By Drew Desmond
As Yavapai County grew at the turn of last century, the Old Courthouse had become too small. At a cost of $6000 an addition was constructed, but the old building never had the structural integrity to support it.
As soon as it was married to the Old Courthouse, the new addition seemed to demand an immediate annulment: "The occupants of the new addition to the courthouse...are becoming alarmed for their safety. The entire new addition is becoming detached from the old building, there being a crack...extending from the ceiling to the floor a quarter of an inch wide," the paper reported. One judge refused to even enter the building.
This wasn’t the only problem facing the Old Courthouse, however. The list of its deficiencies grew to be stunning.
For the outside stairway a beautiful sandstone was chosen, but unfortunately, it proved to be terribly weak. After a mere 17 years of foot traffic and occasional rains, the stairway had crumbled into a rocky, sandy, slippery ramp. A grand jury recommended removal and that "some new plan of entrance should be adapted" in 1895.
The clock tower was also problematic. "It was so badly out of plumb that the fire bells toll regularly during wind storms," the newspaper reported. In fact, if it weren't for the weight of the bells hanging inside, the tower may have blown clean-off and tumbled into Granite Creek!
Then there was the case of the fun-house floor. The headline was stark: “BUILDING TREMBLES LIKE GLASS OF JELLY; Upper Story of Court House is Said To be in a Dangerous Condition.”
"The vibration in the clerk of the court's office is a distinct reality...whenever a person ascends or descends the long stairway," the paper reported. This problem had become so acute that whenever a single person used the stairs, the court clerk would have to suspend handwriting “until the oscillation ceased.”
"That the walls are settling is another fact established from the leaky condition of the ceiling," the paper lamented.
Speaking of leaks, in editorializing for a new courthouse in 1914, Yavapai Magazine published this odious observation of the Old Courthouse: "It is unsanitary and reeks with foul smells!"
Still another addition that eventually became dangerous was the flue. "It was built several years ago to afford an outlet for the steam heating plant in the basement of the building and, as constructed, was pinned to the brick walls on the outside,” the paper explained. “It is beginning to open up and a crevice now is plainly in evidence from the ground to the eaves of the roof; the top of it being over an inch in width."
After being warned to stay clear of the plaza, the citizenry grew indignant. "The entire building from cellar to garret should be razed to the ground, and the flue incident is but one of many grievances that are being unjustly tolerated," the paper complained.
The courthouse’s final problem proved to be completely intolerable. In the 19th century, architects paid little attention to providing fire escapes, which led to some horrific death tolls elsewhere.
"Few people...have ever stopped to consider what would happen if a fire started in the cellar while the court room was thronged. The loss of life would probably be enormous," the newspaper averred.
It was found that such a fire would spread "directly to the hallway and up the rickety flight of wooden stairs.” No exit for escape would exist “except by jumping from the top story windows to the ground, 40 feet below." Such a disaster would also include the irreplaceable loss of all county records to date.
This report signed the iconic building’s death certificate. Soon it would be razed to make room for Yavapai County’s new, fireproof, present-day courthouse.
Despite its shortcomings, the Old Courthouse would be fondly remembered. The day it closed for the last time, one person attached a fitting epitaph to its door: "She was a good old house in her younger days, but she's 'all in' now."
“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 https://sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles.l. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to email@example.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 2, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or assistance with photo requests.