City of Mesa, AZ

Mesa Heritage Wall

In 1999, a group of Mesa citizens was assembled by the Arizona Museum of Natural History to create a list of the most significant events to shape Mesa’s development since its founding on Feb. 14, 1878.  Following months of research, discussion and debate, the group came up with 49 items it considered to be history-making events.  Text for the plaques was developed with the help of Valley historian Mark Pry. 

Mesa Heritage Wall Dedication, February 14, 2002These events were then transferred to bronze plaques on Mesa City Plaza's "Heritage Wall," located at 20 E. Main Street in downtown Mesa. In the photo, former Mesa City Council Member Pat Pomeroy (right) assists Bob DeVinny of Diversified Foundry with the installation of the final plaque at a dedication ceremony held Feb. 14, 2002. 


Mesa's Founding
Building A Town
Salt River Reservation
Little Adobe School
1883 Incorporating The City 1892 
First Newspaper
Early Churches
Arrival of the Railroad
Turning On The Lights
Telephones for Mesa
Vance Auditorium
Mesa High School
Cotton Farming
Cars Come To Town
Farmers Paradise
Escobedo Neighborhood
Washington Community
New City Buildings
Southside Hospital
Arizona Temple
Expanding City Limits
New Deal 
for Mesa
Rendezvous Park
Air Bases
A Divided Town
Radio and Television
Integrated Schools
Mesa Junior 
High School
Civil Rights for All
Shopping Centers
Space Age 
Mesa Comm. College
Saving Mesa's History
Dobson Ranch
Superstition Freeway
All America City
Arts In 
Fastest Growing City
Celebrating Diversity
Mesa Arts Center
Excellence in Aerospace
Light Rail Arrives in Mesa
Preservation leads to Revitalization

1878: Mesa’s Founding
The town of Mesa was founded by Mormons who arrived in the Salt River Valley on February 14, 1878. They were the second group of Mormon colonists to relocate to the valley from Utah and Idaho. The Mesa Company, as the colonists called themselves, set up a townsite and moved into their simple brush and adobe homes in the fall of 1878.  Within four years, about 300 people were living in Mesa.


1878: BuildingA Town
The original Mesa townsite was one mile square.  The streets were very wide, and lots were large  (1.25 acres) to encourage residents to plant gardens. Each family was given land based on how much labor it had contributed to building the Mesa Canal. The dirt streets were lined with irrigation ditches that carried water to gardens, yards and pastures.


1878: Mesa Canal
The Hohokam people lived in the Salt River Valley for hundreds of years, building a canal system to water their fields. They left the valley in the 1400s, but their canals remained. When colonists arrived in February 1878, they used an abandoned Hohokam canal for part of their first irrigation project, the Mesa Canal. Shareholders in the Mesa Canal Company were paid $1.50 per day to work on the project, which was completed in October 1878.


1879: Salt River Reservation
Around 1870, many Pima and Maricopa Indians left their Gila River reservation and settled on the Salt River. In 1879, President Rutherford Hayes established a new reservation for them that covered much of the Salt River Valley, closing large tracts of land to settlement. After protests from non-Indian residents, Hayes changed his mind and created a smaller reservation, which became known as the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.


1882: Little Adobe School
The first permanent school in Mesa was an adobe building erected in 1882 at Center and 2nd Avenue. However, it was not the first school in Mesa. The Mesa colonists, who organized a school district soon after their arrival in 1878, first educated their children in a series of temporary buildings, one of which was a brush shed. The 1882 schoolhouse was demolished in 1890. It was replaced by the first Lincoln School, which was torn down in 1920.


1883: Incorporating the City
On July 15, 1883, the town of Mesa City was incorporated after residents asked the county for permission to establish a local government. At the first election, in which 29 Mesa residents voted, 10 city officials were elected. For many years Mesa’s government remained small. On the eve of the Second World War, when Mesa’s population was just over 7,000, the city had an annual budget of $294,000 and owned one building at 1st Street and Macdonald.


