Peoria is a city in Maricopa and Yavapai counties in the U.S. state of Arizona. Most of the city is located in Maricopa County, while a tiny portion in the north is in Yavapai County. It is a major suburb of Phoenix. According to 2010 Census Bureau releases, the population of the city is 154,065. Peoria is currently the sixth largest city in Arizona for land area, and the ninth largest for population. It was named after Peoria, Illinois. (The word peoria is a corruption of the Illini word for “prairie fire”.) Peoria is now larger in population than its namesake. It is the spring training home of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners who share the Peoria Sports Complex. In July 2008, Money magazine listed Peoria in its "Top 100 Places to Live".
Peoria sits on flat gently sloping desert terrain in the Salt River Valley, and extends into the foothills of the mountains to the north. Seasonal rainfall and runoff from mountain snowmelt filled the Salt River, at times flooding the valley and wiping out months of backbreaking labor. If the area was to become habitable and productive all year, the cycle of flood and drought had to be replaced with a reliable supply of water that could be controlled year-round. The pioneers turned to irrigation. In 1868 John W. “Jack” Swilling organized a group of men to dig the first modern irrigation ditch in the Salt River Valley. Their success enticed more people to settle in the area and reap the benefits of a revitalized irrigation system.
By 1872, there were eight thousand acres (32 km²) of land under cultivation in the valley and a thriving community had been built along the Salt River. Over the years irrigation companies sprung up and in the next three years three canal systems—the Maricopa, Grand, and Salt River Valley—were constructed, each allowing sustaining growth in the Valley. Visionary settlers began to imagine the potential income to be had by reclaiming the rich desert lying higher up the slope above the recently completed Grand Canal; in 1882, the Arizona Canal Company was organized to do just that. The proposed canal would be larger than its approximately —including the site that would soon be Peoria—to a more consistent and regulated water system.
The Arizona Canal Company tapped William J. Murphy, a former Union Army officer, to head construction on the canal. The young engineer from Illinois had just completed the grading of a stretch of the Atlantic and Pacific Railway (which later became the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway). Unable to pay Murphy in cash, the canal company offered him land and water rights to a large amount of property as compensation. With vision and foresight, he accepted, and in 1885 the Arizona Canal was completed.
Murphy returned to Illinois to recruit settlers to transform the land into a sustainable farming community. Several residents of Peoria, Illinois, were enticed by descriptions of the area’s climate and agricultural potential and soon purchased among them. Four farming families left Illinois that fall to relocate to what is now Peoria. Before erecting simple adobe homes, the settlers lived in large canvas tents. Peoria stood alone fourteen miles (21 km) from Phoenix, at the time a frontier city of about 3,500 people. An old desert frightening road connecting Phoenix to the Hassayampa River near present-day Wickenburg was the only major transportation route in the area until 1887, when a new road was laid out. This thoroughfare was named Grand Avenue, angled through the newly designed town sites of Alhambra, Glendale, and Peoria and quickly became the main route from Phoenix to Vulture Mine. The actual Peoria town site was owned by Joseph B. Greenhut and Deloss S. Brown. In 1890, the two men from Peoria, Illinois, acquired four sections of land from the government through the Desert Lands Act. They filed Peoria’s plot map with the Maricopa County recorder on May 24, 1897, naming the settlement after their hometown.
The original plot map of Peoria included east and west streets (from south to north) Monroe, Madison, Jefferson, Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, and Van Buren. Streets going north and south were (from west to east) Almond (present-day 85th Avenue), Peach (present-day 84th Avenue), Orange (present-day 83rd Avenue), Vine (present-day 82nd Avenue), Walnut (present-day 81st Avenue), the plot was roughly from present-day Peoria and 85th avenues to Monroe Street and 85th Avenue to Monroe Street and 81st Avenue to 81st Avenue and south of the Desert Cove alignment.
As soon as the proposed Peoria town site was surveyed a hand-dug water well was sunk in 1889 on the public right-of-way at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Washington Street. A “town well” provided water for local residents as well as the traveling public. Five years later the well was refashioned into a water tower and tank standing high. A social gathering place as well as source of water, the tower seemed to symbolize the young settlement’s growing sense of civic pride. On August 4, 1888 the Territory of Peoria, Arizona was granted a post office in its name and served a population of twenty-seven. Maricopa County supervisors defined the boundaries for School District Eleven, comprising forty-nine square miles, and the first class took place in an unoccupied brick store that faced north on Washington Street until Peoria’s first school building, a one-room structure completed in 1891. Attendance was erratic and thanks to a wagon full of nine children the district in question by county officials was saved.
Early growth of the town
Between 1891 and 1895 a spur line of the Santa, Prescott and Phoenix Railroad was placed in Peoria along with Phoenix, Glendale, Alhambra, Hesperla, and Marinette. This line helped encourage continued development of Peoria and was beneficial to the community. Peoria persuaded the rail company to build a small depot on 83rd Avenue just off Grand Avenue. This enabled area ranchers and farmers to ship their cattle and crops from the town site, as well as bring goods into the city. The depot was sold to the city of Scottsdale in 1972 where it now resides at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park.
