by Kathy Krause
It was July 1973 when the new museum director, Dr. Ken Kimsey, came on board to lead museum activities for the next 17 years. Up until the early 1970s, the University of Arizona “museum studies” classes made field trips to visit Sharlot Hall Museum in order to observe ‘museum problems’ and learn how NOT to run a museum! According to museum curator, Norm Tessman, “it was Dr. Ken Kimsey’s era, the fruits of his hard work and insight” that ended the field trips to Prescott. Under his leadership, “the quest for museum quality was to continue and accelerate in the years ahead.” There was a new sense of professional pride, not only by the museum workers but by the community as well.
This was no more evident than in November 1973 when the museum was offered the Coles Bashford house located at 401 East Gurley Street. The house was scheduled for demolition in order to build the Jack in the Box (still at the location today) and all the museum had to do was come up with the expenses to move the house to the museum grounds within 3 months! A community fund-raising campaign began, encompassing nearly every organization and group in Prescott. The necessary funds were brought in by large and small donations, community dances, rummage sales, art shows and even a clothesline strung across Gurley Street by the Antique Car Club halting traffic in order to solicit dollar bills to be attached with clothespins!
By March of 1974, $19,000 had been raised! On April 19, the Bashford House was moved six blocks down Gurley Street to the museum grounds, basically intact (except for the solarium which was moved the next day), with the onlookers cheering “Go, Bashford, Go!” It was placed on the corner of Gurley and McCormick streets where the Kindt Brothers Gas Station had been previously located. After two years of extensive restoration, it was dedicated and opened in May 1976. It was used for many years as a public meeting hall, rented by organizations and groups. Today, it is the museum store.
New key professional jobs were state funded and filled by the end of the 1970s: Curator of Education, Archivist, Maintenance Supervisor, Curator of Collections and Registrar. The museum volunteer group grew from its beginning of 20 in 1973 to 80 in 1978 (to 494 today!). A new annual community-oriented event, the Folk Arts Fair, was begun on the museum grounds in 1973 drawing 1,400 visitors with 5,000 by 1978. The annual Folk Music Festival was begun in 1979 and also continues today.
In April 1977, the Federal Public Works Employment Act funded 1.4 million dollars for construction of a 20,000-square-foot solar-heated “Museum Center” building (known today as the John and Helen Lawler Exhibit Center). It would house offices, collections storage, shop, archives/library and a multipurpose gallery space that doubled as a small auditorium. Sited parallel to Beach Avenue, the new two-story building required moving the Territorial Rose Garden to its present location and the closing and removal of Capitol Drive (currently the main walkway into the museum grounds from Gurley Street). The new center was opened to the public in April 1979.
In 1981, leases were up on the rental properties which remained on the museum grounds adjacent to the Bashford House (a loan office and liquor store) and those buildings were removed and the area landscaped. A gazebo was constructed by the museum staff in 1984 and was soon a favorite place for weddings and family photos.
A major renovation was begun on the Governor’s Mansion in 1981, including work on a new foundation, structural support, new flooring and restoration of stone fireplaces. It was not until June 1983 that it was completed and re-opened to the public.
In 1988, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering was instituted and became a perennial favorite. The annual Indian Art Market was not added to museum events until 1998.
In 1989, the storage building (originally storage for the corner gas station, later museum storage) was renovated and opened in June 1990 as the Transportation Building which today houses the stage coach, Sharlot’s 1927 Star Four touring car, wagons and the like.
Museum directors changed with the resignation of Ken Kimsey in December of 1990. Mac Harris served from 1991-1994, Richard Sims 1995-2006 and John Langellier 2007 to the present. New positions were created as needed and others dropped. Museum exhibits changed regularly to promote continued public interest in the museum. The outdoor amphitheater was completed in 1993 and served as a summertime location for shows and programs as it does today. Historical dramas began in association with the Blue Rose Theater in 1995.
The museum continued to grow and change, gaining accreditation from the American Association of Museums in 1992. Of 6,000 museums nationwide at that time, only 700 had achieved this designation! Major monetary donations and gifts continued for expansion and special projects. Despite government cuts in funding for the museum, the grounds continued to be well maintained and quality programs presented. Admission to the museum was implemented in the fall of 2004.
The museum joined with many other organizations in the community since the mid-1990s to promote shared interests: e.g. the VA Medical Center offered an historic home on Officers Row for the Whipple Museum in 1998.
In 2007, the library/archives was moved across McCormick Street to a newly acquired building which opened the area in the museum center for an upcoming exhibit to open soon. The grounds were enclosed with a perimeter fence in 2009 for security.
Activities, upgrades, renovations and additions to Sharlot Hall Museum in recent years are too numerous to list. Today, the museum features seven historic buildings, compelling exhibits and beautiful gardens which serve as the setting for numerous public festivals. See the website sharlot.org for hours of operation and special events or call 445-3122. Come see us and relive the history of this area. You will not be disappointed.