Beyond the Map

Written by Alexa D'Angelo Category: History Issue: August 2014
Group Free

It appears to be an entirely different place, a green countryside in the Midwest, perhaps. With open roads not crammed with cars, no chic coffee stop on every corner and not a single high-rise, the 1885 visage of farmland-Phoenix pictured on this map certainly looks nothing like Phoenix today.

PHM0814LASTL01Though 1.45 million people call Phoenix home in 2014, the town had a population of less than 3,000 when mapmaker and artist C.J. Dyer drew this bird’s-eye map. In 1870, Dyer migrated from Michigan, where he was an assistant surveyor, to Oakland, Calif., where he worked as an artist. Finally, in 1880, he moved to Phoenix, where he later became a city councilman and mayor.

Phoenix in 1885 was a burgeoning Territorial town, with a canal system – depicted in the pop-out circles on the top of the map – originally carved out by the Hohokam tribe but dry for centuries, which made the nearby homesteads inhabitable.  When the first settlers came to the area, they saw the promise of the canals, cleaned them, and made them more functional for drinking and other everyday uses. “There would have never been a Phoenix if it weren’t for those canals,” Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble says.

Trimble notes that the decade in which this map was created marked an era of change for Phoenix. In 1885, W.J. Murphy began work on the Arizona Canal and completed it two years later. The canal was a landmark in Arizona and property north of the canal was considered undesirable, Trimble says. During this time, Jim Cotton, a saloon owner, took empty beer bottles and planted them upside down in the dirt, making the first sidewalk in Phoenix. Bolstered by its citizens’ innovative pluck and new technologies, Phoenix bloomed from its humble roots pictured in this map to the thriving, vivacious city it is today.

Though the city itself is entirely different than it was in 1885, Trimble says the main complaint from Phoenix residents was the extreme heat. Some things really never do change.