Prescott (population 43,000) got its start as a rowdy, hardscrabble mining camp in the early-1800s and in 1864 was named the territorial capital of Arizona. It has held onto its frontier heritage, giving it an Old West flavor that is alive and well today. Part of a four-city area, along with Prescott Valley, Dewey-Humbolt and Chino Valley, it sits at 5,400 feet above sea level in the Bradshaw Mountains in the central part of the state. Positive word has spread about Prescott, and its population has grown by 4% within the last decade. Many of the newcomers to this once remote vacation getaway are retirees seeking a high quality of life in a pretty region with a mild climate.
In its early days, Prescott, called "Preskitt" by the locals, brimmed with elegant architecture, including Greek Revival, Octagon and Queen Anne building styles, as lavish homes were built by miners who had become overnight millionaires. Today, more than 800 commercial buildings and residences are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to these historic homes, newer styles include Mediterranean, Craftsman, bungalow, mountain chalets, A-frames and ranch ramblers. Many are mountain properties surrounded by pine trees, scrub oak and chaparral. Condos and town homes are in good supply. The median home price is $525,000, a 29% increase over last year. Seasonal rentals, both condos and houses, are plentiful because Prescott attracts large numbers of "snowbirds" and vacationers.
Arizona is somewhat friendly when it comes to retirement. The state does not tax Social Security benefits, but income from IRAs and 401(k)s is taxed between 2.59% and 4.5%. Arizona public and private pension income is also taxed between 2.59% and 4.5% but is eligible for a $2,500 exemption. For homeowners whose annual is $38,112 or less (single) or $47,640 or less (married), a property valuation tax freeze is available. People age 70 or better with an annual income of $10,000 or less may defer property taxes entirely. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Prescott is .58%. The annual taxes on a $525,000 home are approximatley $3,045. The combined sales tax rate is 9.1%. Groceries, however, are not taxed.
Several museums, including the open air, living history Sharlot Hall Museum, built around the site of the first territorial governor's mansion, are dedicated to preserving Prescott's frontier heritage. This appreciation of its past and protection of its historic buildings are reasons why many residents love living in Prescott.
The centerpiece of Prescott's fun downtown is Courthouse Plaza, a green, touristy oasis under the shade of giant elms. The Plaza is surrounded by museums, restaurants, antique stores, ice cream shops, the 1905 Elks Opera House and historic accommodations, including the 1927 Hassayampa
Inn. Nearby Whiskey Row, an early day saloon neighborhood and a survivor of the 1900 fire, is today a fashionable block with boutiques, cafes and galleries.
Not to be missed is the Palace Restaurant and Saloon, Arizona's oldest bar and eatery, with wooden floors, a tin ceiling and the original quarter sawn oak and cherry bar. This section of town hums with residents and tourists alike and is the site of outdoor concerts.
In some ways, with its mountain setting, mining history and cooler climate, Prescott feels as if it is in Colorado or Utah rather than in Arizona. And although it is not perfect, it is a pleasant, pretty place to live. Its cowboy character, sense of history, gentle climate, dry air, interesting architecture and good senior programs outweigh its drawbacks. Most residents say that Prescott is a great place to retire.