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

Summertime for children in old-time Phoenix


As much as I love Phoenix, I'll admit the summers are awful. They aren't just unpleasantly hot, they're roasting, as in "who in their right mind would live there?" Well, a lot of people do, but I often think about the children, who have no choice.

Speaking for myself, I grew up where the summers are wonderful, Minneapolis, Minnesota. My childhood memories of summer are all about riding my bike around the lakes, and seeing the girls in shorts instead of in parkas. I had the Beach Boys album "Endless Summer" and it wasn't until I moved to Phoenix that the idea of an endless summer seemed anything but wonderful.

So I ask people who were children in Phoenix what it was like. And if you're wondering what "old-time" means here, it means anything from 1870, when Phoenix was first platted, to the childhood of the next person that I talk to who grew up in Phoenix.

I've lived through a lot of Phoenix summers, but not as a kid. By the time I got to Phoenix, in 1977, I was already 19. And I really never gave what kids had to deal with any thought. But I think about it now.

So whether you were a kid just a few years ago, or you were among the children whose parents brought them to Phoenix in the 1870s, if you grew up in Phoenix you just had to deal with the heat. And sure, I've heard people say that it wasn't that hot back "in the day", and it's true that Phoenix is hotter because of the buildings and the asphalt, but it's always been in the Sonoran Desert, which has been brutally hot since the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. So I won't go back that far.

The short answer for what children did in the summer was to find water. It could be a swimming pool, it could be a canal. I've talked to people who simply wallowed in the mud. From what I've learned the harsh weather didn't keep kids inside. They played, they rode their bikes. I've even talked to people who went barefoot all summer, developing such tough skin on the bottom of their feet that they were practically able to walk on hot coals. Of course not all kids could do that, but everyone is different. There were tough kids, sissy kids, kids who climbed on rocks, you know.

As I write this, summer is just beginning, and the thought of an "endless summer" would be just awful. People like me are already pondering trying to get away, who they know in Flagstaff, friends in California. And we'll be counting the days until summer is over. But kids won't do that, they'll love summer the same way that kids who don't have to go to school love it the world over. It's always been that way, and it always will be.

Image at the top of this post: Children at the Central School in the 1890s, Central and Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona. When school lets out you'd better believe they'll be splashing in the canal!

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