What do Phoenix, Arizona and Jamestown, Virginia--the first permanent English settlement in America--have in common?  John Smith was instrumental in the establishment of both towns.  More precisely, a John Smith helped establish each town.  Our John Smith was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army at Fort McDowell, which was established 258 years after Jamestown's settlement in 1607.  When Lieutenant Smith mustered out of the Army not long after the fort was opened, he decided to stay in the valley and sell hay to the post.  He located what was to become know as "Smiths Station" eighteen miles south of the fort, near present day 40th Street and Washington.  It was there in the flood plain of the Salt River that he had seen wild hay growing.

In 1867 Smiths Station was visited by a gregarious redheaded adventurer named Jack Swilling.  Swilling, then thirty-seven, had been an Indian fighter, Union scout, Confederate officer, and gold prospector.  His project this time was to clean out some of the ancient canals built by the Hohokam Indians and bring water from the Salt River to the dry valley land.  Between 700 A.D. and 1100 A.D., the Hohokams had engineered an extensive network of canals to grow barley, cotton, and other crops in the desert.PH1  With $400 raised from investors and an initial labor force of 16, the Swilling Irrigation Canal Company cleared a ditch running from the Salt River near present day 40th Street, north to Van Buren, and west to around 27th Avenue.

By 1870, the federal census gave the valley a population of 164 men and 61 women, all between the ages of twenty-one and thirty.  It was time that an official town site be selected.  In October, the valley citizens met to select some public land for a town.  The site eventually selected was on the North bank of the Salt River.  The first lot, at the corner of Washington and Montezuma (now First Street), sold for $104 in December, 1870.

A lot of lots have been sold since the first one, and a lot of people have moved to Phoenix.  So many have come that Phoenix surpassed Tucson as the largest city in the state in 1920.  In 1950, Phoenix was named among the nation's 100 largest cities, though just barely.  In the 2000 census, it was listed as the sixth largest city in the U.S.

Phoenix PopulationPH2
Year Rank Population Sq Miles Density
(pop. per sq. mile)
1870 - 225  - -
1880 - 1,708  1.5* 1,138
1885 - 8,500  1.5* 5,666
1950 99 106,818 17.1 6,247
1960 29 439,170 187.4 2,343
1970 20 581,562 247.9 2,346
1980 9 789,704 324.0 2,437
1990 9 983,403 419.9 2,342
2000 6 1,321,045    
Site of the Hohokam, Swilling and Grand canals.
Phoenix quite literally rose from the ashes, dust and canals of a previous civilization.  Today the Grand Canal passes the site of the Hohokam ruins south of Washington near 40th street where Swilling dug out the Indian canals to bring a second civilization to Phoenix.  8-01
The oldest house in Phoenix.
The Phoenix skyline rises above the two bedroom adobe home at 116 West Sherman which "Lord" Duppa build between 1868 and 1872.  It would be the oldest house still standing in Phoenix if it weren't a reproduction.  7-01
Railroad underpass on Central.
The second of two adjoining railroad underpasses on Central Avenue. 7-01
Phoenix from the Westward Ho.
The Phoenix skyline obscuring South Mountain from the Westward Ho observation deck. 11-00

Footnotes and Sources for Phoenix History:

PH1.  The Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park at 4619 E. Washington Street, is near the beginning of the Swilling canal.  The park features archaeological excavation of Hohokam ruins, and recreation of some of their dwellings. Back to text

PH2.  Phoenix Population table:  Rank refers to rank according to population among U.S. Cities.  Sources for population data are:
1870: Trimble, Marshall, Roadside History of Arizona, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, 1986, p. 149.
1870: Id, p. 152.
1885: Dyer, C. J.,  Map of Phoenix, circa 1985, Cities & Towns, Library of Congress.
1950-1990: Campbell Gibson, POPULATION OF THE 100 LARGEST CITIES AND OTHER URBAN PLACES IN THE UNITED STATES: 1790 TO 1990, U.S. Bureau of the Census, June 1998.
2000: American FactFinder, U.S. Census Bureau.
Back to text

_______, "Jamestown (Virginia)," "Phoenix (city, Arizona)," "Smith, John (colonizer)," Microsoft� Encarta� Encyclopedia 2001, Microsoft Corporation, 1993-2000.

Barnes, Will C.,  Arizona Place Names, The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1997,  pp. 327-328.

Trimble, Marshall, Roadside History of Arizona, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, 1986, pp. 147-156.