This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

The difference between the canals of Phoenix, and the aqueducts of Los Angeles


Everyone knows that Phoenix, Arizona is in the desert. There's precious little water there, and in order for things to grow, and for people to live there, water has to be brought in. But most people have no idea that Los Angeles does exactly the same thing. It just looks different.

The canals of Phoenix are right out there, and have been since the first ones were dug by the Phoenix pioneers in the 1860s. The water comes from the Salt River, which flows from the northeast, starting as snowmelt in the mountains, is held back in dams, and then distributed all over the valley in canals. Yes, that's where your drinking water, and the water you use to water your plants, and everything else, comes from if you live in the Phoenix area. A tiny percentage comes from the Colorado River, too, and it also travels along in canals.

The water in and around Los Angeles isn't so visible. Instead of open canals, it runs through pipes, from aqueducts coming from the Owens Valley, and the Colorado River. The Owens River water arrived in 1913, and the Colorado River water started arriving after Hoover Dam was completed, in 1933.

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I've lived in both Los Angeles and in Phoenix, and have been interested in their history for a long time. And yes, it's all about the water. Without water, those cities wouldn't exist. And it took some amazing engineering, and some "unreasonable optimism" to make it happen. It's been so successful that most people never give it a thought. And that's how it should be.



I've always loved the canals of Phoenix. I've ridden my bike along them, and walked my dog, more times that I can count. The banks of the canals have been open for public use since the first canals were built, and they still are. And remember that this is water that's coming IN, not water that's going out. The canals are not storm drains, or sewers. That's water from the Salt River there, and yes, there are fish in there. Don't worry, they clean it up before you brush your teeth with it!

I really can't show you the water coming into Los Angeles, it's as hidden away as the sewers. But it's there, and there is a constant battle to keep the reservoirs filled, and the water flowing, just like in Phoenix.


Image at the top of this post: the Arizona Canal in 2014, Phoenix, Arizona, with my wiener dog, Macintosh

Walking along Millionaire's Row in the 1890s, Phoenix, Arizona


Let's talk a walk in Phoenix, Arizona in the 1890s. I'd like to see Millionaire's Row, so come along with me.

As of this writing, only one of the great mansions on Millionaire's Row still exists. It's the Rosson House, which is on Monroe and 6th Street. When it was new, there were gigantic Victorian Houses all of the way from Central on Monroe. The Catholic Church was there, and still is, on 4th Street.

The Rosson House in 1896, and today

The streets aren't paved yet, so let's walk in nice weather. Of course the wealthy people who live in those houses aren't there in the summer, so let's say it's a pleasant day in the winter. And since there are so many trees, we can see the houses better because the leaves have fallen.

7th Street (called Apache at the time) is the end of the city limits. The city limits to the north are Van Buren, just south of the canal, which most people just call the town ditch, or Swilling's Ditch, but is actually named the Salt River Valley Canal.

Wow, just look at those mansions! The one there on the left is the Jacobs House, and next to it is the Dennis House. They're on the north side of Monroe, just west of 3rd Street. Looks like there's a carriage out there, waiting to pick someone up. Beautiful horses, too. I'm guessing that these people made their fortunes with gold, or maybe some type of business.

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This street is the pride of Phoenix, and hopefully these mansions will always be preserved. It would be a shame if they were knocked down, and forgotten. But I guess that happens.

Thanks for walking with me.

The end of the Jacobs House in 1964


Image at the top of this post: the Jacobs House (on the left) and the Dennis House in the 1890s, 3rd Street and Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona, on Millionaire's Row.