1892: First Newspaper
Mesa’s earliest newspaper, the Mesa Free Press, was first published in September 1892. A weekly paper, it consisted of four pages. In 1949, after several changes in title and publishing frequency, the paper became the Daily Tribune. By 2000, after more than a century of continuous publication, the paper was called the East Valley Tribune. It served not only Mesa but also other cities in the eastern part of the Salt River Valley.


1893: Early Churches 
The earliest church buildings in Mesa were erected before statehood. By 1893, Methodists had a sanctuary on 1st Avenue near Center, and Baptists had a building at 1st Avenue and Macdonald. The first Mormon tabernacle was constructed in 1896, at 1st Avenue and Morris. Local Catholics founded the Sacred Heart mission in 1908, at 2nd Street near Crismon (later Country Club). Mesa’s Episcopalians built St. Mark’s mission on Pepper Place in 1911. 


1895: Arrival of the Railroad
Rail service came to Mesa in December 1895, when the Maricopa & Phoenix & Salt River Valley Railroad began running trains between Mesa and Tempe. For years Mesa passengers changed trains in Tempe or Phoenix if they were leaving the Salt River Valley. In 1926, the Southern Pacific routed its main line through Mesa. Regular passenger service to Mesa ended in 1958. The Robson Street depot was closed in 1982 and destroyed by fire in 1989.


1898: Turning On The Lights 
Mesa acquired electricity in 1898, when a hydroelectric power plant was built on the new Crosscut Canal. At first the power was used only for streetlights. Later it was sold to businesses and residents, who suffered periodic blackouts when the canal ran low. Two years later, service was improved by a steam generating plant. In 1917, the private utility company was purchased by the city, which has supplied power to residents ever since.


1902: Telephones for Mesa
Telephone service came to Mesa in 1902, when Consolidated Telephone set up a switchboard in the rear of a local store. By 1924, when the company was called Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph, there were only 780 telephones in Mesa. Local switchboards were phased out after 1949, when direct-dial service became available. Mountain States was later acquired by Mountain Bell.


1908: Vance Auditorium 
The Vance Auditorium opened on Valentine’s Day in 1908. Advertised as the largest hall of its kind in Arizona, it was Mesa’s most important gathering place for many years as it was the scene of dances, theater productions and speeches by visiting politicians. In 1919, the building was purchased by the LDS Maricopa Stake, which later renamed it the Mezona—a contraction of Mesa and Arizona.  In 1971, the hall was torn down and replaced by the Mezona Motel.


1909: Mesa High School 
Mesa Union High School opened its first building at 2nd Avenue and Center in 1909, after holding classes in temporary facilities for ten years. The school’s motto, “Carry On,” was inspired by the last words spoken by a student before his accidental death in 1932. The “Old Main” building was destroyed by fire in 1967. Five years later, in 1972, Mesa High was moved to a new location on Southern Avenue.


1911: Roosevelt Dam
On March 18, 1911, former President Theodore Roosevelt pushed a button to release water from the reservoir behind Roosevelt Dam. It was the first large-scale irrigation project to be financed by the federal government, and it provided a stable water supply for both agricultural and urban use. Roosevelt Dam and the Salt River Project paved the way for the phenomenal growth of Mesa and other Salt River Valley communities during the twentieth century.


1912: Cotton Farming
One of Mesa’s earliest cotton gins was built by the Egyptian Cotton Company in 1912. Soon thousands of acres of land were planted with cotton. Mesa celebrated this new industry in 1919 with the King Kotton Karnival and a meeting of the Arizona Cotton Congress. The cotton boom was followed by lean years after prices fell in 1920. Eventually the market stabilized and cotton joined citrus as an important crop for Mesa farmers.


