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Phoenix History

Many people presume that because of Phoenix’s recent expansion that the area only has a brief history. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Prehistoric Native Americans lived of the land within the Salt River Valley dating back 20,00 to 40,000 years ago.

Hohokam Indians
The Hohokam Indians were the first long-term settlers. They farmed the land and dug nearly 250

miles of canals that were used to irrigate their crops. The Hohokam remained in the valley for nearly 1,700 years then mysteriously disappeared in the late 14th century. Modern day archeologists differ on their theories of what might have happened to these ancient people. Hohokam actually is a Pima Indian word that translates to “those who have gone”.

The Pueblo Revolt
The Spanish arrived in 1539 and claimed the area for Spain. They are also credited with naming Arizona, which means “arid zone”. In 1680 the Native Americans living in Arizona rose up against the Spanish settlers and ultimately drove them out. The conflict later became know as the Pueblo Revolt. Ten years later the Spanish returned with much greater numbers. This time the Native Americans could not fight them off.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Mexico won their independence from Spain in 1821. Meanwhile the American was expanding westward. The United States clashed with Mexico over the southwestern territories and the dispute erupted into a bloody conflict that the United States ultimately won. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed by both parties on Feb. 2nd 1848 and recognized the region now know as New Mexico, California, and Arizona as part of the United States. Then in 1854, the U.S. further expanded the territory with the Gadsden Purchase, which included a strip of land in what is now southern Arizona.

Fort McDowell
The New Mexico territory was officially formed and the capital was established in Santa Fe. This made many of the locals in Arizona unhappy. Santa Fe was a long ways from Arizona and they wanted a more direct link to voice their concerns during the Civil War. Arizona formed its own territory on Feb. 24th 1863. The U.S. army shortly thereafter established Fort McDowell on the Verde River to ward off Apache attacks.

Jack Swilling Canal Company
A man named Jack Swilling, who oddly fought for both sides during the Civil War, setup a farm in Arizona in 1867. Soon after he began cleaning up and rebuilding the old Hohokam canals. He received backing from investors and started the Swilling Irrigation and Canal Company. As a result, the area began to grow rapidly. The old canals were so well designed that the valley soon became the best agricultural area in the territory.

Phoenix Post Office
As the area continued to grow, locals wanted to give their settlement a name. A newcomer named Lord Darrel Duppa chose the name Phoenix, after the mythical bird that rises to new life out of its own ashes. Others were taking with the name and the Phoenix Post Office was established on June 15th 1869 making the matter official.

Samuel Lount
Phoenix was still a frontier town, lacking many luxuries, and the summer heat left much to be desired. However, from the clever-minded there were endless opportunities. Samuel Lount, who had invented a mechanical icemaker while living in Canada, recognized the opportunities for his ice-maker and moved to Phoenix during the 1870s. He later became one of the wealthiest men in Arizona. His daughter would later become one Phoenix’s most prominent developers and an advocate for women’s rights.

Arizona’s Capital
The canal system continued to be improved and Phoenix’s population climbed into the thousands. Mining towns popped up around the area and a route connecting Phoenix to the Transcontinental Railroad (which passed 30 miles south of Phoenix) was constructed in 1886. Soon after the capital was moved from Prescott to Phoenix, much to the dismay of folks living in Tucson. In the following years over $500,000 was invested in building projects including Federally projects like the Roosevelt Dam. By 1910, over 10,000 people were living in Phoenix. The territory was admitted as the 48th State of the Union on Feb. 14th 1912.

A Resort Town
Phoenix began building its reputation as a health resort town in early 1900s. It was touted that the low humidity, mild winters, and clean air was good for people with respiratory problems. Tourism became a major industry and area was dubbed the “The Valley of the Sun” in an effort to further encourage tourism.

During WWI farmers recognized the demand for cotton and shifted their focus to farming cotton fields. To this day, cotton is still an important part of the economy. WWII brought hordes of GIs to the valley for desert combat training.

The invention of the Swap Cooler is really what spurred Phoenix into the major metropolitan and business center that it is today. Swamp Coolers are still used to this day as a cheaper alternative to traditional air-conditioning systems. Air blows through a damp pad cooling indoor areas and ultimately making life in the Arizona heat more bearable. This attracted many more people and businesses to Phoenix. Today there are about 3 million people living in the Greater Phoenix metro, which includes Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, Glendale, Peoria, and Gilbert.


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