Historical Setting for a Museum
Our museum is a work in progress since 1983, filling more than 10,000 square feet with a variety of collections and artifacts that have been donated by families and others.
Volunteers have taken on the task of arranging interesting Prehistoric, Anasazi, Native American, Pioneer through Route 66 Era settings and displays, utilizing every bit of available space in the historic courthouse for exhibits.
In 1895, the Arizona Territorial Assembly, as its final act, established Navajo County apart from Apache County (old Navajo County color map). In a close election, Holbrook was selected as the county seat rather than Winslow.
Holbrook was established in 1882 with the construction of the Atlantic & Pacific Railway to serve as a railhead for supplies being shipped to Fort Apache (to the south) and other points. The new town was named after Henry Holbrook, the construction engineer.
In 1898, county voters approved a $15,000 bond issue to build a county courthouse and jail at the county seat. The jail alone cost $3,000 and was shipped as a whole unit from St. Louis and set in place, then the courthouse walls were built around it.
The courthouse is a Gallup brick structure, of Richardson architecture (see report for a better description).
The courthouse was completed in 1899, and the first major trial held in the new courtroom was that of George Smiley, who was accused of murder. Smiley was found guilty, but we don't want to spoil his legacy for you at this point. His eventual hanging on the courthouse yard was the only hanging carried out from a scaffold at the courthouse.
Another interesting fact about the courthouse is that in 1904, the county board of supervisors ordered that hereafter no dances would be held in the courthouse. Also, it can be noted that the first telephone was installed at the courthouse in 1907.
If walls would only talk, the courthouse could fill dozens and more pages of a book on its daily government business and the changing world outside of its walls. In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt named a neighboring wonder the Petrified Forest National Monument; then there were the days of test wells for oil during the 1920s; the Work Progress Administration of the late 1930s that gave the courthouse its stone wall; the era of Route 66; to the day when the courthouse was no longer sufficient to house the county government offices and in 1976, the "old brick girl" was left empty as the offices were relocated to the new governmental center, south on SR 77.
Transformation of the Courthouse into the Museum
In 1981, a group of historical-minded citizens started a dialogue with county officials to dedicate the old historic courthouse to house a museum. An agreement was reached and the museum officially opened on June 13, 1983. The historic courthouse also provided office space for the Holbrook Chamber of Commerce and an official Arizona Visitor's Information Center.
The support of Navajo County, the City of Holbrook, and many private donations have allowed the museum to evolve into a unique museum experience. Today, the society also staffs the visitor's center, which offers information on local and area attractions, road conditions, and other areas of interest.
We invite you to browse through our web pages as we share more of our history, and the many collections and objects that the society is the caretaker of for future generations.