By Mary Melcher

Volunteers have always been the backbone of the Sharlot Hall Museum.  From the time that the museum was founded in 1928 to the present, volunteers have been needed to keep the Museum alive.

During Sharlot Hall’s tenure as the museum’s director and curator, she worked with others who aided in the museum’s development including a group of volunteers who founded the Historical Society of Prescott in 1929 with a board of fifteen members.  They aimed to help restore the Governor’s Mansion, to collect artifacts and to “assist Miss Hall in every way in her efforts to build up the museum, financially as well as morally.”

In 1933, Grace Sparkes, secretary of the Yavapai County Chamber of Commerce, took action to get New Deal funding to construct the Sharlot Hall Building for the museum’s expanding exhibits.  This building also included an apartment for Sharlot, who was able to move out of the Governor’s Mansion’s attic where she had been living.

When Sharlot died in 1943, Grace Sparkes and Grace Chapman, Yavapai County recorder, worked together to sustain the museum, reopening it a little less than two months after Sharlot’s death.  These two women were known as the “Graces” who got things done in Prescott.  They were active volunteers who recruited others to strengthen the historical society including Mrs. Mellie Boblett who served as guide to the exhibits during this time.

In 1943, only four of the original historical society board members remained, including James Whetstine, Norah Cough Hartzell, Lester Ruffner, and A.H. Favour.  Over time, the Historical Society of Prescott came to be known, at least informally, as the Prescott Historical Society, and in 1943 the organization was re-incorporated under that name.  Following Sharlot’s death the PHS changed its name to the Sharlot Hall Historical Society.

In 1946, Eva Favour was elected president of the SHHS Board.  She spent days sorting materials gathered by Ms. Sharlot, which had been stored in cardboard cartons.  Favour recruited her friend, Evelyn Merritt to type biographies of early Arizonans.  Dr. Cutler, a retired physician, volunteered as a tour guide.  Volunteers also sorted and processed the Hartzell Collection of Indian baskets and artifacts.

In 1948, Prescott Garden Club President Dorothy McMullun proposed establishing a garden honoring Territorial Arizona women on the museum grounds.  Members of the Prescott and Alta Vista Garden Clubs prepared and planted new rose bushes, and the Yavapai Cowbelles also became involved.  In the beginning, the garden was on the south side of the Governor’s Mansion, and by the fall of 1950 volunteers had installed four large beds of memorial roses.  Volunteers and staff moved the garden to its present location on the north side of the building in 1974.  It continues to be a beautiful garden cared for by volunteers, as well as staff.

The Prescott Garden Club maintained a strong relationship with the museum, and in 1963 club members planted an herb garden on the premises.  Other volunteers became involved in special projects, such as automobile restoration and construction.  Under the directorship of Ken Kimsey in the 1970s, as the volunteer force expanded, a Volunteer Auxiliary was created.  Many helped with the first annual Folk Arts Fair held in 1973, while others guided students around the museum grounds.

In 1964 the legislature created a state agency using the name Prescott Historical Society to operate the museum.  Today, these two societies operate in partnership to operate and support the Museum.  The Prescott Historical Society operates the Museum, and receives an annual appropriation for that purpose from the state legislature, while the Sharlot Hall Historical Society’s primary task is funding the difference between the state appropriation and the museum’s annual operational needs. SHHS also is responsible for funding capital projects and special exhibits.

Today the Museum enjoys the assistance of over 250 active volunteers who help in all areas of museum operations.  Another 150 assist in special events and festivals.  All carry on a proud tradition of volunteering at the Sharlot Hall Museum.

Each year the museum conducts formal training for its volunteers to acquaint them with the area’s history and the many available opportunities at the museum.  New volunteer training at SHM will begin on January 15.  For more information about volunteering at the museum, contact Murray Smolens (445-3122, ext. 18).

“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 www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.