Louise Speaks: As part of our journey, you may have noticed that we are trying to visit all the county seats of Arizona. In Arizona there are 15 counties and as we travel through the state we make it a point to visit the county seats. Prescott, is the town in which we live and is in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die” but we have a few things left to do in Prescott from Patricia’s book before I blog about Prescott. However, since we are doing the county seats, I can do Yavapai County Seat which is Prescott separately.
Yavapai County is located near the center of the state of Arizona. As of the 2010 census, its population was 211,073. Since Prescott has been voted the #3 place in the country to retire for the past 6 years, I’m sure that number has increased. Yavapai County was one of the four original Arizona Counties . The county territory was defined as being east and north of the Gila River. Soon thereafter, the counties of Apache, Coconino, Maricopa and Navajo were carved from the original Yavapai County. Yavapai County’s present boundaries were established in 1891. The county has a total area of 8,128 square miles, of which 8,123 square miles is land and 4.4 square miles is water. It is larger than three U.S. States; Rhode Island, Delaware & Connecticut, and the District of Columbia. The county’s topography makes a dramatic transition from the lower Sonoran Desert to the south to the heights of the Coconino Plateau to the north, and the Mogollon Rim to the east. The Highest point above sea level in Yavapai County is Mount Union at an elevation of 7,979 ft and the lowest is Agua Fria River drainage, now under Lake Pleasant.
The Prescott Courthouse is in a way the center of Prescott. Built in the 1800s, the courthouse helps maintain the history of Prescott, giving reason to appreciate and respect the beauty of the life of Prescott, Arizona. The courthouse is right next to whiskey row, with historic taverns and shops that have nearly as much history as the courthouse itself. During the summer months, nearly every weekend there are street fairs and other events happening in the courtyard area of the Prescott Courthouse. Among other great stores and restaurants in the area, the Prescott Brewery is a fantastic restaurant with great food and locally brewed beer. Prescott’s tree-lined Courthouse Plaza is the pivot around which the town was designed and built. Today, quaint boutiques, fantastic restaurants and an eclectic array of galleries featuring local, regional and national artists surround this famous landmark.
Known as the “jewel” of downtown Prescott, Arizona, the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza is a majestic, man-made urban forest in the heart of a historic commercial district. For more than 140 years it has served as a gathering place for celebrations, commemorations, campaign kick-offs, concerts, movies, and festivals.
The plaza’s success is rooted in Prescott’s original town site plat, which was recorded in 1864. The traditional grid pattern had as its centerpiece the 4.1-acre courthouse plaza. Adjoining the courthouse is the city’s commercial district and businesses — many of which are located along Montezuma Street’s, known as historic Whiskey Row. Whiskey Row keeps the area alive after 5 p.m. In this photo you can see the trees of the courthouse plaza on the left and the pubs of Whiskey Row on the right.
The fact that this historic district exists today is testament to the community’s determination. A fire in 1900 destroyed eight blocks, including Whiskey Row, and resulted in $1.5 million in losses. Despite the fact that many merchants were uninsured, most rebuilt. There is an incredible story of the bar located in the Palace that I will blog about when I blog about Prescott.
Citizens are protective of the plaza and its four-story courthouse. In 2004, residents sued to block construction of an 80-foot-high contemporary office building just two blocks from the plaza. Although allowed by city code, residents protested the intrusion of a building so out-of-scale with the rest of the neighborhood. Three years later, the community rallied on the courthouse steps to dissuade the county from moving the courtrooms elsewhere.
More than 170 trees, including 127 American elms, grace the plaza. In addition to the extensive tree canopy, the plaza features large expanses of curbed grass lawn, interlocking pavers, a painted historic timeline, and a historic well and bandstand. Public restrooms were installed under the western steps. The north courthouse steps provide natural seating for performances. It was from those steps that Barry Goldwater announced his candidacy for president in 1964 as well as John McCain in 2008.
The plaza hosts more than 130 activities annually. Dancing, outdoor movies, concerts, or poetry readings are attended by as few as 50 or as many as 600 people each weekday evening during the summer. The plaza is regularly home to joggers, workers on lunch break, dog walkers, tourists, Frisbee players, and parents pushing strollers. Other communities may have courthouses of greater architectural significance and grander displays of colorful plant beds, but not all such plazas are so appreciated by its residents, carefully maintained, or so heavily used. There is also a gazebo at the corner of the plaza where many activities are held including weddings. I myself was married inside this gazebo.
Again, since this is where I live I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy the Courthouse Plaza. There is something going on all the time. And even if there is no planned activity, the plaza or the square as we call it, is just a place to go. There are business on all 4 sides of the square and walking around the square is enjoyed by everyone. A trip to Prescott is not complete without a day at the square, whether you just walk around, stop for yogurt, or do some shopping or drinking.