When visiting the historic town of Prescott, Arizona, check out these three historic hotels: the Hassayampa Inn, Hotel St. Michael, and the boutique The Grand Highland Hotel.
When visiting the historic town of Prescott, Arizona—the original Arizona Territorial capital—you’ll find three historic hotels right in the vicinity of Courthouse Plaza, the center of Prescott’s historic and cultural activities. A must-see, even if only strolling through the beautiful lobby, is the grande dame of them all—the Hassayampa Inn.
Exploring the Historic Hassayampa Inn
Built in 1927, the Hassayampa Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places and a member of the National Trust of Historic Hotels of America. The inn has beautifully preserved its historic integrity. The 67-room inn represents the glamour of a bygone era when only the well-heeled might be able to travel by automobile, pulling up under the Hassayampa’s portico. Today, the driveway curving up to the portico looks narrow, but cars were smaller in the 1920s.
Origins of the Hassayampa Inn
The residents of Prescott first conceptualized the inn as a way to attract tourists to their city. The local Kiwanis Club took the lead and grass-roots funding provided a base for the construction of the brick hotel, designed to fit in well with the other buildings around Courthouse Square. And what does the name mean? Hassayampa, the name of a nearby river, was an Apache word for a “river that loses itself.” In Wickenburg, to the south, where the river continues on, they call it the “upside down river,” as the river flows underground for part of its path and reappears when it hits bedrock below the silt.
The El Paso Architectural firm, Trost & Trost, were hired to design the inn with the hopes that they would replicate the look and feel of the Franciscan Hotel in Albuquerque, also a Trost project. As it turned out, the Hassayampa Inn was modified a bit. The architects designed it in the style of Renaissance Revival and Mission Revival, the latter style adapted to Prescott by being built with red brick rather than white stucco. You’ll catch Mission Revival details throughout the building. Look up in front and you’ll see a bell tower with a tile roof. The garden, anchored by a fountain, is also reminiscent of the old missions.
Once open, the inn hosted famous visitors including Tom Mix, Will Rogers, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable.
Touring the Hassayampa Inn
Since the goal was to make the Hassayampa Inn a first-class hotel, the décor includes details such as hand-painted wooden beams in the lobby and hand-made tilework.
The staff operated an elevator off the lobby (and continues to do so today) and the shoeshine stand was there to spiff up travelers’ dusty footwear. When you walk through, look for western art, etched glass doors, and pianos, all adding to the ambiance.
The elegant bar and restaurant continue today. Next to the etched and stained glass doors to the Arizona Room, you’ll see an honor roll of 400 stockholders who purchased shares to support the building of this beautiful inn. The mayor at the time, Morris Goldwater, was a strong supporter.
The Hassayampa Inn Today
After undergoing a renovation mid-1980s, the inn was updated to meet the requirements of modern travelers while retaining the charm and original touches that help qualify Hassayampa Inn to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to adding a new heating and cooling system, the renovations included modifying guest rooms to add private bathrooms.
The guest floors, with soft carpeting and antiques, retain an elegant feel. Although I have not had the opportunity to stay at the Hassayampa Inn, I peeked in a very special room – Room 426, The Grand Balcony Room.
This spacious room, decorated with southwestern art, has a door that opens out to a balcony overlooking the historic Elks Theater across the street. It’s the only room with a place where you can relax outdoors in private during your stay. And, it’s a room with a well-known ghost!
As the story goes, just after the inn opened in 1927, a newlywed couple checked into the Grand Balcony Room. They say the gentleman stepped out to go buy a pack of smokes and never returned. The bride, Faith Summers, waited several days for her love to return and eventually became despondent and hung herself. It is said that the hotel staff found her body on day four. Her body was visible to passersby on Gurley Street just below. Now when I visited the Balcony Room, I didn’t feel her presence but she has been reported being seen throughout the hotel including the Peacock Room restaurant where things mysteriously happen in the kitchen, like burners going out unexpectedly.
Stay at The Hassayampa Inn
The inn remains a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. Modern-day guests include movie stars like Tom Selleck, Steve McQueen, Joan Rivers, and more. The Beach Boys have stayed there and, of course, politicians like Barry Goldwater and John McCain have enjoyed a stay or two.
The rooms are comfortable with updated classic décor and amenities. The inn welcomes furry guests up to 45 pounds at no extra charge. While many rooms have views of Gurley Street, you always just steps away from the historic attractions of Prescott’s downtown.
The Hassayampa Inn is popular for weddings and gatherings of classic car clubs. Guests enjoy upscale dining in the Peacock Room and live jazz in the cozy lobby bar. Be sure to wander through this gem of Arizona history.
Historic Hotel St. Michael on Whiskey Row
During my personal walking tour of historic hotels of Prescott, I included the large brick building on the corner of Whiskey Row and wondered what stories the Hotel St. Michael might hold. This hotel predates the Hassayampa Inn and the Roaring Twenties.
The Fireproof Hotel
The original hotel on this site was built in the late 1800s. The two-story Hotel Burke drew visitors from all over and was advertised as Prescott’s only “fireproof hotel.” In the day, it was the most elegant hotel in the downtown area and overlooked the square. It was considered elegant for a “wild west” hotel and attracted visitors like President Theodore Roosevelt, Will Rogers, and Zane Grey. It was so beautiful that people decided to hold weddings in the lobby—something new because the tradition had been for people to wed in a family home.
