West’s Most Western Town- A Brief History of Scottsdale

Early Settlers

In 1888, U.S. Army Chaplain Winfield Scott visited the Salt River Valley, was impressed with its potential, and made a down payment on 640 Acres to start a farming operation. Scott’s purchase, near the heart of present day downtown Scottsdale, would be the catalyst for the development of a city that bears his name.

Scottsdale’s favorable climate, irrigated land, and incredible scenery influenced his decision. While agriculture was his main draw to the city, many people came to Scottsdale in a quest for better health. In fact, around that same time, Arizona became a sanctuary for people suffering from Tuberculosis because of its dry air and relatively isolated location. The first forms of “social distancing”, I suppose. Many of the community’s original settlers were from the Midwest and East coast. They were educated and they had an appreciation of cultural activities. These are the early settlers that established the Scottsdale Public School system. In addition, they supported a rapidly growing artist and writers culture and promoted Scottsdale’s foray into becoming a resort destination with the opening of the Ingleside Inn (1909) and the Jokake Inn ( 1922).

Water in the Desert

Development of a reliable water supply is crucial to the growth of any city, so the construction of the Granite Reef Dam in 1908 and the Roosevelt Dam in 1911 transformed the Salt River Valley and allowed Scottsdale to share in the population boom. Between 1908 and 1933 Scottsdale grew slowly but steadily as a small market town providing services for families involved in the agricultural industry. The area also saw the development of ranching communities throughout the town, thus earning the “West’s Most Western Town” moniker.  A prominent businessman, Doc Crosby, began investing in land in North Scottsdale in 1933, establishing a cattle ranch on 44,000 acres. Now known as DC Ranch, it continued to operate through the 1950’s.

A Growing City 

The depression era saw an influx of artists and architects to Scottsdale including the renowned and revered Frank Lloyd Wright. It was in 1937 that he and his wife purchased 600 desert acres at the foot of the McDowell Mountains and built Taliesin West, his winter home and his architectural firm’s Southwestern Headquarters.

In 1950 Motorola opened a plant near Scottsdale’s western border, signaling the beginning of the advanced technology industry that has continued to grow. In 1966 the company opened another plant within the city on McDowell Road. During this time period and moving in the 1960s, Scottsdale’s population had increased six-fold to nearly 68,000 while its land area increased twelve-fold to 62 square miles. During this decade the city rejected federal plans for a concrete lined ditch to handle floodwaters. They later began work on the Indian Bend Wash greenbelt, an innovative project that turned the wash into a series of parks, golf courses and open space that doubled as a floodwater during infrequent heavy rains. As the city’s population grew, we began to see the development of a series of large-scale, master planned communities.  Examples are  McCormick Ranch, Gainey Ranch, Scottsdale Ranch, McDowell Mountain Ranch, Desert Mountain and DC Ranch.

To this day Scottsdale remains one of the most desirable cities in the country to live in, yet in many ways still retains its small town, western heritage.