The First Railroad and the "Battle for Prescott"

By Eleanor Gilley

As the railroad left Prescott on the west side, it began its slow ascent for nine miles to the summit of the Sierra Prieta Mountains at Prieta, elevation 6,108 feet. The view from the top was breathtakingly beautiful with the black range of mountains, the Mogollan Rim and the surrounding scenery. The line then descended for 14 miles past Iron Springs and Ramsgate Hill around twisting, winding 12 degree curves and challenging three percent grades to Skull Valley, elevation 4,240 feet.

And so it was on the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway, affectionately called the "Peavine" by the locals. It was called an engineering masterpiece. There were many fills, deep cuts and long timber trestles. Near Devil’s Gate, a cut of 57 feet was required through solid rock. A 25 foot deep hole was drilled and loaded with powder to produce the largest discharge ever executed by a single shot in this territory. Fortunately, the workers had been asked to leave camp because one large rock went through a tent with such force that if it had not bounced, it would have buried itself.

Why build a railroad through such difficult country, you might ask?

Before the Peavine, one of the biggest problems was the cost to transport ore by wagon from the mines in Congress and Yarnell. A cheaper mode of transportation had to be found. At that time, the Atlantic and Pacific Railway crossed the 35th parallel in northern Arizona Territory, making the possibility of a railroad more of a reality.

Before the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway was developed, the first attempt to build a railroad was made by a group of local businessmen in Prescott. The Central Arizona Railway was organized in Prescott on May 10, 1884. Mapping and surveying were quickly done on land between Prescott and the mainline of the Atlantic and Pacific Railway, but it was soon realized that there was not enough capital locally to build the line.

About this time, two warring groups interested in building a railroad were emerging in Prescott. One group formed a second Central Arizona Railway Company headed by Thomas S. Bullock, a local businessman who represented a New York syndicate. The second group, the Minneapolis syndicate, supported by Nathan Oakes Murphy, organized the Arizona Central Railway. (Murphy was soon to be the 10th acting Governor of the Arizona Territory.) The "Battle for Prescott" was a bitter one and neither side would compromise. At this time, the Atlantic and Pacific Railway was very anxious to see a railroad built from its mainline, and offered its support if the two groups would "mend their fences" and consolidate. Reluctantly, this was done and the two railroads were consolidated on July 16, 1885, and formed the Prescott and Arizona Central Railway Company with Bullock having almost complete control after forcing Murphy and two other officers out of the company. The line from Prescott to Seligman was quickly built and completed by December 31, 1886.

From the beginning, the new line was plagued by problems. Engines were too small and could only pull a half-dozen cars; roadbeds were easily washed out; and there was no turntable built in Prescott so trains had to back from Prescott all the way to Seligman. The line was in constant disrepair and trains and shipments were almost always late. The line was a disaster making local business men realize the importance of having a well run railroad to Prescott.

Through the determined efforts of Frank M. Murphy, brother to N.O. Murphy, a local real estate broker and entrepreneur with financial connections in Chicago, The Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway was incorporated on May 27, 1891. The new line connected with the Santa Fe Railway near Ash Fork and traveled through Chino Valley, Granite Dells and into Prescott.

It was a difficult line to build. There was considerable rock work which had to be done by hand tools and manual labor. The laborers had to deal with bad weather and there was a high desertion rate because of the dangerous work. Engineers and surveyors had a difficult time deciding whether to run the line over the deep chasm, Hell Canyon, or to veer west over the rugged, mountainous area near Rock Butte. The Board of Directors made their decision for them, choosing the western route through treacherous but beautiful country. This route earned the railway the title of "The Scenic Railway of Arizona".

When 18 miles of the line were completed, Frank Murphy and several railroad officers traveled over the rail south of Ash Fork and one of the passengers was heard to remark that the curving, twisting line much resembled a pea vine. The name "peavine" stuck and became a popular one.

Despite the adversities building the Peavine, the first train to leave Prescott on the completed line did so on April 24, 1893. (Almost nine years after the original construction, the line was rerouted over Hell Canyon, building a steel bridge that measured 165 feet high and 647 feet long. This type of construction was then not as expensive as it had been nine years earlier. This bridge is still in service.)

Work had already been started on the Peavine south of Prescott and it suffered some of the same problems as the northern section. Work progressed slowly, but the line was finally completed and a commemoration was held March 4, 1895. It had taken four years to build the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway at a cost of nearly $5,000,000.

(Next week Gilley will discuss the rise and fall of a railroad into the Bradshaw Mountains and the demise of the Santa Fe Prescott and Phoenix Railway.)

(Eleanor Gilley is a volunteer and tour guide at the Sharlot Hall Museum)

Our readers’ thoughts…


Wonderful article. I have recently moved to Prescott Az and live in the Pine Lakes Mobile Home Park just NW of Prescott and close to Iron Springs Rd. What sparked my interest in the old railway was the finding of 10 old rail spikes in my little garden on 4/25/2001. It’s sort of concidental because my husbands father was an engineer for SP for over 30 years. Some of his relatives still reside in Winslow AZ and also work for the BN & SF rail road today. My husband is the Grandson of Leroy Kenna, who changed his name from keena to Kenna. Interesting connection, was wondering why we have rail spikes in our little garden. Would like to know the history of this land before it was bought and turned into the Pine Lakes Mobile Home Park.



Victoria Keena
April 26, 2011


Re: Victoria Keena’s comment on finding rail spikes in her garden. The P&AC line ran through (now under)the lake now in the granite dells area. The Peavine paralleled the P&AC line for a short time before the P&AC was torn up and sent to Callifornia where my grandfather (Thomas S. Bullock) used the rail and other equipment to build the Sierra Railway. Ms. Keena’s garden is undouptedly in the original P&AC r/w. The “Battle for Prescot” was far more complex than the Charlette Hall “Days Past” summary; I am in the process of putting together a picture of grandad’s life and have given a few local talks on the subject.



Tom Bullock
May 8, 2011


I was just given an old sign, that I was told, was from the Peavine Railroad Track. This sign was passed down through their family. It is an old post with a tin sign attached to the top, displaying a “W”. I would love to know any history on this and if it is, in deed, from this era.



Cynthia
August 24, 2011

Illustrating image

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(rr119p). Reuse only by permission.

Despite the adversities building the Peavine, the first train to leave Prescott on the completed line did so on April 24, 1893. And the route earned the title of "The Scenic Railway of Arizona".

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