The Famous Fire of 1900
As I mentioned in my story of Whiskey Row’s Palace Saloon, a raging fire broke out just a few doors down. The fire ultimately destroyed the entire block including this so-called fireproof hotel.
Within a year, the owners built a new Hotel Burke, this one was three stories. In 1907, the hotel changed hands and was re-named Hotel St. Michael, after the owner, Michael Hickey. Throughout the years, the hotel had a sketchy past and just never regained the elegance of the early years. But don’t discount the Hotel St. Michael. Things have changed!
The Cornerstone of Whiskey Row
Just as a visit to The Palace Saloon and Restaurant should be part of a visit to Prescott, the place to stay to re-live the 1900s and the Territorial era of Arizona is the Hotel St. Michael. It now has been updated while keeping the feel of the original downtown hotel where politicians and local luminaries stayed. You’ll access the small lobby with dark antique wood and brass accents through the hotel’s shopping arcade.
The arcade is worth visiting, especially on a hot afternoon. You’ll find locally-owned shops including galleries and an indie bookstore. The hotel’s lobby and reception is at the end of the walkway. It immediately transports you back to the early 1900s.
Off the lobby is an event room where the hotel hosts weddings and gatherings. This hotel, like the Hassayampa Inn, has a unique elevator. This Otis Traction Elevator, installed in 1925, was the first elevator in Prescott. Guests can operate this one or take the impressive staircase to their room.
Staying at Hotel St. Michael
The day I toured, I took the stairs to an upper floor. The carpeted hallways are wide. Some of the rooms overlook Courthouse Square, and in one room—315—a female ghost makes her presence known in a variety of ways. A strong smell of perfume has been reported and has been attributed to her. Some guests have reported her also appearing in the vicinity of the elevator. Other than this, there appear to be no specific stories about her.
The rooms have individual air conditioning and private baths. The feel is definitely appropriate for a fan of Whiskey Row and Arizona history. Matt’s Saloon and the Palace Saloon are right next door. Around the corner, you’ll find La Planchera Taqueria and a bakery.
The most sought-after rooms are those that overlook the beautiful Courthouse Square. The rooms have modern and comfortable beds yet retain the early Arizona feel. There are two suites at the hotel. The Executive Suite includes a king bed and a separate living area. Family Units feature a queen bed in the main room and two twin beds in a small adjoining room. Pets are not permitted.
The Grand Highland Hotel
The Grand Highland Hotel, right down Whiskey Row from Hotel St. Michael, is not easy to find. “Look for the courtyard,” they’ll suggest. And that worked. The hotel space is narrow and doesn’t stand out like an imposing “grand hotel.”
This 12-room boutique hotel and lovely event courtyard were born as a result of not just the 1900 fire, but a second fire in May 2012. Once a first-floor curio shop and upstairs hotel, dubbed the Highland Hotel, plus three adjacent businesses, the complex was damaged and partially burned. It was time, the owners decided, to re-envision the space. While the adjacent burned businesses were completely razed and not replaced to make room for an event courtyard, the shop and hotel were reconstructed to create a lovely contemporary boutique hotel with authentic historic touches.
A Boutique Hotel
On my short several-block walk starting at the Hassayampa Inn, I had visited the Roaring Twenties, experienced the Territorial-era of Arizona and, now I was touring a hotel decorated with pops of color and comfortable modern rooms yet retaining the cozy feel of what probably existed with the original Highland Hotel.
I walked into the small lobby and noticed an old cigar sign on the brick wall across the room. I later found out that it was original.
I rang the bell and a staff member greeted me and toured me through the hotel. I visited a beautiful indoor event space that opened out to the spacious courtyard complete with a stage. Across the open courtyard, I saw a mural taking up part of one of the walls with photos depicting the history of Whiskey Row.
The Grand Highland Hotel Rooms
Up the stairs, I peeked into several rooms, all with a contemporary flair and accented with bright colors and artwork. The use of the exposed brick added to the old/new ambiance. The beds were of the cushy variety (my preference) with crisp white sheeting. The rooms had individual state-of-the-art heating and a/c units on the upper wall.
The rooms are all themed and ranged in size from the small Singing Cricket Room with a bed and nightstand and décor paying homage to the local Yavapai people to the Capitol King Suite which offers a sitting parlor and full-size sleeper sofa. Some rooms overlooked Whiskey Row. No pets are allowed. No ghostly apparitions were reported!
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The Prescott Historic Hotels
My self-directed walking tour from The Hassayampa Inn to the cute boutique hotel, The Grand Highland Hotel, gave me a good sense of what the accommodations had to offer and the appreciation of Prescott history that brought both visitors and famous people to stay in the downtown area. While Prescott was once a town frequented by miners and cowboys, in 1864 Prescott became the first territorial capital of Arizona. With the arrival of the railroad line in the 1880s, Prescott was connected to other cities, and visiting or doing business at the capital became convenient. I look forward to returning and staying at one of these historic hotels, getting a sense of what Whiskey Row and Courthouse Square is like overnight, and, perhaps, encountering a ghost! To help plan your Arizona adventure, be sure and see what our southwest travel experts have written.