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!

Flies and mosquitos in old-time Phoenix


I enjoy visiting old-time Phoenix in my imagination, but the more I learn about it, the happier I am in modern day. The first thing that springs to my mind, of course, is air conditioning, but this morning I'm thinking of flies and mosquitos.

I live in the suburbs, and at this time of year, after the monsoon rains, there are flies and mosquitos. Just a few, of course, but they're still pests. Like all insects, including butterflies, they're mostly attracted to water, and since I have a garden, and trees, there's water. Not standing water, of course, but there's still water. Water on the pedals of the flowers, moisture on the plants. Enough to attract insects. I also have a dog, and even though I'm clean up her "messes" in the backyard, often several times a day, that kind of thing attracts flies. And today I'm thinking about the number of flies and mosquitos in old-time Phoenix, and how difficult it would have been to get away from them, as opposed to today.

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Like most modern suburban houses, mine is sealed up pretty tight. When I close it up and turn on the air conditioning, there isn't much chance of insects getting in. One or two may fly in as I go in and out of the house, but that's all. But before the days of air conditioning, and sealed-up houses like mine, insects could fly in just about any time they wanted to. And yes, the old houses had screens on the doors and windows, but they weren't sealed up like a modern house. Flies and mosquitos could get in easily.

And then you have to consider how most properties were watered in Phoenix up until just a few decades ago, with flood irrigation. My house has a drip system, which delivers water directly to the roots of the plants, a technique known as "xeriscaping". But flood irrigation (which is still in use in older parts of the valley) did exactly what the name sounds like - it flooded the property, and the water stood there until it soaked in. Very scenic to look at, but also very attractive to insects, especially mosquitos.

Speaking of which, there were open laterals. A lateral is a sort of "mini-canal" that brings water into the neighborhoods from the canals. Most of them have been covered over in the past few decades, but before that, they were always open, with water standing in them, attracting flies and mosquitos.

Going back further in time, there were horses. Lots of horses. Don't get me wrong, I love horses, and they're beautiful, but they attract flies. This isn't a criticism of horses, this is just a horse thing. And even after automobiles (horseless carriages) were invented, there were still a LOT of horses in Phoenix. And no one was obliged to pick up after them, although the city did the best it could. Having a lot of horses around attracts a lot of flies!

Thanks for visiting old-time Phoenix with me. But can we go inside now to get away from the flies? I saw two of them already!


Image at the top of the post: Looking east at the Clark Churchill Mansion in the 1890s, which was at 5th Avenue north of Van Buren, Phoenix, Arizona.