Menu

History of Tempe, Arizona

Tempe is a city located in Maricopa County in the state of Arizona. During the territorial times of Arizona, the city was also known as Hayden’s Ferry. Today, the city has a total population of a little more than 185,000, and it boasts a thriving economy, vibrant culture, extensive infrastructure, and a robust tourism sector.

Early History

Tempe started as an agricultural settlement when the Hohokam Native Americans built a system of irrigation canals in the area. These people lived in the area for more than 1,000 years, building canals that were the basis for the irrigation system used today. But by the middle of the 15th century, most of the Hohokam had disappeared.

About 400 years later, in 1865, a community called Fort McDowell was built along the Salt River. The location of the community was approximately 25 miles to the northeast of what is today downtown Tempe, but it led to growth that spread downriver. With time, members of the U.S. military and Hispanic settlers were hired to help grow food for those who lived in the fort, leading to more camps and permanent settlements. In the years that followed, a ferry was introduced to make river crossings easier. The Tempe Irrigating Canal Company was also set up to provide water for the farms.

Growth and Expansion

In 1870, Charles Trumbull Hayden came to the area and started a settlement along the river. The settlement, known as Hayden’s Ferry, grew quickly, and within a few years, Hayden had established warehouses, a store, a flour mill, blacksmith shops, and a ferry across the Salt River. Today, some of the buildings that he set up are still historic landmarks.

Meanwhile, Hispanic families from northern Mexico and southern Arizona had arrived in the area, creating a settlement known as San Pablo and bringing with them their cuisine and culture, some of which would influence the culture and events of modern Tempe. In 1879, Tempe was officially created, encompassing the land that was Hayden’s Ferry and San Pablo and named for the Vale of Tempe in Greece.

In 1885, the Arizona legislature selected Tempe to be the site where the Territorial Normal School would be set up. A school that trained teachers has since grown to become Arizona State University. When the Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad was completed in 1887, it connected Tempe to other towns and cities across the nation, which further contributed to the growth of the town as a commercial center. When the Roosevelt Dam was completed in 1911, the prosperity of Arizona farmers was assured, and less than a year later, the state’s progress was cemented as it became the 48th state.

Tempe in the Present Day

Throughout the 20th century and beyond, Tempe has expanded remarkably. Over the years, Tempe has hosted a Mass by Pope John Paul II, the Super Bowl, and a 2004 presidential debate. The city is now an educational and commercial hub, earning an impressive reputation both in the United States and internationally. In addition, the seventh-largest city in the state of Arizona has a strong economy that is supported by tourism, technology, sports, and the arts.