on U.S. 89. The 1909 residence serves as the Fort Whipple Museum, detailing the U.S. Army’s importance in Arizona. It includes exhibits on military medicine, the 1864-82 Indian Wars, the Buffalo Soldiers and the Rough Riders of the Spanish-American War, which originated in Prescott.

Visitors to Prescott will find plenty to occupy them, including many free activities.

The courthouse square with its fine bronze statues is a shady gathering spot for summertime farmers markets, evening concerts or movies. Prescott celebrates the end of summer with the Faire on the Square, an arts and craft show over Labor Day weekend.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.