by Drew Desmond, Secretary, Prescott Western Heritage Foundation, Inc.
Although some had attempted to develop the Granite Dells into a recreational attraction previously, all fell short. Enter businessman Ed Shumate.
“Mr. Shumate is the first person who has been able to make a complete success of this resort,” the Weekly Journal-Miner reported, “and he has accomplished it in a most admirable manner.” Indeed, during special events, the resort regularly hosted 1,400-1,500 guests.
Shumate first signed a lease in April 1903, giving him a little over two weeks to install the new attractions before the season opened. He spent “several hundred dollars … fixing things up, and the resort will be run in a first-class manner.” In addition to “bathing” and boating, Shumate installed a billiards room, a bowling alley, a baseball field, a dancing platform and an “excellent eating house.” He later constructed a pavilion that could seat 300 to 400 people. “There is not a more pleasant place for rest and relaxation anywhere than Granite Dells,” the paper boasted.
The first Fourth of July at the resort was also a roaring success. “At least 1,400 people (attended), showing the popularity of the place. Every rig in town seemed to be pressed into service to carry visitors there,” according to the paper. The evening ended with “a fine display of fireworks at night.” The resort was also used as a summer escape from the hot desert heat. Shumate offered tent rentals by the week or month.
Before the 1904 season, Shumate expanded and deepened the lake. The opening day featured a bronco riding exhibition, a concert and the first baseball game of the year between Prescott and Iron King.
At the end of the school year, Shumate invited the children to visit the Dells and would allow them to play the amusements for free.
The resort also became a large concert venue and had a large number of regular boarders. Weekends regularly brought between 500 and 700 people.
Things were going swimmingly until tragedy struck in June.
“About 2:30 a.m., Mrs. Shumate was awakened by the glare of burning buildings shining in her bedroom,” the paper reported. “The flames had made such great progress that the family had barely time to make its escape. The lodging house, with its attached culinary department, the pavilions, billiard room, bowling alley and one tent” were burned to the ground. The loss was partially covered by insurance. Amazingly, parts of the resort opened by the following Sunday.
By the 4th of July, after two short weeks, things were almost completely back in order. That year the miners’ union in Jerome was in such disagreement with management that nearly the entire work force abandoned that town’s events to come celebrate the holiday at the Granite Dells. The event turned out to be a big success.
However, after the second year, Ed Shumate realized that the resort endeavor took too much time from his other business interests. Early in 1905 he sold it to James Adams for $3,000 (about $86,500 today.)
“Mr. Adams … stated that he intended to continue its management on similar lines to those of his predecessor and to maintain it at the standard of perfection attained by him,” according to the paper.
Today the location is still private property. The lake has filled in and dried up. The cost of restoration, including compliance with today’s public safety standards, is extremely prohibitive — especially for a seasonal business. Although the Granite Dells remained a popular attraction for decades until closing in the 1970s, it is now a turned page in Prescott’s history.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 4/15/1903-7/6/190