by Drew Desmond, Secretary, Prescott Western Heritage Foundation
It was thought that Christmas 1909 would be remembered forever in Prescott, although it has largely been forgotten. It was one of the most generous Christmases ever celebrated in the mile-high city, both in philanthropy and in snow.
“In Williamson Valley (that Christmas) 36 inches of snow fell, an unheard-of condition for that elevation,” the newspaper reported, “while a few miles farther south it was 15 inches in Skull Valley. In the hills adjacent it was over 3 feet.” It was a blizzard “not heretofore experienced in the history of Northern Arizona.”
The surprising snowstorm kept all indoors, as community and church events were canceled, and traffic did not get back to normal for days.
Christmas 1909 would also see some great generosity by railroad entrepreneur Frank Murphy, a champion of Prescott, who gave away two large pieces of land in west Prescott.
The first gift went to St. Joseph’s Academy.
“Following his desire to donate the greater portion of the Murphy addition to the city free of any consideration whatever other than a nominal one for maintenance of the zoo,” the paper explained, “FM Murphy yesterday gave to St. Joseph’s Academy in this city a Christmas present of…8 parcels of land… (which) comprises practically the entire mesa lands on which is situated the academy buildings.”
As magnanimous as that gift was, Murphy had an even larger Christmas present for the city.
“MURPHY PARK TO BE GIFT TO CITY,” the headline cried, “Arizona’s Prettiest Breathing Spot Will be Tendered to Prescott.” This bestowal would add yet another item on the long list of things Prescott had or did first in Arizona. According to the paper, the city would be “acquiring a park of its own for the first time in the history of any Arizona municipal corporation.” The land was half a square-mile of “finely wooded ground,” which was “famed for its picturesque mountain views.”
“The offer pleases me greatly,” Mayor Morris Goldwater said. “It delights me immensely to know that the city has an opportunity to have an attractive park. This proposition meets with my personal endorsement.” The mayor also “commended Mr. Murphy for his generosity and philanthropic citizenship for such a magnificent donation.” The city’s councilmen were equally excited.
Murphy’s philanthropy extended well beyond the holiday season of 1909. Prescott added another “first” to its tally earlier in July when Murphy donated the land for the Arizona Pioneers’ Home, securing the location of the first government-run retirement facility in the U.S. in his favorite city.
Yet this was only a part of Murphy’s land gifts to Prescott. He also donated the land for Mercy Hospital and the Yavapai Club. Perhaps more importantly, he was the man responsible for bringing the railroads that opened Prescott, Yavapai County and even the Territory of Arizona to the outside world.
It’s a shame that practically nothing is left in the city to remember a man who gave it so much; he deserves better. Perhaps the portion of McCormick Street south of Goodwin that climbs the hill to the Pioneers’ Home should be renamed “Frank M. Murphy Way” in his honor.
Sources: Weekly Journal-Miner, December 1909. Photo courtesy of Tim Gronek.