Last month, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors and the County Manager’s Office had a special presentation that highlighted moments in the history of the county since its creation on Feb. 18, 1891. That was the first of several events to commemorate our “Proud Past, Promising Future” throughout the year, including an “Art of Justice Open House” at the courthouse in June and a U.S.S. Coconino County reunion and ceremony in July.
This month, we had another anniversary: April 1 marks the 125 years since the first Board of Supervisors meeting took place.
During that inaugural meeting, three Supervisors (J.F. Daggs, D.M. Riordan and G.P. Thornton) set the salaries for the very first Coconino County Sheriff, Assessor and District Attorney. The annual salary for each was set at $400, approved along with $150 for the feeding of prisoners of the county and $150 for care of the indigent sick.
The pressing issues of the time for Coconino County — which was officially created 21 years before Arizona became a state — were the regulation of alcohol and gambling, and a need for water. While alcohol and gambling have been replaced by snow-play traffic and E-cigarette regulation in modern-day discussions, 125 years later, water still remains a precious resource.
As a public servant, I am quick to note that civic engagement and pride were at the heart of what created the county we know and love. The creation of Coconino County grew out of a desire from Flagstaff’s 964 residents. This area was all part of a gigantic Yavapai County in 1891, and Flagstaff folks, along with those in Williams and the outlying areas, believed there needed to be a separate county so money (especially taxes from the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, which ran through the two towns) could be used to improve these areas. They felt that Prescott, which was the county seat of Yavapai County at the time, received the lion’s share of tax dollars to improve its roads and railroads.
As a result of a grass-roots effort, a bill was introduced to the Territorial Legislature titled “’Frisco County Bill” after what the locals referred to as the “’Frisco Peaks,” and Coconino County was created through a gubernatorial act by Governor John N. Irwin in February 1891.
For the historical trivia buffs out there, here are some fun facts to give you an idea of what was going on nationally at the time Coconino County emerged:
- The President of the United States was Benjamin Harrison, who facilitated the creation of National Forests through and Amendment to the Land Revision Act of 1891 and proposed and advocated for voting rights enforcement for African Americans.
- In 1879, the first off-reservation boarding schools were established for Native American children. The Phoenix Indian School was established in 1891.
- The United States census of 1890 estimated a total population of 62,927,714; which included the population of 248,253 Native Americans and 393,555 Hispanics.
- The first gasoline powered car debuted in Springfield, Massachusetts.
- A machine was invented to make mass production of the Fig Newton cookie possible.
- The average wage in the United States was 14 cents per hour.
- The average life expectancy was 40 years.
While our “’Frisco Peaks,” haven’t changed, life has brought us a long way in the past 125 years. However, one thing still rings as true as it did back then: without pride in our community and civic engagement, nothing is ventured or gained. Coconino County is proof of that.
By Cynthia Seelhammer
Coconino County Supervisor Matt Ryan, County Manager Cynthia Seelhammer, Supervisor Mandy Metzger, Vice Chair Liz Archuleta, Board Chair Lena Fowler and Supervisor Art Babbott dress the part to celebrate the county’s 125th anniversary.