THE PRESCOTT FIRE

It was Saturday night, July 14, 1900 and the saloons and gambling halls along Whiskey Row on Montezuma Street in Prescott, Arizona were filled to the brim. It was the weekend and the cowboys and miners had flooded into town for a big night. As it turned out, it was a bright one, thanks to the flickering light of a miner’s candle pick.

Now, a miner’s pick candle was a small candle-holder with a pick head on one end. Most miners had a number of mining instruments that they personally owned and used. A two-headed pick was used to chisel at the face of an ore body at the end of a “drift” (a tunnel dug horizontally to get to the ore body.) They also had a carbide lamp to give them light as they worked. This was attached to a strap and worn on their heads or carried with them. To substitute for the carbide lamp, many of the miners carried to “candle-pick” that had a small pick head on one side and a ring to hold a candle on the other side. These were slammed into the drift wall as the miner worked. When not in the mine these little picks were also used at home to give light. Not everyone was equipped with electricity in Prescott in 1900 – especially the boarding houses were most of the miners lived.

It was one of these pick candles that a miner had stuck in the wall of his rented room on Montezuma Street in downtown Prescott.

Prescott was the Territorial Capitol of the Arizona Territory and featured a beautiful courthouse building on the town square to house the government. The town square itself was adorned with a beautiful park, with trees, benches and flowers to decorate the square. Around this block were the downtown buildings of the City. Especially on the west was Montezuma Street and the rows of saloons which were the pride of the community.

About 10:30 on that fateful night, the clear air of Prescott was shattered by the clanging of the big bell in the court house tower. Then, three pistol shots added to the noise, and then the screams of the siren on the steam power plant. It was a well known signal – one which Prescott was prepared for – either there had been a serious cave-in at one of the mines, or –- much worse – fire!

In Prescott there were four companies of volunteer firemen – the “Dudes,” the “Toughs,” the “O.K.s,” and the “Hook and Ladder.” A fine looking group of semi-skilled firemen. They had good equipment, as frontier equipment goes, and they had dedication and enthusiasm. The only thing they didn’t have was enough water pressure.

Most Prescott residents in 1900 had private wells for their water. Now, four wells had been sunk on the courthouse plaza – one at each corner – but they had been covered over just before the fateful night because a new storage reservoir had been built on South Mt. Vernon Street. The only problem? It wasn’t supplying water to downtown Prescott yet!

The fire raged down Montezuma Street – the street known as “whiskey row.” To fight the fire, men began dynamiting the buildings in its path.

Man began saving what they could. Kegs of whiskey were rolled across the street onto the square, the tops smashed in and tin cups served free to the men helping with the fight.

Faro and roulette tables were also saved to be used in the following days in the open air of the square.

Groceries from store on Gurley Street were carried out and were used to feed the men as they fought the blaze. The inferno grew – jumping buildings and streets.

Two-thirds of Prescott was estimated to have been burned to the ground that night. The estimate loss: $1,250,000.

Prescott began rebuilding almost immediately. The new structures are those you can see today – brick buildings of find architecture. A new Prescott rose from the ashes – just as if it were the name-sake of its sister city to the south: Phoenix.

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