You might think you’re town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL.
Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old. That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Arizona? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if you’re Arizona city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Grand Canyon State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Globe (Photos)
- Tucson (Photos)
- Phoenix (Photos)
- Tempe (Photos)
- Tuba City
- Glendale (Photos)
- Litchfield Park (Photos)
- Nogales (Photos)
- Eloy (Photos)
For being 143 years old, Globe doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Arizona? That would be Douglas — a brand spanking 13 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Arizona… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Arizona, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 61 out of 96 in Arizona with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 63.5% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Globe turning out to be the matriarch of Arizona at the ripe old age of 143.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Population: 7,369Founded: 1875
Besh-Ba-Gowah, about one mile south of Globe, was occupied by Salado populations between AD 1225 and AD 1400.
Population: 527,586Founded: 1877
Tucson was probably first visited by Paleo-Indians, known to have been in southern Arizona about 12,000 years ago. Recent archaeological excavations near the Santa Cruz River have located a village site dating from 2100 BC. The floodplain of the Santa Cruz River was extensively farmed during the Early Agricultural Period, circa 1200 BC to AD 150. These people constructed irrigation canals and grew corn, beans, and other crops while gathering wild plants and hunting. The Early Ceramic period occupation of Tucson saw the first extensive use of pottery vessels for cooking and storage. The groups designated as the Hohokam lived in the area from AD 600 to 1450 and are known for their vast irrigation canal systems and their red-on-brown pottery.
Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino visited the Santa Cruz River valley in 1692, and founded the Mission San Xavier del Bac in 1700 about 7 mi (11 km) upstream from the site of the settlement of Tucson. A separate Convento settlement was founded downstream along the Santa Cruz River, near the base of what is now ‘A’ mountain. Hugo O’Conor, the founding father of the city of Tucson, Arizona authorized the construction of a military fort in that location, Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón, on August 20, 1775 (near the present downtown Pima County Courthouse). During the Spanish period of the presidio, attacks such as the Second Battle of Tucson were repeatedly mounted by Apaches. Eventually the town came to be called ‘Tucson’ and became a part of the state of Sonora after Mexico gained independence from the Kingdom of Spain and its Spanish Empire in 1821.
Population: 1,555,324Founded: 1881
For more than 2,000 years, the Hohokam people occupied the land that would become Phoenix. The Hohokam created roughly 135 miles (217 km) of irrigation canals, making the desert land arable. Paths of these canals would later become used for the modern Arizona Canal, Central Arizona Project Canal, and the Hayden-Rhodes Aqueduct. The Hohokam also carried out extensive trade with the nearby Anasazi, Mogollon and Sinagua, as well as with the more distant Mesoamerican civilizations. It is believed that between AD 1300 and AD 1450, periods of drought and severe floods led to the Hohokam civilization’s abandonment of the area.
After the departure of the Hohokam, groups of Akimel O’odham (commonly known as Pima), Tohono O’odham and Maricopa tribes began to use the area, as well as segments of the Yavapai and Apache. The O’odham were offshoots of the Sobaipuri tribe, who in turn were thought to be the descendants of the formerly urbanized Hohokam.
Population: 174,708Founded: 1892
The Hohokam lived in this area and built canals to support their agriculture. They abandoned their settlements during the 15th century, with a few individuals and families remaining nearby.
Fort McDowell was established approximately 25 mi (40 km) northeast of present downtown Tempe on the upper Salt River in 1865 allowing for new towns to be built farther down the Salt River. US military service members and Hispanic workers were hired to grow food and animal feed to supply the fort, and less than a year later, had set up small camps near the river that were the first permanent communities in the Valley after the fall of the Hohokam. (Phoenix was settled shortly afterward, by 1867–68.) The two settlements were ‘Hayden’s Ferry’, named after a ferry service operated by Charles T. Hayden, and ‘San Pablo’, and were located west and east of Hayden Butte respectively. The ferry became the key river crossing in the area. The Tempe Irrigating Canal Company was soon established by William Kirkland and James McKinney to provide water for alfalfa, wheat, barley, oats, and cotton.
5. Tuba City
Population: 9,221 Founded: 1904
The written history of the town dates back more than 200 years. When Father Francisco Garcés visited the area in 1776, he recorded that the Indians were cultivating crops. The town was named after Tuuvi, a Hopi leader. Chief Tuuvi converted to Mormonism circa 1870, and invited the Mormons to settle near Moenkopi.
Population: 239,943Founded: 1904
In the late 1800s what is now known as Glendale, Arizona, was all desert. William John Murphy, a native of New Hartford, New York, who resided in the town of Flagstaff in what was then known as the territory of Arizona, was in charge of building a 40-mile-long (64 km) Arizona Canal from Granite Reef to New River for the Arizona Canal Company. In 1885, he completed the canal, which would bring water to the desert land. Murphy was deep in debt, since he had agreed to be paid in Arizona Canal Company stock and bonds and land instead of cash.
In 1887, Murphy formed the Arizona Improvement Company. His objective was to sell the land and water rights south of the canal. Murphy had to raise capital from out of state sources in order to meet payroll and construction expenses. Murphy decided to refer to this land as ‘Glendale’. In order to develop and interest potential investors and settlers in this new town, Murphy decided to provide a better way of access from Phoenix to Glendale and ending in the town of Peoria by building an 18-mile-long (29 km) diagonal road which he named Grand Avenue.
7. Litchfield Park
Population: 5,449Founded: 1905
The town of Litchfield Park is an affluent community outside of Phoenix named after its founder, Paul Weeks Litchfield (1875–1959). He was an executive of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company who came to the Phoenix area in 1916 in search of suitable land to farm a long-staple cotton that had previously been available only from the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and from Egypt. This cotton was needed to strengthen the rubber in the pneumatic tire, of which Goodyear was the world’s largest producer. The east coast cotton supply had been devastated by the boll weevil and the African supply had been greatly reduced by World War I attacks from German U-boats. Litchfield went to the Phoenix area at the suggestion of the United States Department of Agriculture, but he was not successful in motivating local farmers to grow his cotton. Instead he got Goodyear to form the Southwest Cotton Company in Phoenix, with Litchfield as its president, eventually purchasing some 36,000 acres in the general Salt River Valley area including 5,000 acres around the present site of Litchfield Park, then known as Litchfield Ranch. Much of the land was bought for as little as $25 per acre. The cotton was cultivated with a workforce of mostly Mexican and Native American men. The U.S. Postal Service agreed to the name ‘Litchfield Park’ in 1926. In 1929, the Wigwam Resort was opened to the public. In 1926, Litchfield went on to become the president of the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation, and then Chairman of the Board in 1930. He retired from the company in 1958, and spent the final months of his life as a resident of Litchfield Park at his home on Fairway Drive.
Population: 22,571 Founded: 1905
Anthem was developed by Del Webb in 1999 as a master-planned community in the foothills approximately 34 miles north of downtown Phoenix. Anthem has been described as one of the best places to raise a family by Parenting magazine and one of the best family friendly neighborhoods in the Phoenix area by Phoenix Magazine.
Population: 20,355Founded: 1905
The name ‘Nogales’ is derived from the Spanish word for ‘walnut’ or ‘walnut tree.’ It refers to the large stands of walnut trees that once stood in the mountain pass where Nogales is located.
Population: 17,128Founded: 1905
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Arizona
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Arizona. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Arizona.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Grand Canyon State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Arizona:
- Douglas (Founded in 2005)
- Bisbee (Founded in 2005)
- Buckeye (Founded in 2005)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Arizona
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