Phoenix, Arizona has the dual distinction of being the most populous of the state capitals, as well as the only state capital to have more than a million people living in it. Despite sounding like exciting places to live, with the business of government going on right in front of you, most state capitals are not metropolises. In fact, most of them are small, sparsely populated towns. Not Phoenix. It bucks the trend.
Here are all the interesting things you need to know about Phoenix, including its past, how it became a town and then a city, and how it became the state capital of Arizona.
The Native Americans have lived in Phoenix for a long time. There is definite evidence that the Hohokam people were living there as early as 700 A.D., but the region was probably populated even before that. The Hohokam people were among the first to leave records because they were among the first to settle down.
Earlier Native Americans in the area had been hunter/gatherers, who followed the animal herds on their seasonal migrations, so they could have an abundant food supply. The Hohokam were farmers who stayed in one place. This is known because of the approximately 135 miles of irrigation canals they left behind that can still be seen today. These canals were used for getting water to the crops in their fields.
The Hohokam had a good and prosperous time in the Phoenix area. However, all good things must come to an end, and for the Hohokam, that came between 1300 and 1450 A.D., when the area was besieged by droughts and floods. The change in the weather patterns ruined their crops and severely impinged on their ability to plant successful new ones. So, the Hohokam eventually left the area. Other Native groups moved in, some staying, some going, and some coming seasonally with the herds.
Eventually, Spanish explorers and missionaries came to the western part of North America. However, they did not go to Phoenix. Records show that they knew of the area from talking to local Native Americans. However, they did not believe it to be a prosperous or useful area for them, and they stayed away.
In fact, European explorers generally stayed out of the Phoenix area. It was hot, mostly desert, and not considered a suitable area for settlement. In 1867, a man of European descent finally came to the area that would become Phoenix. The man was named Jack Swilling, and he came from the town of Wickenburg, Arizona. Jack saw that the land was good for farming, which the Hohokam figured out centuries before. He also saw that the irrigation there was good, again, thanks to the Hohokam. The only issue he saw with the land was a general lack of rain there.
Since he had already decided the land in Phoenix was worth settling, Jack had a few small canals built there to better irrigate the area, and to bring in water from outside towns to make up for the lack of rain. Once there was sufficient water for farming, a small town slowly built up in the area, about four miles east of where modern-day Phoenix is located.
This small town was named Swilling’s Mill at first but went through a few name changes over the years. Next, it was called Helling Mill, then Mill City, and then East Phoenix. Because Jack became a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, he wanted to name the town Stonewall (after Confederate General Stonewall Jackson). Other people were living in the area by then, though, and they had their own ideas as to what the town should be named.
The name Phoenix was finally decided on when it was suggested by Lord Darrell Duppaa. The residents found it to be an appropriate name, as the phoenix is a mythical bird that rises from its own ashes and lives again after it dies. They knew the Natives were there before them and thought it an appropriate name for a town built on the foundations of a former one.
With Phoenix decided upon as a name, the town grew from a small milling and farming town into a city. More and more people from the surrounding towns in Arizona moved there, and in 1881, Phoenix was finally big enough and important enough in the area to be officially incorporated as a city. When it was incorporated, there were about two and a half thousand people living there, which was a large population for that area at that time.
Judge John T. Alsap became the first mayor of Phoenix that year. The next year, a new city hall was built, and the offices of the city were moved into it. The railroad came soon after and was the first of several upcoming modernizing events that changed Phoenix’s economy from rural and agricultural to commerce. Because of the train, Phoenix was able to become a center of trade in Arizona and the American southwest. The Phoenix Chamber of Commerce was established in 1888.
Arizona was by then an American territory, and the territorial government offices were moved from Prescott, Arizona to Phoenix in 1889. The population of Phoenix continued to grow, and a permanent capitol building was constructed there in 1901, with the city’s population being a little over five thousand at the time. When Arizona was admitted to the union as a state in 1912, Phoenix remained the capital and does so to this day.
Phoenix was chosen as the capital because of its central location in Arizona. It was close to just about everything, or at least within equal distance of everything anyone could need in the state. It was not the largest or most populous city in the state at the time, but that would change over the next few decades. Today, Phoenix is Arizona’s shining star and does the state proud as its capital.