Visitors who come to see the exhibits at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott may think that they are viewing an encompassing representation of Arizona history, but in fact they are only looking at a portion of the museum’s holdings.
“We have 40,000 or so artifacts related to the Yavapai, the early settlement of the territory by the European Anglos and Americans who came from other parts of the country, as well as the years of statehood and beyond,” says Fred Veil, the executive director of the museum.
But right now only about 15 percent of those artifacts are on display.
That’s because the museum at 415 W. Gurley Street simply doesn’t have the space for all of its collections, a problem that Sharlot Hall officials hope to soon correct.
“What we want to do is build an entirely new structure that will free up space elsewhere for the exhibits,” says Ken Leja, marketing manager for the museum.
As planned, that new education center structure will measure around 7,000 square feet and will include a 135-seat auditorium and multi-purpose space, as well as a kitchen.
“Besides the lack of exhibit space, we also don’t have enough adequate space for the programing and presentations that we do,” says Veil.
Lawler Center, Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum
“We have two small areas in our Lawler Center,” he continues. “One is a theatre that seats around fifty people, and the other is a multi-purpose room that can seat around seventy.”
The end result, says Veil, is that “we are constantly having to turn people away when we have very popular programs, lectures, or parts of our festivals.”
Floor plan of new Education Center, Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum
The construction of the new 7,000 square foot structure, then, will solve two problems: it will offer expanded theatre and multi-purpose space for such events, but will also free up needed space at the Lawler Center for exhibits.
Museum officials kicked off a fundraising drive several months ago for what is expected to be a $2.5 million project. To date around $1.2 million has been raised, coming from a variety of sources.
“We’ve received support through our members, our corporate sponsors, and grants,” says Leja.
One of the reasons why the project has received such support is not just because the Sharlot Hall Museum preserves historical artifacts, but also because the museum itself is in its own way an artifact of history.
The facility is named after Sharlot Hall, a determined woman before her time who arrived by covered wagon in the then-Arizona Territory with her family when she was just 12 years old.
"Sharlot," writes Mary Melcher in the Prescott Daily Courier, “carved out a life as a writer, historian, and ranch woman.”
Adds Melcher, who is an education program manager for the Sharlot Hall Museum, Hall “was not shy, and she made her voice heard concerning matters related to Arizona and women’s rights.”
Early on, Hall began to collect artifacts relating to Arizona history, which she initially housed in the famous Governor’s Mansion, built in 1864. Eventually she opened what she called the Old Governor’s Mansion Museum, the forerunner of today’s Sharlot Hall Museum.
“She devoted the rest of her life, during the years from 1928 to 1943, to the museum. The people of Prescott have been trying ever since then to preserve her vision to maintain the culture, traditions, and heritage that we have here in the Central Highlands,” notes Leja.
Campus Map, Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum
The museum site today encompasses four acres in a park-like setting that includes the still-standing Governor’s Mansion, several buildings of Victorian-era age, a ranch house and a school house.
As interest in the history of Arizona has increased, so has the Sharlot Hall Museum’s facilities: “In the last five years, we have added an entire prehistory wing onto the museum and constructed a trades building for our facilities people who fabricate and install the exhibits,” says Veil.
“We have also added an admissions center at the gate, which is a representation of an early pioneer train station with a steam engine in front of it,” adds Veil.
Architectural drawing of new Education Center, Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum
The next step - the addition of the 7,000 square-foot education center - could see construction starting sometime in early 2018 if fundraising continues at its current pace.
Once that new facility is complete, predicts Veil, “a lot of our return visitors will be very surprised because we’ll have so many more artifacts in play, more than they have ever seen on their previous visits.”
By Garry Boulard
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