By Jenny Pederson
Known today as “Arizona’s Christmas City,” Prescott has long been a community that comes together to celebrate the holidays and uses the end of one year and the transition into the next as an opportunity to make memories with family and friends.
The family of fifth Territorial Governor John C. Frémont arrived in Prescott in October of 1878. The family consisted of Governor Frémont, his wife Jessie Benton Frémont, daughter Lily and son Frank. Lily kept a diary while she lived in Prescott, and after celebrating the Christmas holiday, she described preparing the house for New Year’s visitors, working on sewing projects, and taking a ride with a friend and two officers from Fort Whipple. Although she retired early in the evening, her father and brother attended a party hosted by a local theatre association.
On New Year’s Day in 1879, the family was ready to welcome guests by 10 am and receive visitors “between the civilized hours of 12 – 8.” Lily noted that the visits were pleasant, and the guests included soldiers and officers from nearby Fort Whipple. Guests not only had the opportunity to meet the new Territorial Governor and his family but could also snack on chocolate and cakes. No wine was served as “more than enough wines are about in a frontier town on such a day.”
The next year Lily shared that Governor Frémont spent part of New Year’s Eve with Judge Charles Silent, reflecting on the gains of 1879 and the future plans for their joint mining interests. She ended her entry for December 31 with “the old year & the new were rung out & in & lots of firing & crackers at midnight.”
The following day, Lily had English bread with butter, cake, coffee and eggnog available for her New Year’s guests. She recorded that she received about 25 visitors. While Lily stayed at home greeting friends, Governor Frémont, Judge Silent, and fellow Prescott resident Mr. Lewis made the rounds visiting friends by carriage and on foot. The gentlemen visited 41 houses during the afternoon visiting period.
The practice of visiting neighbors, friends and family on New Year’s Day was common during the Territorial period, and the comings and goings of Prescott’s leading residents were even detailed in Prescott’s early newspapers. On January 3, 1884, The Courier recounted that many Prescottonians “felt in good trim” and were ready to throw “business cares and vexations to one side,” to buckle on loose garments and with a “load of smiles and good wishes” visit friends to “renew old and form new acquaintances, - to please and be pleased.” The newspaper reported that although the weather was cold and cloudy, the “numerous calls made during the afternoon attests that the day was enjoyed by many.”
At the N.B. Bowers residence, guests were greeted by Mrs. N. B. Bowers, Mrs. J. J. Fisher and Miss Carrie Johnson. According to The Courier, the “table was well laden with substantials and delicacies.” Visitors were also welcomed at then-Governor Tritle’s house, and not far away, “Mrs. W. C. Bashford, Mrs. Clark Churchill, Mrs. R. H. Burmister, and Mrs. C.S. Hutchinson had spared no paines to provide for their numerous callers a pleasant entertainment.”
In the week leading up to the 1884 New Year, Prescott’s schools were closed as “teachers and pupils are taking needed rest and recreation.” There were also large-scale parties. Held on the evening of January 1, The Courier stated that “the young men and maidens of Prescott enjoyed themselves, dancing, in Howey’s Hall”. In addition, parties were hosted at private homes, including one given by Mr. and Mrs. Dickson, which the newspaper described as “a fine social affair.” For those not interested in an evening of dancing, a turkey dinner was offered to patrons at the Williams House restaurant.
Much as we do today, many Prescott residents turned to thinking of what the New Year would bring. Perhaps it was the growth of mining and the expansion of the railroads. As 1900 turned to 1901, some looked to the new century. Published in The Courier on the morning of Tuesday, January 1, 1901, an editorial noted that “unknown elements of nature have been discovered, seized upon, parts of them harnessed and the balance are being pursued by man with the harness in his hands”. The writer closed the column by asking readers “what wonders will [man] accomplish in the new century? Let us wish him all possible success and hope that it may come with as little violence and bloodshed as possible.”
“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://www.sharlot.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.