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How Priscilla Cook began the restoration of Old Town Peoria, Arizona


I've seen some amazing changes in the Phoenix area, and I continue to be optimistic about its future. I've had the privilege of meeting some of the people who see potential when most people would just give up. If you knew Priscilla Cook (she died in 2017), you know what I mean. I've always called these people "unrealistically optimistic", and they're wonderful.

I met Priscilla Cook in the '90s when I was out exploring Peoria on my bike. I'd always liked looking around at old buildings, and I had just bought a house in Glendale, and I guess I was just out riding around. This was at about the same time that I discovered Weedville, and I was just looking around.

I stopped my bike in front of what used to be the Peoria Central School, in Old Town Peoria, on 83rd Avenue west of Grand, and was just looking around, and poked my head in the door to ask what all of this was all about, and I found that the beginning of a history museum had been formed. There may or may not have been a sign back then, I don't remember, but I remember Priscilla. She was happy to see someone who had a interest in local history.

The Cook family has some deep roots in Peoria, Arizona, being among the earliest pioneers of that town, going back to the 1800s. At the time I was working on my own family genealogy (which has nothing to do with Arizona) and had decided that old photos and documents meant nothing if I couldn't get a feel for the people. I had developed a taste for trying to imagine their world. And Priscilla gave me a view into what the world must have looked like for people living in the Phoenix area before the invention of air conditioning, or color TV, or anything. It was amazing.

If you've never been to the Peoria History Museum, or Old Town Peoria, I really can't blame you. It's not exactly the Smithsonian, and Old Town Peoria still has a long way to go before anyone but a hard-core fan would call it "quaint". But I see it happening. The improvement in the last twenty years has been slow, but steady.

Image at the top of this post: Priscilla Cook in 1993 in the First Presbyterian Church in Peoria, where she was a member for over 80 years.

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