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

How to understand the streets of Phoenix


If you're new to Phoenix and are looking for some kind of logic, or alphabetical system, to the freeway exits on I-17, you can stop looking. There isn't any. And that's because although Phoenix looks new (Phoenix pretty much tears down most of its buildings every twenty years or so), it's over 100 years old. And the main streets that run east and west have been there for a very long time, and always before the little streets were built between them.

Here are the major east-west streets, starting downtown and going north.

Washington. This runs through downtown. This should be easy to remember. The first President of the United States. Even I can remember that! It goes past the airport and then fades away as it approaches Tempe.

McDowell. This road is just north of the I-10 Freeway. It goes through the Papago Mountains (where there is some pretty interesting scenery and a good golf course) and goes to Scottsdale. Here is a picture of General Irvin (yes, Irvin) McDowell. He fought in the civil war and never even visited Phoenix. I don't see how that could help you to remember, but maybe it will.

Thomas. By the way, some of these are Roads, some of these are Streets, and some of these are Avenues. But it doesn't matter. Everyone just says "Thomas", or "McDowell". It's not like the numbered Avenues and Streets, where you have to be very careful about that. The Thomas farm, in case anyone asks you, goes back to the 1800s. But I doubt that anyone will ask you. It was just the road to William Thomas' farm, and the name hasn't changed.

Indian School. Yes, there was a United States Indian School built in territorial Phoenix. It was there until 1990, believe it or not. Some people just call it Indian, but mostly I hear people say Indian School.

Camelback. That's the road that goes around Camelback Mountain.

Bethany Home. This was the road to the Bethany Home Tuberculosis Sanatorium, a hospital in the early 1900s that specialized in this disease, which affects the lungs.

Glendale. That goes, logically enough, through the city of Glendale, where I am typing this right now.

Northern. Now this is a name that became obsolete pretty quickly. I suppose that it's too late to change it to "not even half-way in Phoenix".

Dunlap. Unfortunately, it's called Olive west of 43rd Avenue. So on the I-17, look for Dunlap, on the 101, look for Olive. Originally called Olive, the City of Phoenix decided to change the name in the 1960s to honor a former mayor. Glendale didn't.

Peoria. Goes to the city of Peoria, which is just west of me.

Cactus. Named after the little town of Cactus, which was northeast of Sunnyslope.

Thunderbird. Now that's a cool name. See any logic to all of this? Neither do I. The name came from the World War II Thunderbird Field, which is where the Thunderbird School of Global Management is, but which is actually on...

Greenway. John Greenway is the most famous Arizona person that no one has ever heard of. If you've heard of him, or his famous wife, I'm impressed.

Bell Road. You guessed it. It went to the Bell farm.

Beardsley. Another Phoenix pioneer.

Deer Valley. There were a lot of deer around there when this area got its name long ago.

Happy Valley. Now that's a Chamber of Commerce name!

I've been collecting information about the names of the streets in Phoenix for a long time, and I post it here. Some of it makes sense, but a lot of it is just goofy. I'm still trying to find my way around here!


Map above: City of Phoenix in 1892.

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