1912: CarsCome To Town
In 1912, the first year of Arizona statehood, there were 109 automobiles and trucks in Mesa, one for every 15 residents. Within a few years, enough cars were on the road to raise concerns about traffic enforcement. A police officer was stationed on the Mesa-Tempe highway in 1916, parking meters were installed on Main Street in 1946 and Mesa’s first traffic light was erected in 1950. Six years later, in 1956, Arizona’s first automobile show was held in Mesa.


1914: Farmers Paradise 
Agriculture in Mesa was more than just citrus and cotton. Mesa farmers also raised grain, melons, alfalfa, grapes, nuts and vegetables. Livestock, dairy and poultry farming were important as well. In 1914, the University of Arizona established a research station on Main Street, just west of Alma School Road. Until it was closed in 1983, the station tested new crops and helped local farmers improve their irrigation and farming methods.


1914: Apache Trail
The road connecting Roosevelt Dam with Mesa was completed in 1904, but it was not until 1914 that it was called the Apache Trail. The new name originated with the Southern Pacific Railroad, which carried tourists over the road in automobiles and wanted a colorful name to attract customers. Along with El Portal Hotel, which opened in 1928, the Apache Trail started Mesa’s tourism industry. By 1952, tourism was the city’s second-largest industry.


1916: Escobedo Neighborhood
In 1916, the Verde Vista subdivision was created, offering Mexican Americans their first real opportunity to buy homes in the Mesa area. Located north of University between Sirrine and Pasadena, Verde Vista grew rapidly in the 1920s. The center of Mesa’s Mexican-American community, it was home to a mixture of residences and small businesses. Later it was called the Escobedo neighborhood, after a local housing project of the same name built in the 1940s.


1917: Women's Club
The Woman’s Club of Mesa was founded in 1917 to sponsor civic, cultural and philanthropic activities. Club members helped support Mesa’s first library, led a safety campaign to cover open irrigation ditches, offered aid to needy families during the Depression, and raised money for local hospitals and other charitable organizations. The Woman’s Club building on Macdonald Street was built in 1931 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


1920: Washington Community
African Americans came to Mesa starting in the early 1900s, but discrimination kept them from owning homes in the original townsite. The first housing subdivision to welcome them as buyers and residents was the Mitchell Addition, created in 1920 on land north of University and east of Center. Together with another subdivision, Tuskegee Place, it soon became known as the Washington neighborhood, after the school of the same name.


1920: New City Buildings
In 1920, Mesa built its first modern fire station. Located on Macdonald Street, the station was part of a civic center that also included a city hall constructed in 1912. The hall was demolished in 1937 to make way for a new city hall, library and police station built with funds from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The fire station remained in use until 1963. The 1937 city hall is now part of the Arizona Museum of Natural History.


1920: Southside Hospital
Mesa’s first community hospital was established in 1920, when a group of citizens purchased a home at Main Street and Hibbert and converted it into a hospital. In 1923, it was incorporated as Southside District Hospital. It moved into a new building in 1935 and continued to grow steadily. In 1973, after merging with Phoenix’s Good Samaritan Hospital, Southside was closed and replaced by Desert Samaritan Hospital near Southern and Dobson.


1927: Arizona Mormon Temple
On October 23, 1927, Salt River Valley Mormons dedicated the Arizona Temple, whose design was inspired by Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Planning and fund raising for the project had started in 1912. Upon its completion, local Mormons no longer had to travel to Utah to be married. The Easter service held on the temple grounds began in 1938. The building was rededicated in 1975 after a major renovation.


1927: Mesa Grande
Fearing the loss of an archaeological treasure, the Mesa Chamber of Commerce campaigned in 1927 for the city to buy and preserve Mesa Grande, a Hohokam ruin located northeast of the original Mesa townsite. The city declined to purchase the ruin and it remained in private hands. Fortunately the site was voluntarily preserved by its owners, and archaeologists were later able to conduct research at Mesa Grande. The city eventually acquired the ruin in 1987.


