County History

Yavapai County Relief Map

Yavapai County reflects the history of the old west and the future of the new. Remnants of U.S. Cavalry forts, Indian dwellings, gold rush boomtowns, abandoned mines, Spanish Land Grant ranches, homesteads and vast tracts of uninhabited public lands exist side by side with modern housing developments, industry and business here in the mountain heart of Arizona.

Traditional cowboys off the range, modern day gold prospectors with metal detectors and those living a rustic lifestyle in the isolated areas of the County rub shoulders with artists, university and college students, a large retirement population and families raising children in the small towns throughout the County.

Yavapai County is one of the four original Arizona counties formed in September of 1864, one year after the Arizona Territory was established. The County was named after the Yavapai Tribe, whose name means the “people of the sun.”

The County was originally 65,000 square miles and was called the “Mother of Counties” because Apache, Coconino, Gila, Maricopa and Navajo Counties were later formed from it. The territorial government was also born in Yavapai County, the capital being originally located in the County in the City of Prescott.

As with much of the Southwest, the history of the area predates the formation of the Arizona Territory and of the County. Pre-historic Indian artifacts can be found in ancient Indian Pueblos and mounds throughout the County. The greatest concentration of artifacts are found in the Verde Valley where the Sinagua Indians arrived around 500 A.D. and created dwellings at Tuzigoot and Montezuma’s Castle.

Spanish explorers also traveled through Yavapai County. Antonio de Espejo visited the Jerome area in 1581, Juan de Onate explored the area in 1604 and Friar Francis Garces visited in 1776.

The California “49ers” crossed the northern part of the County in 1849 on their way to the California gold-rush and after the Civil War there was a marked influx of Southerners into the territory.

With an area of 8,125 square miles the County is larger than Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Yavapai County is approximately the same size as Massachusetts.

The terrain of the County varies from an elevation of 1,900 feet at its desert low to just under 8,000 feet on its mountain peaks. The diverse terrain includes grasslands, picturesque rock formations, high desert streams and mountain valleys. The major vegetation types in the County are grasslands, pinion-juniper, chaparral, desert grassland and desert scrub.

The climate varies from Sonora Desert in the lower elevations to mid-Canada at the higher elevations. The temperature variations from day-time high to night-time low throughout the year is about 35 degrees.

The County lies in the center of a 100-mile strip of Ponderosa pine forests which crosses the state from the northwest corner to the eastern boundary. The Prescott National Forest, as well as portions of the Coconino and Tonto National Forests, are within the County boundaries.

Only 26 percent of the land in the County is in private hands (individuals or corporations). Thirty-eight percent of the land is administered by the U. S. Forest Service, nine percent by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 27 percent by the State of Arizona, and less than 0.5 percent is held in trust as Indian reservations. There are three Indian reservations located in the County – the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Reservation, the Clarkdale and the Camp Verde Indian Reservation.

By 1910, the County had a population of approximately 16,000 people. It rose rapidly to over 24,000 by 1920 and remained somewhat constant for the next 40 years. The 1970 U.S. Census showed a population of nearly 37,000, which reflected the beginning of new, rapid migrations to the County that continued through the end of the 20th Century. During the 2000 U.S. Census, the population was counted at 165,000. The most recent Census in 2010 showed us that Yavapai County experienced another period of growth with a population of 211,033.

The first half of the 2000-2010 decade saw a significant increase in both population and development, both regulated and non-regulated. Both increases were primarily due to a housing anomaly whereby easy mortgage terms served to fuel sales and development, resulting in increased housing prices. As the trend reversed in 2006, growth and sales levels flattened, and a significant amount of housing inventory and raw land flooded the market. It is anticipated as these inventories are absorbed that growth will return to the more sustainable pre-2000 levels.

The bulk of the population and the labor force are located in the eight incorporated towns and cities which include Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Jerome, Clarkdale, Sedona, Cottonwood and Camp Verde. The County’s newest municipality is the Town of Dewey-Humboldt, which incorporated in 2004.

Industrial facilities are located in Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Prescott and Prescott Valley.

The County seat is located in the City of Prescott with an annex of County offices in the town of Cottonwood in the Verde Valley.

Arizona Department of Commerce Community Profiles