Laveen is an unincorporated community in Maricopa County, Arizona, United States, situated eight miles (13 km) southwest of Downtown Phoenix between South Mountain and the confluence of the Gila and Salt rivers. Parts of Laveen constitute an unincorporated community in Maricopa County, while the remainder falls within the city limits of Phoenix, constituting the city's "Laveen Village". Laveen Village is split between District 7 and District 8, both notable as minority-majority districts for the city. Although Laveen has been home to "pastoral alfalfa, cotton, and dairy farms" since the 1880s, housing and commercial developments have been increasingly urbanizing the area.
The Laveen area was first settled by farmers and dairymen in 1884. Despite its proximity to Phoenix, the community was isolated from its larger neighbor by the Salt River, which until the Roosevelt Dam was completed in 1911 carried water year-round. The only bridged crossing was at Central Avenue, more than six miles (10 km) away. Because of its isolation, like the rest of south Phoenix early Laveen was autonomous of Phoenix and became relatively self-sufficient, supporting two general stores, a barbershop, repair garage, two pool halls, and a building for the Laveen Women's Club. These businesses served as important gathering places for the greater Laveen community, which includes modern south Phoenix and the neighboring Gila River Indian Community (GRIC)
In the early 1900s, Walter E. Laveen and his family homesteaded an area encompassing all four corners of present-day 51st Avenue and Dobbins Road, where they also built the area's first general store — the Laveen Store — on the southeast corner. Members of the Laveen family donated land adjacent to their store for a school, which was built in 1913 and named Laveen School. A second general store, the Del Monte Market, was built in 1908 at 27th Avenue and Dobbins Road.
In 1915, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation noted the community was called Laveen and had a population of less than 25. In March 1918, Walter Laveen was appointed the area's first postmaster, operating the post office in the back of his store. Laveen later served as Sheriff in Pinal County, Arizona.
Armon Deconda "Dee" Cheatham succeeded Walter Laveen as postmaster, serving in the post for the next 30 years. Cheatham and his wife, Lula, were originally from Duncan, Arizona, where they had owned a dairy. In 1919, the Cheathams sold their dairy and moved to Laveen along with Cheatham's brother, Shelton.
Dee and Shelton bought the general store from the Laveens, along with of farm land on the southeast corner of 51st Avenue and Dobbins Road. They sold the store after running it for a few years and used the proceeds to set up separate farms. Shelton's farm was on the original , while Dee and Lula moved south to 51st Avenue and Elliott Road, where they set up not only a new farm but also a dairy.
By 1941, the Cheathams' dairy operation had outgrown their farm, so they bought of land south of Baseline Road, between 43rd and 51st Avenues. While constructing the dairy the Cheathams had to clear the site of mesquite and rattlesnakes. Once complete, it was one of the larger dairies in Arizona and used registered Holstein cattle.
The Cheathams grew their own hay on nearby land for the operation and originally used a large herd of Belgian and Suffolk Punch draft horses to pull the hay mowers, rakes, baler, and wagons. Although tractors eventually took over most of the work, the horses were still used for feeding the dairy herd until the operation was shut down in 2003 and the family sold most of the land to developers.
Several farmers in Laveen raised (and continue to raise) cotton. In 1916, Andrew Benton Clevenger moved his family from St. George, Utah, onto rented land in Laveen. With the whole family's help, they put in a cotton crop. Other farmers planted cotton as well, and around harvesting time migrant workers who picked the cotton by hand would arrive, swelling the local population. Most farms provided housing for the workers. The seasonal migrant population has dropped off due to the increased use of farm machinery in harvesting cotton.
Laveen School had the area's only deep well, which also supplied the Laveen Store. Water from residents' shallow wells was acceptable for washing and crop cultivation, but too salty for culinary use. Therefore, the community set up a public-use hydrant south of the store, where people, including members of the Maricopa and Pima tribes, came for their drinking water. Tribe members would bring wagon loads of milk cans to fill with water and firewood to trade for groceries. During the winter, the store would sell excess wood to wood lots in and around Phoenix.
In a landmark water rights ruling involving several Laveen residents, Bristor v. Cheatham, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled on January 12, 1952, that percolating water was not private property. Several residents had sued Dee Cheatham for what they believed was excessive pumping of ground water, causing their wells to run dry. The court cited the principal "Rock stays, water moves". However, on February 26, 1952, the court reversed itself, ruling that ground water should be limited to "reasonable" use but still fell under the ownership of landowners.
Although many of the early settlers were religious, including the Clevengers who were Mormons, through April 1939 various attempts by churches to set up a Sunday School in Laveen had failed. However, that month members of the Central Baptist Church of Phoenix leased space in the Laveen School Auditorium, and their "mission" took hold and by 1943 grew into the Laveen Baptist Church. That year the church purchased land for a permanent building on the northeast corner of 51st Avenue and Dobbins Road, across from the school. The church added a parsonage in 1948 and by the 1970s had a full-time pastor. Today Laveen supports seven churches and has an Islamic mosque planned for construction.
The Laveen Cowbelles were women from Laveen ranching and dairy families who worked to promote the beef industry. Their parent group, the Arizona Cowbelles, was formed in Douglas, Arizona, in 1938 to "cement the good will and friendship among the wives and mothers of cattle men in Cochise County." They were initially a local service organization, putting together socials and picnics, but eventually expanded their mission to include promoting the industry's beef products. Laveen women formed a chapter in 1947, and by 1949 the group was organized state-wide. In 1956 alone the Laveen Cowbelles affixed 138,000 stickers reading "Beef for Father's Day" to envelopes mailed by various banks and businesses, and in 1959, the statewide group had then-Governor Paul Fannin proclaim "Beef for Father's Day." The Cowbelles also gave members the ability to "communicate with one another about their collective identity". Their mascot was "an ample-bosomed, blonde caricature named Lil' Dudette".
In 1950, the Cowbelles organized a barbecue to give the community a chance to gather on the last Sunday of the year and to raise money for the March of Dimes.
In 1960, the non-profits and churches in Laveen formed the Laveen Community Council (LCC), which took over the barbecue and began channeling most of the proceeds to pay for lights on the baseball fields at Laveen School, although donations to the March of Dimes continued into the 1970s. By 1984, the barbecue had raised a cumulative $71,000. The date of the event was gradually moved into early February.
Notable historical events
World War II Alamo Scout (US 6th Army Special Reconnaissance Unit) Joshua Sunn was born and raised in Laveen. The endangered Maricopa language is spoken by fewer than 100 members of the Maricopa (or Piipaash) tribe, most of whom live at the Maricopa Colony near Laveen.