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

Walking under the trees in old-time Phoenix

Walk with me in old-time Phoenix. It's 1915 and Phoenix is a city of trees.

There are old-timers who remember Phoenix before the trees. Fifty years ago this area was just open desert, with riparian areas of a tangle of mesquite, wide and low to the ground.

Then the canals were built, starting in the 1860s, after the Civil War. Jack Swilling saw the big abandoned canals left by the Hohokams, and formed a company to start building modern canals. And the first thing they did was to plant trees.

Looking north up Central from Monroe in 1919 towards a city of trees. You're standing in the Heard Building, which is just north of Adams.

Trees were planted along the canals, along the laterals, along the roads. That's why Phoenix is a forest of trees. Water that had flooded the valley for thousands of years has now been successfully controlled, especially because of the big dam up on the Salt River, called Roosevelt.

It's September, but it's still hot. And what a difference the trees make! We can walk for miles and miles and always be in the shade. I feel sorry for anyone who has to go out into that hot sun! Trees have made all of the difference here in Phoenix, and hopefully they will always be there. It's hard to imagine Phoenix without the trees, but I guess the old-timers saw it. It must have been terrible.

Thank you for walking with me under the trees.

Most of the trees of Phoenix were gone by the 1970s. After being a city of trees for almost 100 years, they disappeared. Some of them, like the Cottonwoods, were drinking up way too much water from the canals, some just had to get out of the way to make room for more lanes, more parking areas, more buildings. Trees had become less important as air conditioning had been perfected.

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