Distinct, diverse, dynamic and entrepreneurial are characteristics that have defined City of Tempe since prehistoric times when the resourceful Hohokam people lived here for about 1,500 years until sometime around 1450. The Hohokam were farmers and engineering geniuses who developed a system of irrigation canals that carried Salt River water to their crops. The canals were so well-built that they were excavated hundreds of years later and became the foundation for today’s irrigation system.
Take a 400 year leap forward to 1865 when things started picking up with the arrival of another group of enterprising farmers who moved into what is now the city of Tempe, Arizona. These early settlers repurposed those aforementioned irrigation canals and rebuilt them to sustain farms that supplied food to Arizona’s military posts and mining towns.
Charles Trumbull Hayden came on the scene in 1870. A gutsy, innovative kind of guy, he started another settlement known as Hayden’s Ferry along the banks of the Salt River. Within a few years he had built a store and flour mill, warehouses and blacksmith shops, and a ferry across the Salt River. The flour mill operated until the 1990s and stands today as one of Tempe’s iconic landmarks. The Hayden home, located on the corner of Rio Salado Pkwy. and Mill Ave., is also a major historical landmark.
In 1872, Hispanic families arrived from southern Arizona and northern Mexico and founded a town called San Pablo. They introduced their own culture, cuisine and social activities, including music and entertainment such as dances, concerts and Cinco de Mayo celebrations each year. Today, Tempe celebrates the historical significance of Hispanics within the community during the annual Tempe Tardeada.
In 1879 the two communities of San Pablo and Hayden’s Ferry melded into one dynamic, diverse town with a distinctive name: Tempe (pronounced Tem-pee). So how did Tempe get its name? “Lord” Darrell Duppa, an Englishman, who helped establish Phoenix, is credited with suggesting the name because the lush beauty of the area reminded him of the Vale of Tempe in Greece.
More Tempe historical highlights:
Now that you’ve read the Reader’s Digest version of Tempe’s evolution, you’ll want to know more. Delve deeper with a visit to the Tempe History Museum to explore Tempe’s past and present through fun and interesting interactive exhibits. And for Arizona history, visit the AZ Heritage Center at Papago Park in Papago Park.
Learn more about Tempe’s historic buildings, some dating back to the 1800s. Then take a walking tour of Downtown Tempe for a closer look at the historic buildings that have been restored and re-purposed as restaurants, shops and businesses.
Plan your next vacation with the Tempe Visitor's Guide.