The first governor of Arizona Territory was John Goodwin, appointed to the position by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It was he who choose the site for the capitol of the territory, apparently for what it was not — which was close to the Confederate stronghold of Tucson. It was also he (or, at least, he’s the frontrunner) who named the capitol after William Prescott, an early 19th century historian from Boston who wrote extensively about Mezo-American history. His book, The Conquest of Mexico, apparently posits that the Aztec and Toltec made their start in the area that is now Prescott. Admiration for that theory seems to be how the Arizona town ended up with the name of a man who never made it west of Washington DC.
After Goodwin chose the site for the capitol, he had a house built there — a large log house completed in 1864. That house is now the oldest house with a connection to Arizona territorial history that is still standing on its original site. It’s also now the centerpiece of the Sharlott Hall Museum.
The museum focuses on the history of Yavapi County and covers about a city block, with eight buildings surrounding the governor’s house. There are a couple of modern exhibit buildings that showcase local artifacts and a couple of replicas of 19th century buildings. Above is a mastodon head found in 1994, 25 miles from Prescott.
Besides the governor’s house, there’s three other 19th century buildings that had been moved to the museum from other sites around town: (1) the Victorian Fremont House, circa 1875, which was the home of John Fremont, the fifth territorial governor of Arizona; (2) the Victorian Bashford House, circa 1877, home of merchant William Bashford and (3) Fort Misery (circa 1863), the oldest log building associated with Arizona territory that has been moved from it’s original site. Below is the original wall paper in the Bashford House. As you can see by the reflection, the house now contains the museum gift shop.
The Sharlott Hall Museum is run by the Sharlott Hall Historical Society, which was the Prescott Historical Society until its founder, named Sharlott Hall, died and the society and its museum were renamed in her honor. Hall was a local journalist and poet who, in 1905, gained notoriety with the publication of her satirical poem, Arizona. The poem made fun of a plan to lump Arizona and New Mexico together as one state and called for Arizona to be it’s own state, independent of New Mexico. A bit of it:
Cities we lack — and gutters where children snatch for bread;
Numbers and hordes of starvelings, toiling but never fed.
Spare pains that would make us greater in the pattern that ye have set;
We hold to the larger measure of the men that ye forget —
The men who, from trackless forests and prairies long and far,
Hewed out the land where ye sit at ease and grudge us our fair-won star.
It went over big in Arizona. She was made Territorial Historian of Arizona in 1909 and it was she who wrote the “history” of the Smoki people.
In 1929, Sharlott Hall leased the Arizona territorial governor’s house (the Arizona capitol having long-since moved to Phoenix) from the state with the intention of turning it into a museum that would house her collection of historic local artifacts. The Old Governor’s Mansion Museum, as it was called then, opened in 1928 with George Kelly, the Arizona State Historian, as its first visitor.