This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Why Mill Avenue in Tempe is called Mill Avenue


I've always had a fascination with the names of things. Sometimes, they really don't mean anything, and sometimes the meanings seems so obvious that it seems that it really can't be true. Like Mill Avenue. But it really was named after a flour mill.

A flour mill, by the way, is a place where grain is ground down from wheat. Before the days of electricity, mill stones were usually powered by wind (you know, like the windmills in Holland) or by water, which what powered the mill in Tempe.

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If you've lived in Tempe, or visited there, you've seen the mill. It's on Mill Avenue (of course) just south of the Rio Salado Parkway, which runs along the Salt River. The original mill was built in 1874, was replaced in 1895, then it burned down, and a new one was built in 1917. As of this writing, that building is still there.

1917 article about the fire, and the new mill building.

And contrary to popular belief, the big towers there (the silos) is not what a mill is. The silos are just for storage. The mill itself is just a building where grain is ground down, on a mill stone. Of course the silos are the landmark that people like me always recognize as the mill, but the mill is the building next to the silos. The silos weren't built until 1951, so often when people look at old photos they're confused, wondering where the mill is? It's there, it's just that the silos were a fairly late addition.

Milling flour was the reason that the town of Tempe was successful, and why it was there, along the river, which is where the wheat could be grown in the river bed. Like most washes in the desert, the Salt River was riparian, and water would flow, and flood, then dry up. So wheat could be grown right there in the river bed, as strange as that sounds.

So if anyone ever asks you were the name of "Mill Avenue" came from, you can just show them the mill. Or hand them a sack of flour.

The Hayden Flour Mill in the 1950s, when the silos were new.

The Hayden Flour Mill in the 1980s.