By Anita Nordbrock

Arizona Weekly Miner, February 16, 1877, "George Ah Fat gave a new year's dinner today at which, he informed us yesterday, he intended among other delicacies to serve tea that costs $10 per pound."  February 16, 1999, ushered in the Chinese New Year--the Year of the Rabbit--year 4697 on the Chinese lunar calendar.  From the late 1860s, until the 1930s, when Goodwin Street was extended across Granite Creek, Granite Street was paved and the last remnants of Chinatown were cleared away.  Prescott had a Chinatown.  Next time you are downtown, take the time to walk down Granite Street between Goodwin and Gurley and think about a part of Prescott that is forever gone.  In the 1860s, Granite Street was a dirt street and was the heart of Prescott's Chinatown. 

The Chinese who came to California and then to other parts of the West, including Prescott, in the nineteenth century were primarily from the Pearl River Delta near Canton.  For years this area had seen various forms of economic distress and social and political disruption.  As a result, there was a well-established pattern of migration from rural villages to places where money could be made.  Usually the young men would emigrate, leaving their families at home.  Without families, the emigrants had little real commitment to the places to which they migrated.  They went to make money that could be sent home to support their families.  It is estimated that $ 5-15 million was sent back each year in the late 1860s, and 1870s.  Because these men had every intention of returning home, they came as sojourners, temporary residents, who intended to return permanently to China once they had accumulated enough money. 

The first Chinese arrived in Prescott in late 1860s.  A map which hangs on the wall in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives is dated about 1882-1884, and lists Quon Clong Gin as the owner of lot number 10 on Granite Street.  In 1919, Thomas R. Wood presented the map to Yavapai County and in a note stated that the map had been given to him in 1895, by Governor Tritle who said it was a copy of a Robert Groom map.  This map is especially important because it gives not only the lot locations but also the names of lot holders.  Sanborn Fire Maps from 1895, and later show the location of the Chinatown buildings on Granite Street.  These buildings usually had businesses in the front part with living quarters or rooms at the back. 

We do not know when Quon Clong Gin came to Prescott, but as the Chinese arrived, the newspaper, reflecting the popular opinions of the day, showed that negative attitudes toward the Chinese already existed.  The Arizona Weekly Miner on May 29, 1869, noted, "A Celestial - We have heretofore neglected to inform our readers that a veritable young Celestial arrived at Fort Whipple, a short time ago.  Should he live long enough to become a man, Yavapai County will contain one Chinaman."  On November 27, 1869, the Arizona Weekly Miner reported, "More Chinamen-Three more Chinamen arrived here during the week, and have gone to work, there are now four in this vicinity, which is quite enough."  By December 4, 1869, ten to twelve more had arrived.  The 1870 Census shows 668 people in Prescott of which six were Chinese: three cooks and three laundrymen, all between the ages of 29 and 30.  On October 3, 1879, just before the 1880, census, the number of Chinese in Prescott had grown to seventy-five or eighty. 

The transcontinental railroad, which employed many Chinese laborers, was completed on May 10, 1869.  Some of these laid-off laborers may have been among the first Chinese to arrive in Prescott in 1869.  In Prescott they were produce farmers, miners, cooks in saloons and restaurants, domestic servants, laundry owners, and even a faro dealer.  One laundry owner was Whong Lee whose shop sign read "Whong Lee Laundry Washing and Ironing."  The business was located next to the Maier Saloon, which stood on the northwest corner of Granite and Gurley, where Bank One is today.  Wong Lee charged $2 a dozen for shirts. 

George Ah Fat, who ran a laundry and a restaurant, was one of the few early immigrants who could be viewed as an up and coming entrepreneur.  With several partners he placed what may have been the first commercial advertisement of a Chinese owned business in Prescott.  His advertisement appeared in the September 2, 1871, Arizona Weekly Miner: 

New Laundry, 
Granite Street, . . . . . . . . .Prescott, Arizona 
George Ahfat & Co. 
Wash every class fabric at their New Laundry. 
Ladies' clothing flotted by flooting machine in a manner 
to suit the most fastidious. 
Shirts bosoms, etc. polished and made to show well. 
Terms reasonable. Public patronage solicited. 
Prescott, September 2, 1871. 

