Pit Houses on View

Preserving Prescott’s Past: Pit Houses on View

by Warner and Maurine Wise, and Andy Christenson

Willow Lake Heritage Park is home to one of the little-known remains of human habitation in the Prescott area from 850 AD to the 1100s.

During this period of increased rainfall, the local people, known as the Prescott Culture, were able to grow corn, beans and squash along Willow Creek. This allowed them to become more sedentary. They built small groups of pit houses around the area that is now Willow Lake, which was created in the mid-1930s for Chino Valley agriculture. 

On the hilltop and knoll above the boat ramp, 20 structures were discovered in 2002 and 2003 when the area was surveyed as part of Prescott’s plan to build picnic ramadas and parking lots. 

Many of the structures were excavated, and all but three were backfilled to preserve them. These three were left as exposed as part of the plan to allow people to see how people lived in the area during this time period; ramadas were built to cover them. Copies of the report are available at local libraries.

In 2013, the local Yavapai Chapter of the Arizona Archaeology Society along with Robert Neily, who was part of the initial excavation, cleaned and sharpened the definition of the pit houses.

Since then, the archaeological society in conjunction with the Prescott Recreation Services Department has had members present on the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon. There are interpretive signs and docents on site to explain and answer questions.

For those interested in learning more about the people who lived in this area for thousands of years, the local chapter of the archaeology society has monthly meetings. We normally have interesting speakers and do monthly local field trips to sites of interest and multiday trips to places throughout the Southwest once or twice a year. 

However, we currently are on hiatus because of COVID-19, but hope to resume normal activities sometime this year. More information is available at www.azarchsoc.org

Willow Lake Park is a great place for hiking, with many miles of trails. It also is an amazing birding area. Hope to see you there soon. For more information on Willow Lake Park visit: www.prescott-az.gov