Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

The men who built the Arizona Canal in Phoenix, Arizona

If you live in the Phoenix, Arizona area, anywhere from the northwest valley, past the Biltmore, south of Camelback Mountain, or near Indian Bend Road in Scottsdale, you have crossed over the Arizona Canal. Or you may have biked, or walked along it. To me, it's amazing that it starts way up north of Apache Junction and ends west of me, in Peoria. And what's even more astonishing to me is that it was built in 1885, dug by hand, and privately financed.

I have a pretty good imagination for time traveling, but it's hard to imagine anyone building a canal that long way out in the middle of the desert like that. And in addition to the back-breaking work, I am amazed that anyone would finance something like this.

I don't have the names of the men who actually dug the canal, but I have the names of the men who financed it. Or, to be more precise, raised the money to finance it. These guys must have been incredible at sales! Whether you would call them "founding fathers of Phoenix" or just "get rich quick guys", they had vision. Here they are:

William Hancock

William Christy, Valley Bank

Moses Sherman. Californians will recognize him as the founder of Sherman Oaks.

William John Murphy. His house was (and is) at 10 W. Orangewood.

John Y.T. (Yours Truly) Smith. Yes, he legally changed his middle name to Yours Truly.

Clark Churchill. His mansion on 5th Street and Polk was used as the first Phoenix high school.

So the next time you walk or bike along the Arizona Canal, think of these guys. They must have been crazy! But I'm glad they were.

The Arizona Canal in the 1930s.

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  1. I know of one man that was largely responsible for building the canal, because I live in his house: John Ruddle Norton, Murphy's construction foreman from the days they built much of the ATSF railroad through northern Arizona. Murphy started as a grading contractor. The canal was not exactly dug "by hand" so much as by mule. Canal construction was largely an animal labor operation and many of the men were hired to wrangle, feed, and otherwise look after the muke teams.

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