1930: Expanding City Limits
During its first fifty years, Mesa’s incorporated area remained within the original one-mile-square townsite. This changed in 1930, when the city annexed six subdivisions and doubled in size. Since then Mesa has grown steadily, especially after the Second World War. In 1950, the city was just over six square miles in area and had a population of nearly 17,000. By 2000, it was 125 square miles in area and had 396,375  residents.


1931: Citrus Fair
By the early 1890s, several citrus orchards had been planted on the outskirts of Mesa. From those simple beginnings grew one of the city’s most important industries. Thousands of acres were planted with oranges, lemons and grapefruit, and packing sheds and warehouses were built. In 1931, the Salt River Valley Citrus Fair was started in Mesa. It was later combined with the Maricopa County Fair, which was held at the Mesa Civic Center until 1959.


1935: New Deal for Mesa
In December 1935, men hired by the federal Works Progress Administration began building a new library and city hall for Mesa. Over the next six years, many projects in the city were built by the WPA, which provided jobs to unemployed men. These included improvements to the Lehi and old Franklin schools, an addition to Southside Hospital, swimming facilities at Rendezvous Park and several miles of new concrete sidewalks and paved streets.


1937: Public Library
Mesa’s library found its first permanent home in 1937, when it moved into the new Mesa city hall at 1st Street and Macdonald. Opened in 1906 as a free reading room, the library at first was run by volunteers and housed in a series of downtown commercial buildings. In 1926, the city of Mesa took over the library’s management. The library moved to 1st Street and Sirrine in 1960, and a new building was constructed on 1st Street near Centennial Way in 1981.


1937: Air Conditioning
In January 1937, the Mesa Journal-Tribune invited residents to visit its demonstration home, which featured a refrigerated air conditioning system. Mesans had been experimenting with cooling systems since the early 1900s, and evaporative coolers became popular starting in the 1930s. Refrigeration was more expensive and not widely used until after the Second World War. Its eventual adoption paved the way for the postwar growth of the Salt River Valley.


1938: Rendezvous Park
In May 1938, Mesa residents dedicated their first city park, Rendezvous Park. It boasted a swimming pool, bathhouse, skating rink, tennis courts and a floodlit baseball field. Located at 2nd Street and Center, the park had been created with volunteer labor. The baseball field was built in 1920, a swimming pool was added in 1924 and the city’s parks department was established in 1936. Later, the field was used for spring training games from 1952 until 1977.


1941: Military Bases
With war raging in Europe, two military airports were built near Mesa in 1941. Falcon Field was built to train British pilots, and Williams Field was set up for American pilots. After the war, Falcon Field was closed and turned over to the city of Mesa, which converted it into a municipal airport. Williams Field (later Air Force Base) continued to operate as a training base until 1993. It was acquired by the city in 1994 and reopened as Williams Gateway Airport.


1942: A Divided Town
In February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered Japanese Americans living in parts of the West to leave their homes. At the time, Mesa was home to a thriving Japanese-American community. Those who lived in the security zone, whose boundary was Main Street, were forced to sell their businesses and leave. Several families were sent to internment camps. Those who lived out-side the zone, mostly in Lehi, were prohibited from crossing Main Street.

1947: First Television
Mesa’s first radio station, KARV, went on the air in January 1947. It was followed by KTYL, another local station that operated under several names until the 1980s, when it was sold and re-named KZZP. Mesa’s first and only television station was KTYL-TV, which began broadcasting in 1953 from studios on the Mesa-Tempe highway. After several name and ownership changes, the television station moved to Phoenix, where it became KPNX-TV.


1951: Integrated Schools 
In 1951, Arizona began integrating its schools three years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional.  Two Mesa schools were integrated-Daniel Webster School in the 1940’s and Booker T. Washington School in 1954.  The Daniel Webster School had been built for Mexican-American children in 1910 and remained in use until 1948.  The Booker T. Washington School was built in 1920 for African-American children and remained standing until 1976.


