The collection includes ranching gear and basketry.
Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Arizona, has a remarkable, ambitious woman to thank for its success. Sharlot Mabridth Hall (1870–1943) was, among other things, a historian, journalist, poet, collector and the first woman to hold office in the Arizona territorial government. In1928 she opened a small museum dedicated to Arizona history. Her collection of artifacts and photographs was commendable in its diversity and, along with the carefully planned landscape and gardens, grew over the next dozen years into today’s Sharlot Hall Museum. The heart of the museum remains an 1864 log house that served as the Governor’s Mansion. Built in Prescott for John Noble Goodwin, the first governor of Arizona Territory, it is the oldest territorial building on its original site.
Sharlot Hall was just 12 in 1882 when her parents headed southwest by covered wagon from Kansas and homesteaded near the Prescott Valley. Young Sharlot boarded in town for her schooling. There she got to know old-timer Henry Fleury, onetime secretary to Goodwin, who resided in the former Governor’s Mansion. Through Fleury’s accounts, Hall gained an appreciation for Arizona’s early history.
By 1907 Hall had collected enough American Indian artifacts and pioneer items, including diaries and historical documents, to consider opening a museum. She put the idea on hold, though, when in 1909 she was appointed territorial historian, becoming the first woman to hold public office in Arizona. It was a dream job, as the territory now paid her to collect the historic books and records that had long interested her. Over the next year the energetic Hall traveled to nearly every town and mining camp to meet other old-timers, including Indian elders, and to collect written documents and oral histories. Her tireless preservation efforts inspired others to help.
Hall’s desire to personally visit historic places prompted her 1911 summer journey into the little-known Arizona Strip with guide Allen Doyle. She kept field notes, published in 1975 as Sharlot Hall on the Arizona Strip (reprinted in 1999). When Hall’s mother died in 1912, the year Arizona won statehood, she returned to the family ranch to care for her father. But Hall remained politically active and in 1924 delivered Arizona’s electoral vote to Washington, D.C., taking the opportunity to visit museums and art galleries.
Back home she revived her dream of a Prescott museum, and in June 1927 the state gave her a lifetime lease on the old Governor’s Mansion, to serve as a gallery for her fine collection. Hall soon moved into what she called her “House of Memories” and began to restore it. “I asked for no money, either from the city of Prescott or from the state,” she said in a later interview. “I began with the sale of a few cattle that bore the brand of my father’s ranch, a brand he had used for 40 years.” When she opened the museum on June 11, 1928, first to sign the guest register was Arizona state historian George Kelly.
In the 1930s Hall, with help from the Civil Works Administration, expanded the museum. In 1936 she opened the Sharlot Hall Building, which holds exhibits, dioramas and aerial photos of Prescott. That year crews also built the log ranch house that holds Hall’s collection of ranching gear. Over the years the museum has added other buildings to the complex, including the Bashford House, a Victorian farmhouse that serves as the gift shop. Today seven buildings display artifacts from Arizona’s early days. The Hartzell Room houses the “Baskets Keep Talking” exhibit, featuring more than 400 baskets made by Yavapai, Western Apache, Hopi, Havasupai and other Indian peoples.
The Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden honors more than 400 female pioneers. When the second territorial governor, Richard McCormick, occupied the log mansion, his young bride planted a red rosebush in the garden, but she and their newborn soon died in childbirth. Rose petals from the garden were placed on the shared coffin. As a young girl Hall passed the log house on her way to school and later said, “I seemed to see a lovely young face behind the window of the room where she had died, a face that had been as sweet and friendly as the roses.”
This year Sharlot Hall Museum (415 W. Gurley St. in Prescott), in recognition of the upcoming Arizona centennial, hosts the Arizona Ambassador Awards program, to honor pioneering women like Sharlot Hall herself. For more information call 928-445-3122 or visit www.sharlot.org.
Originally published in the June 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.