By Bradley G. Courtney
Prior to the release of the book Prescott’s Original Whiskey Row in 2015, there’d been some debate between local historians and Whiskey Row business owners and regulars as to whether Prescott’s most famous and cherished legend was true. That is, the story of Palace patrons pulling the saloon’s bar—the same bar used in the Palace today—out to the courthouse plaza while the inferno raced north up Montezuma Street. Some local historians concluded that it’s nothing more than a tall tale.
And for good reason. It seems logical that such an incident would’ve been reported soon after it happened, if it did indeed happen, but it was not. Of course, it probably wasn’t newsworthy at the time. Thousands of items were pulled onto the Plaza during the Great Fire. Why report this one? The Palace’s bar was no more important than any other rescued article at the time, and it likely wasn’t the only bar pulled out. Furthermore, no one could’ve predicted that the Palace would become as renowned as it is today—that the episode would even matter more than a hundred years later.
The story has been passed down through oral history. This too has rendered doubt in some minds not only because stories change the more they are told, but also they’re often never true from the start. Recently discovered evidence, however, leaves little room for doubt but requires a deeper dive into the history of the celebrated Palace bar.
First and foremost, it must be proven that the bar in the Palace today was there before Prescott’s Great Fire of 1900. At first, it seemed likely it wasn’t. Thankfully, contemporaneous newspaper accounts—the first drafts of history—provide enough evidence to lead to a proper conclusion.
As noted in a previous Days Past article, the original Palace Saloon related to today’s version was established in June 1883 along the portion of Goodwin Street facing the Courthouse Plaza. However, it burned to the ground in February 1884. Its bar was saved by one of the owners and a bartender. When the Palace was rebuilt and opened in July of that year, it was on lot 19, 122 Montezuma Street. The Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner of July 4, 1884, reported that the old bar would be replaced with one made of solid walnut wood. Of course, the bar in the Palace today isn’t made of walnut.
But hold on! Around six o’clock on the Friday evening of November 5, 1897, a “lurid glare” was seen in one of the windows of the Palace. Like many times before in Prescott, shouts of “fire!” were heard. This fire would test the Palace’s brick, stone and iron construction.
The source of the 1897 fire was a broken pipe above the steak fryer in the kitchen. The fire gained impetus, and flames burst through the saloon’s front windows, shattering glass and electric light rondures. Firefighters arrived with a swiftness that was compared to fire departments in larger cities. They quickly extinguished the flames.
The interior of the Palace was badly damaged, but the brick, stone and iron contained the fire. However, the Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner reported, “The front end of one of the most handsomely finished and best-appointed saloons in Arizona presented a charred mass of ruins while the water stood six inches on the floor.” That included the solid walnut wood bar. It would have to be replaced. The Palace’s interior would be rebuilt. To be continued....
If you can’t wait to know more, come hear what Bradley G. Courtney's research has revealed on August 5 at 9:30 a.m. at the 20th Annual Western History Symposium to be held at the Phippen Museum of Western Art.
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1 The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to email@example.com Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or assistance with photo requests.