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Yavapai County Courthouse

Historic Building Fact Sheet

yavapai county courthouse historic building

The Yavapai County Courthouse is the cornerstone of historic downtown Prescott. (Feb. 2010) Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson

Need to Know Info

Built1916
Address120 South Cortez Street
Prescott, AZ 86313
Coordinates34°32′27″N 112°28′09″W
Date Added to NRHPApril 13, 1977

The Yavapai County Courthouse is a historic government building of significant architectural and cultural importance. The current courthouse structure dates back to 1916 and was designed by architect William N. Bowman in the Neoclassical Revival style. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 in recognition of its historic and architectural merit.

The courthouse is also well-known for its bronze statue of Bucky O’Neill, a famous Rough Rider and former Mayor of Prescott. Notably, it was on the steps of this courthouse that U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater announced his candidacy for the 1964 presidential election.

The In-Depth Story

The Storied History of the Yavapai County Courthouse

1800s

In the mid-19th century, Yavapai County initially rented a courtroom space within a two-story wood building located at the corner of Gurley and Cortez Streets. While the ground floor housed the county jail, the upper floor provided offices and meeting places for the county commissioners. This building has undergone significant alterations over time and currently accommodates a dentist’s office, jewelry store, and clothing boutique. As the county’s needs grew, the board of supervisors awarded a bid for the construction of a new courthouse and jail to local woodworkers Wilson and Haskell for the sum of $58,997.67 (equivalent to approximately $1.15 million today).

In 1874, the 8th Infantry Regiment erected a bandstand on the plaza, and the city officials planted pine trees in the area, a decision they would later regret. The original Yavapai County Courthouse was completed on February 23, 1878. Built by George Waters, the two-story red brick structure featured a basement, clock tower with an 800-pound bell shipped from Boston, and a combination of sandstone from the Verde Valley on the bottom floor and local bricks on the top floor. The contractor, A.S. Haskell, reportedly nearly went bankrupt while undertaking the project. The courthouse was officially opened to the public on September 3, 1878.

In 1892, a fire broke out in the courthouse after rainwater seeped into the basement and mixed with lime, prompting the county to construct an $800 addition to the building that same year. Two years later, in 1894, the building was wired for electricity, and the newly added section required repairs due to separations in the structure. The final alteration to the original courthouse occurred in 1895 when a new $200 octagonal bandstand was erected in time for the Fourth of July celebrations.

1900s

In 1908, a statue honoring the Rough Rider heroes of the 1898 Spanish-American War was erected, and braces were added to the clock tower to prevent it from swaying in the wind and ringing the bell. The following year, in 1909, the courthouse was decorated in honor of a visit by President William Howard Taft. In 1910, a new fountain was installed on the plaza, and a Deodar Cedar tree, designated as the “Arizona Statehood Tree,” was planted in the northeast quadrant to commemorate Arizona’s impending statehood. The Boy Scouts placed a plaque on a granite rock in front of this tree, officially marking it as the “Arizona Statehood Tree.”

As Arizona became an official state in 1912, Yavapai County recognized the need for a new, modern courthouse, with the Prescott Journal Miner describing the old courthouse as a “fire trap.” On February 16, 1916, the board of supervisors voted to accept the building plans submitted by W.N. Bowman of Denver, Colorado. Construction on the new Neoclassical Revival-style courthouse began in October 1916, with Italian stonemasons quarrying the granite for the edifice. The county temporarily relocated various offices and courtrooms to buildings like the Odd Fellows Building, Union Block building, and Elks Theatre during construction. The new courthouse was completed in September 1918.

Over the following decades, the Yavapai County Courthouse witnessed several notable events and additions. In 1938, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia delivered a speech on the courthouse steps, an event commemorated by the nearby La Guardia Bridge named in his honor. The first courthouse lighting ceremony was held in 1954 by the Business and Professional Women’s organization. In 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater famously announced his presidential candidacy from the steps of the courthouse.

In 1971, public restrooms were added underneath the stairs on the western side of the courthouse to accommodate the increasing number of events and visitors to the plaza. The Yavapai County Courthouse was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The 1910 fountain was later removed, and its “Lady Ermintrude” statue was donated to the Sharlot Hall Museum after being damaged by a winter freeze. In 1986, the Prescott Kiwanis Club generously donated a new centerpiece for the fountain, and in 1989, the All-Veterans Memorial was erected on the west side of the plaza. Additionally, a “Cowboy At Rest” statue was installed on the south side of the plaza.

2000s

The Yavapai County Courthouse has continued to play a prominent role in significant political events, welcoming visits from presidential nominees George W. Bush in 2000 and John McCain, who made his only campaign stop in his home state of Arizona at the courthouse during the 2008 election cycle. Furthermore, the American Planning Association recognized the courthouse as one of the Top 10 Public Places in America, underscoring its enduring significance.

In the 2000s, county officials discovered the surviving components of the historic “Lady Ermintrude” fountain, initiating a restoration project. A foundry in Alabama, which had the original statue pattern, was commissioned to recast the missing and broken pieces. The National Association of Counties (NACo) awarded Yavapai County with a National Achievement Award in the category of Arts, Culture, and Historic Preservation for the successful restoration of the Historic Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza “Lady Ermintrude” Fountain. A rededication ceremony for the restored fountain was held on June 29, 2018.

Architecture

The Yavapai County Courthouse exemplifies the Neoclassical Revival architectural style, which was popular in the United States from 1895 to 1950. Characteristic features of this style include a 1-2.5 story height, side-gabled or hipped roofs with a medium pitch, boxed eaves with a moderate overhang, decorative surrounds on doorways, balustrades on porches, and a wide variety of window configurations such as paired, triple, bayed, or arched windows.

NRHP Reference #: 77000241