A car's view of Mill Avenue in the 1940s. Photo courtesy of Arizona Collection, Arizona State University Libraries
Laird and Dines Drug Store on Mill around 1900. Photo courtesy of Arizona Collection, Arizona State University Libraries
December 12, 2003
© 2003 JMC 425

A Rich History
by Chris Sheppard

Following the establishment of Fort McDowell
on the eastern edge of central Arizona’s Salt
River Valley in 1865, enterprising farmers
moved into the area. They dug out the irrigation
canals left by the Hohokam people and built
new ones to carry Salt River water to their fields.
Valley farms soon supplied food to Arizona’s
military posts and mining towns. In 1871, Hiram
C. Hodge noted that there were two stores and a
population of about 100 in Tempe.

An important addition to the Tempe economy was
created in 1877, when Charles T. Hayden opened a
flour-milling operation using water from the Tempe
Irrigating Canal. The Charles T. Hayden family operated the mill for three generations, and it was the most important community industry through the settlement and development periods of Tempe’s history.

The Hayden's Ferry Post Office was renamed the Tempe Post Office in 1879. In 1889, the new Phoenix and Maricopa Railroad linked Tempe with Phoenix. In 1894, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors incorporated the town of Tempe. Tempe finally became a city after being inhabited for over 30 years.

Tempe Firsts
The late 1890s and early 1900s signaled many firsts for the fledgling town. The Tempe Daily News became the town's official newspaper. Tempe held its first municipal election in 1896. Electric street lights were installed in the downtown area in 1898. Tempe's first domestic water system was completed and a volunteer fire department was organized in 1902. In 1909, Tempe's first high school was constructed. In 1911 market the beginning of construction on the Ash Avenue Bridge, and in 1912 a city hall and jail were built.

In 1920, Tempe’s population reached a bustling 1,900 people. Tempe took an important step in 1923 by merging the Tempe Irrigating Canal Company with the larger Salt River Project. That year, the swimming pool at Tempe Beach Park opened. By 1930, the population had reached 2,495.

In 1931, the Mill Avenue Bridge replaced the Ash Avenue Bridge as the auto crossing over the Salt River. It was the major transportation link for three transcontinental highways (U.S. Routes 60, 70, and 80) and Arizona’s only north-south route, U.S. Route 89, until the freeway system was begun in the 1950s. The Ash Avenue bridge had become increasingly congested and was no longer able to support wider and heavier vehicles.

In 1928, a group of Tempe businessmen submitted a request to the Arizona Highway Commission that a new bridge be planned. The bridge was designed by the Arizona Highway Department in 1929. The bridge was opened to traffic in August 1931, but was not officially dedicated until 1933. Presiding at the ceremony was Arizona Governor B. B. Moeur, a Tempe physician.

John R. Murdock, a professor at Arizona State Teachers College, was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1936. The population of Tempe reached 2,900 in 1940. Arizona State Teachers College was renamed Arizona State College at Tempe in 1945. In 1946, a major step was taken to integrate Tempe as a community. The "No Mexicans Allowed" segregation policy at Tempe Beach Pool was ended. Hispanic veterans from Tempe, recently returned from World War II, led the effort to desegregate the pool. In 1950, the population of Tempe reached 7,684.

After World War II, Tempe began growing rapidly as veterans and others moved to the city. The last of the local farms disappeared. In 1958, Arizona voters changed the name of Arizona State College at Tempe to Arizona State University. That same year, ASU Sun Devil Stadium was built. Arizona State University became a centerpiece of Tempe cultural life and the crown jewel of the Tempe economy.

Growth and Change
From 1960 to 1965, Tempe's population grew a staggering 84.4 percent—from 24,897 to 45,919. In 1962, Broadway Plaza was completed at Broadway Road and Mill Avenue. In 1964, Tempe became a charter government city and elected its mayor for the first time. By the end of 1964, Arizona State University educated 16,818 students on a sprawling 300-acre campus.

That same year, the Laird and Dines Drug Store
closed after 68 years of operation at the corner of
Mill Avenue and Fifth Street. This drug store was
one of the original fixtures on the commercial district
of Mill Avenue. Tempe’s commercial center along Mill
Avenue declined during these years. Prompted by
Tempe’s centennial in 1971, Mill Avenue was revitalized
into an entertainment and shopping district that attracts
people from throughout the Valley.

In 1968, Carl Trumbull Hayden retired from the United
States Senate after 56 years of service in Congress.
Carl Hayden, the son of Charles T. Hayden, held the
record of the longest serving member of Congress until
he was edged out by Strom Thurmond in 2000.

That same year, Interstate 10 was completed. It
connected Tempe with the national Interstate Highway
System. Arizona State University boasted 23,341
students. In 1969, Mill Avenue held its first annual Arts
and Crafts Fair, and the City Hall complex on Mill
Avenue was completed. By 1970, the population of
Tempe was 63,550 people.

Tempe began the 1980s with a bustling population of 106,743 people. Major floods close every bridge in the Valley except the Mill Avenue Bridge and the Central Avenue Bridge in Phoenix. In 1988, the Phoenix Cardinals begin playing at Sun Devil Stadium and opened a training facility in Tempe. In 1989, the Tempe City Council approved the Rio Salado Project, which began the process of canalizing the Salt River.

In 1990, the population of Tempe grew to 141,000 people. Tempe voters approved an ordinance to provide funding for public art. In 1994, the Arizona Department of Transportation completed the Loop 202 freeway through north Tempe. This connected downtown Tempe with the Interstate Highway System and made access to Phoenix much easier.

In 1997, the Hayden Flour Mill closed after 123 years of continuous operation. The mill's last operator was Bay State Milling, which had purchased it in 1981. The Hayden Flour Mill is significant as the oldest continuously used industrial site in the Salt River Valley.

In 1998, the Rio Salado project got under way, and the Tempe Town Lake was filled and completed in 1999. The Tempe Beach Park was rededicated later the same year.

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