1952: Chicago Cubs 
Mesa became the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs in 1952. The Cubs played at Rendezvous Park through 1965, later moving to Scottsdale. The Oakland Athletics trained in Mesa from 1969 through 1978, first at Rendezvous and then at Hohokam Stadium, which was built in 1977. In 1979, the Cubs returned to Mesa. In 1997, the original Hohokam Stadium was torn down and replaced by a new stadium.


1952: Mesa Junior High
Mesa’s first junior high school opened in 1952, bringing the number of schools in the Mesa district to seven. In the years that followed, the district continued to build schools to keep up with the city’s rapid growth. Forty-two new grade schools opened between 1950 and 1990, along with nine junior high schools and five high schools. By 1990, Mesa Unified School District No. 4 was the largest school system in the state and the largest employer in the city.


1953: Civil Rights for All
In May 1953, a group of Mesa citizens organized the Better Community Council to fight racial discrimination. At the time, public facilities in Mesa were segregated. There were even separate black and white restrooms at the city hall. The Better Community Council lobbied Mesa restaurants and hotels to sign non-discrimination pledges. The group also led a successful effort to integrate the Rendezvous Park swimming pool.


1954: Shopping Centers 
Mesa’s first shopping center opened in 1954 at the northeast corner of 4th Avenue (now Broadway) and Mesa Drive. It had a Wright’s grocery store, nine other stores and an off-street parking lot. The city’s first indoor shopping center was Tri-City Mall, which opened in 1968 and closed in 1998. The next was Fiesta Mall, which opened in 1979. A third, Superstition Springs Center, became Mesa’s largest shopping mall when it opened in 1990.


1957: Space-Age City
In 1957, a rocket engine manufacturer, Talco, moved its research division to Falcon Field, starting Mesa’s high-technology industry. It was joined in 1960 by Talley Defense Systems, which became Talley Industries, Mesa’s first homegrown Fortune 500 company. In 1966, Motorola opened a plant at Broadway and Dobson. In 1982, Hughes Helicopter opened its Apache helicopter factory, which later became part of McDonnell Douglas and then Boeing.


1963: Mesa Community College
Mesa Community College opened in 1963 as a branch of Phoenix College. In that first year, 615 students and 20 instructors met at Main Street and Extension, in what later became the Landmark Restaurant. Three years later, in 1966, Mesa Community College opened its new campus at Southern and Dobson with 2,100 students. By the year 2000, the college had an enrollment of 24,000 and had established the Red Mountain branch campus in east Mesa.


1966: Saving Mesa's History 
The Mesa Historical and Archaeological Society was founded in 1966. An earlier society had been started in 1955, but it soon disbanded. The Society’s first project was the Park of the Canals, which became a city park in 1977. The Society also started the Mesa Museum, which opened in 1977 and later became the city-operated Arizona Museum of Natural History. In 1984, the Society acquired the old Lehi School, which eventually became the Mesa Historical Museum.


1967: City Charter
After the Second World War, Mesa’s city government changed to keep pace with the city’s growth. A city manager was hired in 1952, and a manager-council form of government was formally adopted in 1955. Mesa voters approved the city’s first charter in 1967. This gave the city home rule, freeing it from supervision by the Arizona legislature. It also provided for direct election of the mayor. In 1968, Mesa residents elected their mayor for the first time.


1973: Dobson Ranch
Model homes in Dobson Ranch opened for buyers in October 1973. The first master-planned community in Mesa, Dobson Ranch was sometimes called a city within a city. It featured artificial lakes and a golf course, and it was governed by a homeowners’ association that enforced rules on the appearance of individual houses. By the early 1990s, more than 10,000 residents lived there, making it one of the largest planned communities in Arizona.


