|Phoenix has a history dating back to 700 AD,
evidenced by the Pueblo Grande Ruins, remains of a civilized, resourceful
and industrious community that inhabited the area. This early civilization
constructed an irrigation system consisting of 135 canals tapping into the
Salt River which provided water for the fertile lands. Mysteriously, this
ancient civilization disappeared in the 1400s, with a severe drought being
the most widely accepted cause for their demise. Later Native Americans
roving the area and witnessing the ruins and canals dubbed them the
Hohokam, meaning 'the people who have gone.'
It was not until 1867 that the seeds for modern day Phoenix were planted. Traveling on horseback, Jack Swilling of Wickenburg stopped to take a rest, looked out upon the vast expanse of desert, experienced the favorable weather and envisioned a farming community. The lack of available water was the primary obstacle, so he organized the Swilling Irrigation Canal Company to divert water to the Valley's land. The year 1868 brought with it the area's first crops. A small colony, Swillings Mill was formed four miles east of modern day Phoenix. The idea for a new name for the tiny settlement was born from the idea that, just as the legendary phoenix rises up from the ashes, the new town would spring from the ruins of a former civilization.
The late 1860s and 1870s brought continued growth to the area with the addition of a post office and steam mill, sounding the horn of emerging industry. With the influx of pioneers continuing, by 1870 Phoenix became the trade center of the southwest and earned a reputation as a wild, lawless western town. The first county election held in 1871 resulted in a gun battle between candidates: J.A. Chenowth and Jim Favorite engaged in a shooting match resulting in Favorite's death and Chenowth's withdrawal from the race. Tom Barnum became the first sheriff of Mariposa County, which was formed when Yavapai County was divided.
The townsite was officially recorded on February 15, 1873 and incorporated in 1881. The beginnings of a bustling city could be seen, complete with the first electric plants in the west located here. Transportation progressed with the first horse drawn streetcar line built along Washington Street in 1887, and strides in transportation would be the primary factor in the growth of the city. The long anticipated arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad rolled into the station soon after. The next few years brought with them triumphs and tragedies with the installation of the first telephone system and the worst flood in Valley history. The 1902 signing of the National Reclamation Act made it possible to build dams on western streams, and the Salt River Valley Water Users' Association was formed to manage the city's most precious commodity, its water supply.
Arizona gained its statehood with the approval of President William Howard Taft on February 14, 1912. Thus began a new era; the farming community declined and Phoenix became a booming metropolis. Within eight years Phoenix boasted a population of 29,000, a total of 1,080 buildings had been constructed and the Heard Building, Arizona's first skyscraper, loomed over the city.
The first true economic boom in Phoenix history was in the 1940s, fueled by the declaration of war. Home to Luke Field, Williams Field, Falcon Field and the giant training center at Hyder, Phoenix became the temporary home to thousands of military men. Having been smitten with the Arizona lifestyle, many of these men returned with their families after the war. Determined to continue the economic rise, local economic boosters targeted companies like Motorola, General Electric, and Reynolds Aluminum, describing Phoenix as the 'new modern city of the West'. Banks issued loans freely and newspapers praised the Valley as a great place to live. The opening of Sky Harbor Airport and the newly affordable air conditioning systems in homes, businesses and cars gave a major boost to the tourism industry, which still flourishes today.
The 1950s brought with it the beginning of a cultural community with the Heard Museum, Phoenix Art Museum and the Phoenix Symphony at its core. The community supported the growth of a small teachers college into what is now Arizona State University in Tempe, another important step in the Valley's expansion.
Migration to the Valley has continued throughout the decades with Phoenix earning the distinction as one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Each year golfing enthusiasts converge in droves, earning Phoenix a reputation as a premier golfing location. Arizona is now one of the few states in the country to host a major league team in all sports. Following the happenings of local teams has become an integral part of the Phoenix lifestyle. The Arizona Cardinals, tracing their roots to 1898, have the distinction of being the oldest continuously run professional football franchise in the nation. The Phoenix Suns burst onto the scene in 1968 and have entertained Valley residents for decades with their superb skills on the court. The new franchise known as the Phoenix Coyotes debuted in 1996, and the long awaited dream to have a baseball team became a reality in 1998 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Residents and visitors alike eagerly anticipated the construction of the Bank One Ballpark, the only sports facility in the world featuring a retractable roof. This forever sealed the fate of downtown Phoenix as a sports icon.
Just as the phoenix rose from the ashes of ruin, so has this city grown from a lost civilization to a major economic, cultural and sports center in the short span of 130 years. There is no indication that the present migration to the Valley of the Sun will be slowing any time soon, as the climate continues to lure snowbirds and businesses alike. Today's new pioneers owe a debt of gratitude to their counterparts who so graciously paved the way to the magnificent modern day city we now enjoy. Traces of the past may be viewed daily at the Phoenix Museum of History downtown.