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How to find the original Phoenix Settlement today

Serious history buffs know that Phoenix, Arizona did not begin at Central and Washington, it began at 40th Street. This is where men like Jack Swilling, William Hellings, and John Y.T. Smith established The Phoenix Settlement, which has been called, among other things, Mill City and Pumpkinville.

The competition between the Phoenix Townsite (the one we know today as downtown Phoenix) and The Phoenix Settlement (which has disappeared) was fierce back in 1870. And it all begins with the most important thing in the desert, water.

Jack Swilling and company, after pondering the gigantic abandoned canals that they saw around the Salt River Valley in the late 1860s, decided to try it for themselves. The first canal was called "Swilling's Ditch", and it was an immediate success. By 1870, many more canals were being dug by various companies around the valley, including the one by Charles Trumball Hayden in Tempe.

Finding the original canals that went through Mill City (or the Phoenix Settlement) is difficult, but not impossible. The City of Phoenix has placed no plaques or monuments anywhere, proclaiming "the birthplace of Phoenix". There was a marker indicating the original home of Jack Swilling, somewhere along Washington, but it was knocked down in 2004 and has been lost, and no one at the City of Phoenix quite knows exactly where it was.

To find Mill City, look for The Maricopa Canal. No, the canal itself has been gone for years, but you can still clearly see its path in Google Satellite View. In fact, Randolph Road is still there, which ran next to it, and you can still see it continue on north of The Celebrity Theater. To find Swilling's Ditch, look slightly southwest. These old canals have become storm drains, so they are still there, underground. In the dirt lot just west of 32nd Street south of Van Buren, the outline of Swilling's Ditch is still very visible.

So, to find the original Phoenix Settlement, just follow Swilling's Ditch north by northwest. Look for the Arizona State Hospital at 24th Street and Van Buren. William Helling's Mill was just east of it, which would be the center of Mill City, or Pumpkinville, the original Phoenix Settlement.

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