Top 10 True Western Towns of 2011 Our sixth annual award for Western towns that are the benchmark for preserving history.

3. PRESCOTT, AZ

In 1864, officials in Arizona Territory created a new town to serve as the capital. They decided to name it after noted historian William H. Prescott, author of the then-popular The History of the Conquest of Mexico. Their choice was interesting, since Prescott never came close to crossing the Mississippi, let alone visit Arizona.

Yet, if he were around today, Prescott would undoubtedly appreciate the heritage of his namesake city—one that is so rich and remarkable that Prescott is our #3 True Western Town.

First off, the town boasts 13 National Register Historic Districts, totaling 809 buildings and sites—and most are privately owned and maintained. The centerpiece is Courthouse Plaza, the city square that melds old structures with modern hustle and bustle to create a rare dynamic.

Prescott is also a city of museums. At the top: Sharlot Hall, centered in the original Territorial Governor’s mansion of 1864 (and features several other historic buildings). In addition to a library, archives and exhibits, Sharlot Hall offers living history programs and is the host to a number of public festivals.

The Fort Whipple Museum is located in a 1909 officer’s quarters. It tells the story of the Indian Wars fortification that operated from 1864-82, and then again during the Spanish-American War (it was the headquarters of the Rough Riders).

The Phippen Museum is famous for its American Western Art collection. Its Western Art Show & Sale, held each Memorial Day weekend, is a big draw.

And the Smoki Museum—which celebrated 75 years in 2010—exhibits American Indian artifacts, particularly those from the Hopi tribe, and hosts an Indian festival each year. The Smoki is located in a 1935 building designed to resemble an Indian pueblo.

Prescott hosts numerous heritage events. The town’s “World’s Oldest Rodeo” shoots out of the gate around the July 4th holiday. The year 2012 will mark the 125th rodeo (in the same year Arizona will celebrate its centennial).

Toward the end of July, the Prescott Regulators and Shady Ladies holds a Whiskey Row Shoot-out, a re-enactment competition both colorful and historical.

And each September, the Yavapai Performance Hall hosts Arizona’s Cowboy Poets Gathering.

For quite a few of the town’s 43,217 residents, preservation is a passion as well as a way of life. For example, last July, the 1905 Elks Opera House reopened after a one-year, $2 million renovation. The Harold James Family alone donated more than $1 million. The Opera House showcases live acts and classic movies.

In May 2010, Fort Whipple unveiled its new Buffalo Soldiers exhibit. The black units served at the fort during 1886-87.

And the Phippen broke ground last year on a major expansion to accommodate its spectacular collection of Western art. The museum has already raised some 90 percent of the $3.3 million price tag. The main level should be finished this spring.

To help get the word out about these places and events, Prescott also launched a Prescott.ShowUp.com web page that promotes arts and cultural participation in the community.

So even though the town is named after an Eastern dude, Prescott is a True Western Town—and one of the best.

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