- Where to Go
- The Best of the Valley of the Sun
- Wild West Adventure
- Let Scottsdale Rock Your World
- Finding Water in the Sonoran Desert
- Spring Training
- Arizona Family Road Trip
- Phoenix Points of Pride
- Southwestern Culture and Heritage
- Nocturnal Scottsdale
- Exploring Phoenix’s Architecture
- Unexpected Arizona
- Desert Chic
- Chilly Drinks and Cool Eats in Scottsdale
The city of Scottsdale may look new, but its roots date back to the ancient Hohokam civilization, which first inhabited the Salt River Valley circa 300 B.C. When the Hohokam mysteriously abandoned their villages in the 1500s, their canals served as a foundation for the Pima Indian village known as Vasai Svasoni, or “rotting hay.” Although it wasn’t the most appealing name, the area proved to be an enduring home for the Pima, who still live in the Salt River Pima–Indian Community, which borders Scottsdale’s city limits.
In 1888, U.S. Army chaplain Winfield Scott bought 640 acres of rocky, desert land northeast of Phoenix. At $2.50 an acre, the purchase may be the Valley’s best land deal on record. Scott saw the cheap desert land and its still-functioning canals as rife with opportunity, as well an ideal climate to recover from wounds he had sustained in the Civil War.
Scott and his wife, Helen, became the first of a succession of New Yorkers who would abandon the East Coast’s cold, gray winters—and tell their friends about it. Scott used his oratory gifts to convince other families to move to his fledgling community of Orangedale. You can still see the olive trees Scott planted to mark the border of his original 40-acre orange grove down the center of 2nd Street and Civic Center Boulevard (across from the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and Scottsdale Stadium). The citrus trees didn’t prove to be as hardy, dying in a drought in the late 1890s.
During the next few decades, the small community attracted cowboys, ranchers and miners, as well as Native Americans looking to trade goods and tuberculosis patients seeking the dry desert air to recover from their respiratory ailments.
The mild winter climate and stark landscape even lured famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was in Phoenix to consult on the design of the Arizona Biltmore Resort. Wright was so taken by the Sonoran Desert that he established his “winter camp,” Taliesin West, at the base of the McDowell Mountains in 1937. The rocky desert site would serve as a constant source of inspiration until his death in 1959.
Following World War II, airmen who had trained at Scottsdale Airfield returned to the city, bringing their families and green lawns from the Midwest. The growing community, which was officially incorporated in 1951, attracted burgeoning high-tech corporations, like Motorola in 1956. Bill Keane, Scottsdale’s answer to Peanuts creator Charles Schultz, reflected the postwar suburban boom in his comic strip, Family Circus.
Scottsdale became the first city in the nation to enact a sign ordinance in 1969, which restricted the size and height of billboards—a controversial measure that was even challenged at the U.S. Supreme Court.
New resorts and the availability of air-conditioning only increased Scottsdale’s popularity. City leaders annexed huge swaths of land in the north, areas once roamed only by ranchers and wildlife. Developers happily created large master-planned communities with amenities like parks and golf courses, attracting retirees and young families. The skyrocketing home prices, new business parks, and chichi art galleries and shopping centers earned the increasingly affluent city the nickname “Snottsdale” by residents of neighboring communities.
Since the 1950s, Scottsdale has grown from 2,000 residents to nearly a quarter of a million. It seems the country’s “Most Livable City,” as it was deemed by the United States Conference of Mayors in 1993, has become one of its most desired.
© Jeff Ficker from Moon Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona, 1st edition