Historic Old Town Jail set for renovation

Built in 1929 as hoosegow for prohibition bootleggers

VVN/Philip Wright<br>
Built in 1929 by Yavapai County as a county jail, the Old Town Jail is now the visitor center for the Old Town Association.

VVN/Philip Wright<br> Built in 1929 by Yavapai County as a county jail, the Old Town Jail is now the visitor center for the Old Town Association.

Nowadays, Old Town Cottonwood is rapidly becoming a well-known destination for visitors to the Verde Valley. Most days, evenings and weekends will find locals and tourists sipping wine in Old Town's several wine-tasting rooms, eating in the district's fine restaurants and shopping in the many unique stores.

Back during prohibition, Old Town - which, in those days was Cottonwood's primary business district - was a bustling area. Problem was, part of the bustle was the distilling and sale of bootleg whiskey. The Old Town Jail was built in 1929 because of the rising crime rate and the thriving bootleg trade.

In fact, according to a story by the Sedona Verde Valley Tourism Council at www.sedonaverdevalley.org, the Old Town district has "so much Prohibition Era flavor that the whole district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places."

Another story on the 11th Thunder Valley Rally at cottonwoodaz.gov says that Cottonwood's bootleg whiskey was considered the best for hundreds of miles and attracted people from as far away as Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Now, the City of Cottonwood has run a legal advertisement seeking bids for, "the renovation of the Cottonwood Old Town Jail building at 1101 N. Main St."

Charles Scully, long-range planner for the Community Development Department, says that some of the plans for the renovation are still to be determined.

Scully is also involved with the new Historic Preservation Commission in Cottonwood. "There is a whole part of that building that needs to be repaired and updated," he said.

"The actual jail cells are still in there. That is a key thing to preserve."

In addition to roof work and the addition of an outdoor patio area for events, the building will be upgraded to include handicapped access.

"It will be accessible," Scully said, "but it's still going to retain its historical character."

Scully explained that some people want the building restored to its original state. He said that isn't possible. "That building had an addition put on years ago," he said. "It's kind of a changing history."

In a timeline prepared by Karen Leff of Cottonwood, it is apparent just how "changing" the history of the Old Town Jail has been.

Leff explains that the lot the building sits on was purchased by Cottonwood from Alonzo Mason and donated to Yavapai County. The county built the jailhouse. It was the first known use of river cobbles for a major construction job in Cottonwood.

"(It) was first occupied in early 1930 by the Yavapai County Justice of the Peace," Leff states. She said there was an "overflow of bootleggers and criminal and illicit acts associated with bootlegging.

"The Yavapai County Justice System in Prescott decided to put the jailhouse substation in Cottonwood, since Cottonwood had a big percentage of these illicit crimes," Leff stated.

Leff's timeline states that the building was taken over in the 1970s and used as the Cottonwood Police Department.

Also in the 1970s, the building housed the Humane Society. Eventually, it was used by Big Brothers Big Sisters, and now, since 1993, it is the visitor center for the Old Town Association.

According to Leff's timeline, Cottonwood's own Joe Hall, who was well known across the state as one of Arizona's bootlegging kings, was the first person to be jailed in the new jailhouse shortly after it opened.

The Old Town Jail also made appearances in at least two Hollywood movies. It was in the 1967 movie Stay Away, Joe, starring Elvis Presley.

In 1946, much of the movie Desert Fury, starring Burt Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott, was filmed not only at the Old Town Jail but at several locations in what is now known as Old Town.

People who've seen the movie likely will remember several settings. The Purple Sage is now Nic's Italian Steak & Crab House, and the café in the movie is now Kactus Kates. The old Braley/Alamo Motor Court is now the home of the Ledbetter Law firm.


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