Preserving History Through Play

by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Coordinator, City of Prescott

A.C. Williams Granite Creek Park will feature some exciting, family-friendly improvements early this year, particularly the area referred to as West Granite Creek Park.

With these additions, a look back to the property’s history remains integral to the area’s preservation. 

Granite Creek itself boasts a bold history, as the present day parklands served as stomping grounds for Santa Fe Railroad workers. The train depot was in close proximity as well as the roundhouse making it a natural habitat for staff needing a place to pitch their tents.

The story goes that when asked, workers were told to go “down by the creek.” This was the start of the area known as “Long Beach.”

Consisting of makeshift homes, essentially a rundown shanty town, the 1950s and ‘60s saw many instances of litter, crime and overall unsanitary conditions along the creek. Although inhabitants of Long Beach claimed their respective areas as “home,” there were no water or sewer utilities, and many were said to use hand dug wells. 

Periodically, as they do, floods wash through the area making conditions worse. Cleanup efforts are still in progress, as they were during A.C. Williams’ inception of the park, his version of Prescott’s Central Park. Adding a new railroad-themed playground is one way of preserving the area’s history while providing family-friendly recreation opportunities. 

Brief history

After Capt. Joseph Walker and his group of prospectors were reportedly the first to find gold off the banks of the Hassayampa in 1863, the territorial government began sending in support eventually leading to the construction of Fort Whipple. 

This was also due to the increasing population that stressed relations with Native tribes. After experiencing substantial loss to the fort’s buildings in fires, the future was uncertain until the “Battle for Prescott” brought the Prescott and Arizona Central Railway Company to town. Barely meeting a strict construction deadline of midnight, Dec. 31, 1886, the new railway helped revitalize Fort Whipple by offering a more efficient way to travel and move freight to Prescott. 

Not long after the railway became operational, it was determined the line came with many issues including no turntable, roadbeds easily washed out, engines that could only pull six cars, among other limitations causing local businessmen to realize the need for a fully functioning railway.

In 1891, the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway incorporated connecting the Santa Fe Railway near Ash Fork, traveling through Chino Valley, the Granite Dells into Prescott (present day Peavine Trail). 

Eventually becoming the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company, the industry incurred challenges related to supply and demand, competition from other methods of transportation, as well as other economic variables. 

Present day

Having miraculously survived the fire of 1900, thanks to the dry summer winds dying down, the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot and original railroad trestle remain intact, reminiscent of days past.

In the interest of preserving Prescott’s rich history embedded in the Granite Creek park corridor, the City of Prescott and Hilton Garden Inn are collaborating in the design, construction and installation of an exciting new railway-themed playground. Informational signs will be on site giving a brief history on the significance of the railroad, while providing visitors with imagery of how the important asset looked when operational. 

For more information on the development of this project follow Prescott Recreation Services on Facebook and Instagram (@prescottrecservices) or www.prescott-az.gov


Image: Rendering of Landscape Structures, Incorp