In 1876, when John Charles Frémont became the fifth territorial governor of Arizona, he and his wife Jessie Benton Frémont brought with them a Chinese cook, Ah Chung.  The Frémonts' daughter Lily kept a diary during her days in Prescott from 1876-1881, and mentions Ah Chung, who lived in Chinatown. 

The arrival of the first Chinese woman in Prescott warranted a news item in the March 11, 1871, edition of the Arizona Weekly Miner: 

The First Chinawoman-Wickenburg stage arrived at about half past six, Thursday evening, with several passengers, and seven sacks of mail. Among the passengers was a Chinese female-the first that has even visited this town, and section of country, and, we hope, the last. 

In the 1890s, W.T. Otis conducted a Sunday School class at the Congregational Church and taught English to his Chinese students.  Some of the students would go on to be successful businessmen in United States and China.  One of the students was Joe Ah Jew who became a Prescott caterer, restaurant owner, and Arizona's first naturalized Chinese citizen.  He returned permanently to China in 1919. 

In 1892, opposition to immigration and residence of Chinese in the United States peaked with congressional passage of the Geary Act which extended for ten years the Exclusion Act of 1882, banned new immigration from China, and for the re-entry of former residents required a certificate of residence which included a photograph and details about the person.  Even with such a certificate, re-entry was sometimes difficult.  For example, Chinese Sojourners in Territorial Prescott mentions that "Yee Thoi Goung was one of five partners in a Granite Street business during the late 1890s, and the first decade of the twentieth century.  His Certificate of Residence, issued in Santa Fe in 1894, describes him as both a laborer and shopkeeper.  In 1902, Yee Thoi Guong was detained in San Francisco upon his return from China because of allegations that his primary business in Prescott was gambling and opium smoking parlor."  He obtained a document signed by several prominent Anglo citizens of Prescott verifying his merchant status.  Despite this, federal officers ordered that he be deported.  Five years later Yee Thoi Goung slipped back into Arizona from Mexico.  He was apprehended in Tucson and deported for a second time in 1908. 

Various factors contributed to the departure of the Chinese from Prescott.  In 1886, Stephen B. Marcou started a campaign against the Chinese and established an Anti-Chinese League.  In 1891, Granite Creek overran its banks and flooded Chinatown.  The great fire on July 14, 1900, destroyed Whiskey Row and the red light district with their restaurants, hotels, saloons, stores, sporting parlors and other businesses which were owned by or which employed Chinese.  Further erosion of employment opportunities occurred in 1907, when gambling was declared illegal in Arizona Territory.  In 1900, the Chinese population peaked at 229.  By 1910, Prescott has a population of 5,043, of which 159 were Chinese-about 3% of the population.  Then in 1914, Prohibition closed the saloons and their restaurants and many Chinese cooks lost their jobs.  Mining went into a slump.  Whipple Barracks closed.  In 1922, Miller Valley, where the Chinese had vegetable farms, was platted and subdivided for homes.  The Great Depression of 1929, the economy, and time saw the demise of the four remaining laundries, the Yee Hang Yon Restaurant, and the Dong Wah and Quong Hing groceries.  Finally, a few years after Goodwin Street was extended across Granite Creek in 1934, buildings, paved streets, and parking lots covered what had been Prescott's Chinatown. 

The Chinese who remained were those buried in the northeast corner of Citizen's Cemetery.  However, when Sheldon Street was widened in the 1950s, the graves were moved to Rolling Hills Cemetery by the airport, and according to the late Budge Ruffner, the cemetery never was surveyed or platted so no one could be sure how many people were buried there.  When the Antelope Hills Golf Course was constructed in 1956, some unmarked graves, including those of the Chinese, were perhaps or, perhaps not, relocated and may be under a part of the fairway. 

Anita Nordbrock is the Assistant Curator of Education at the Sharlot Hall Museum.  Sources consulted for this article are the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives, a reprint of the Journal of Arizona History entitled The Chinese Experience in Arizona and Northern Mexico, and Florence C. Lister and Robert H. Lister's Chinese Sojourners in Territorial Prescott.

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (pb113f4i9). Reuse only by permission.
Prescott's Chinese community along Granite Street included a laundry with an upstairs Joss house for traditional religious services.  This photo was taken about 1907.