1977: Superstition Freeway
The first freeway to reach Mesa’s city limits opened in July 1977, when the Superstition was completed to Dobson Road. The Superstition had been planned since 1962, after Mesa was bypassed by Interstate 10. It was completed nearly thirty years later, in 1991, when it joined US Highway 60 near Apache Junction. Mesa’s second freeway, the Price (Loop 101) opened in 1991. The Red Mountain Freeway (Loop 202) reached Mesa in 1997.


1979: All-America City 
In May 1979, Mesa was named an All-America City by the National Municipal League. Mesa was honored for its efforts to address community problems through cooperation among citizens, schools, civic groups and local governments, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Among the projects praised by the League were the founding of the Tri-Cities Community Service Center and a cleanup campaign along the Salt River.


1980: Arts In Mesa
Mesa Arts Center, the first community arts center, opened in 1980. Located in the historic Irving School building, it offered arts classes, performances and exhibits. Its opening continued a long tradition of local arts organizations that began in 1937 with the founding of the Mesa Little Theater. Others have included the Mesa Art League (1955), Mesa Symphony Orchestra (1956), Mesa Musical Theater (1966) and Xicanindio Artes (1975). 


1990: Fastest-Growing City
Between 1980 and 1990, Mesa was one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States with populations over 100,000. During that decade, Mesa’s population rose from 152,000 to 288,000—an increase of 89 percent. This was actually a slower growth rate than in the past. During the 1970s, Mesa’s population jumped from 63,000 to 152,000—a growth rate of 141 percent. High growth rates have been a Mesa tradition. Every decade between 1930 and 1990, the city’s population nearly doubled.


1996: Celebrating Diversity
The birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader, was declared a city holiday by voters in 1996. The result of an initiative campaign, the holiday was the latest addition to a calendar of events reflecting Mesa’s diversity. For many years the city has celebrated Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday. The Mesa Pow Wow, attended by Native Americans from across the nation, has been a regular fall event since it began in 1984.


2005: Mesa Arts Center
Mesa voters approved a dedicated tax in 1998 to build the Mesa Arts Center (MAC).  An additional $5 million was raised by residents to complete the project, which opened in September 2005.  An economic development engine for downtown, the MAC is the largest arts center in Arizona and the only one offering comprehensive professional performing arts, visual arts and arts education programming on one state-of-the-art campus.  In 2011, eight Founding Resident Companies worked at the facility and were instrumental in making the vision for the MAC a reality.


2008:  Excellence in Aerospace
Mesa boasts two airports: Phoenix-Mesa Gateway and Falcon Field. Each offers diverse aerospace, defense, aviation and other high-tech industries. In 2008, Mesa received Expansion Solutions Magazine’s 2008 Award of Excellence in Aerospace recognizing cities that make exceptional progress in economic development through successful recruitment and retention of aerospace businesses.  In 2011, over 100 companies adjacent to Mesa’s two airports employ more than 10,000 high valued jobs. In January 2010, Gateway celebrated the arrival of its one millionth passenger.


2008: Light Rail Arrives in Mesa
METRO light rail initiated passenger rail service in 2008 linking Mesa with Tempe and Phoenix. This modern rail system introduced an alternative for intercity travel and a unique partnership highlighting regional cooperation. On December 27, 2008 the beginning of the line station at Sycamore/Main hosted the region’s largest celebration with more than 35,000 residents enjoying festivities and free light rail rides. The Sycamore Station quickly became the busiest station and helped generate support for extending the system into Downtown Mesa.

2011: Preservation leads to Revitalization
Mesa’s Historic Preservation Program was implemented to preserve the city’s rich architectural and cultural history. Many neighborhoods were designated historic districts and several treasured landmarks were preserved to honor the vision of Mesa’s founding residents. The opportunity to discover the vivid and diverse heritage of this community will enrich the lives of residents for years to come.



53 N. Macdonald
Mesa, AZ 85201

(One block north of Main Street in downtown Mesa. Take US 60 or 202 to Country Club Drive, go to Main Street, and proceed one-half mile east to Macdonald) - View Map



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