In 1899 an atmosphere of permanence and stability for the settlement was created through the construction of the Presbyterian Church. Dedicated in 1900, the church, built in the Gothic Revival style and located at 83rd and Madison, is the oldest continuously used Presbyterian church in Arizona.
By 1917 Peoria, though still small, was slowly building into a solid commercial, agricultural, and residential location. Detracting from its growth, however, was its impermanent appearance, manifested in the tin and wood structures that had popped up around town in what was becoming known as the business district. Community leaders like J.A. Hammond and Frank Akin espoused changing the primary building material to brick since it looked better and was relatively more stable. Hammond and Akin believed that for Peoria to be acknowledged as a viable community, it had to have more substantial and attractive buildings. Due to the expense of brick it was hard to convince local business owners to invest in brick buildings. Hammond and Akins led by example, tearing down their own stores to build three new buildings that were attached and made of brick.
In July 1917, a fire broke out in a pool hall operated by E.E. Stafford, near Wilhelm’s Garage. The exact cause of the fire was never determined, but the fire engulfed almost the entire business district including Hammond and Akins newly constructed buildings. Glendale and Phoenix firefighters responded to the alarm, but they were too late. The damage was so severe it was as if the entire town was wiped out. Peoria was devastated. Ironically, the fire that destroyed the town’s new brick stores was incentive other business owners needed to rebuild using more sound building techniques and materials. This fire began the new era of buildings that were sturdier and more pleasing to the eye. The timing of the fire was fortunate. The U.S. had entered World War I just a few months before, leading to increased production and prices around the country, especially for agricultural products. Farmers had new money to spend, ambitious store owners hastened to reestablish their businesses to take advantage of the wartime prosperity and Peoria was rebuilt.
Early 20th century
About 1919 the Peoria Chamber of Commerce formed. It operated as the informal government body until Peoria’s incorporation in 1954. The Peoria volunteer fire district formed in 1920 and remained all volunteer until the mid-1950s. Peoria’s business district flourished. The three-story Edwards Hotel was built in 1918, followed by the Mabel Hood building in May 1920 at the southwest corner of Washington Street and 83rd Avenue. The John L. Meyer or “flatiron” building was completed in June 1920 and the O.O. Fuel’s Paramount Theatre in July 1920 (It served as Fire Station 1 from 1950 until 2004). The Peoria Woman’s Club House, erected in April 1918, became a center for community-wide activities. The town’s first newspaper, The Peoria Enterprise, was printed weekly from November 14, 1917, to April 1921.
Peoria’s first library was held at the women’s club in 1920 until it moved to the old Peoria City Hall in 1975 (where the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts was constructed and currently sits). The library eventually moved to the Peoria Municipal Complex. In May 1959 the Women’s Club gave the clubhouse to the City of Peoria where they meet free of rent.
Central School was built in 1906. The two-room masonry schoolhouse had hardwood floors and ample storage closets and was surrounded by trees to shade the horses and mules. By 1910, three additional classroom buildings were built next to the central school, and in 1918 another large school building, containing an auditorium and four classrooms, was opened. In 1918 the attendance for Peoria schools was 190. Schools were set up in outlining areas in order to ease the difficulty in travel: there was the Morgan School, southwest of Peoria, with eighty-five students in 1918; Greenfield School, one mile (1.6 km) east and two miles (3 km) north of town with forty-five students; Bell School, to the northeast with thirty-nine students; and Marinette School, three miles (5 km) northwest with about twenty students.
School District Number Eleven was originally an elementary school district. Children going on to high school had to travel to Glendale High School. As the student population of Peoria grew up, the need for education above the eighth grade level became apparent. In 1919 the school board approved construction of Peoria High School. At the time many believed the three-story building designed to house the high school was too large and expensive, but when completed in 1922 had an enrollment of fifty which increased rapidly. It was built in the Spanish Mission style and featured extravagant architectural elements of Moorish Spain.
During this time, agriculture around Peoria supported a diverse amount of crops. The town was the site of four cotton gins, the main one being built at 81st and Grand Avenue in the 1923. The town also had sheep ranching, citrus farms, wheat, corn, rye, and much more.
When cotton prices fell due to the Great Depression it hit Peoria hard until a recession in 1939 due to the Second World War. The New Deal public works projects helped create jobs in Peoria including the construction of the Peoria High School gym in July 1936.
Increased economic activity, combined with the presence of Luke Air Force Base and tremendous growth throughout the entire Valley—coinciding with the mass-production of air conditioning in the early 1950s—led to an increase in residential housing in Peoria. A postwar construction boom set the stage for Peoria to become a suburb of Phoenix, providing housing for the capital city as growth moved west.
In 1954, Peoria was home to 1,925 residents, including an area of . The growing community's need for important services like water and sewage began to be more than the Chamber of Commerce, which served as its informal government, could provide. After much debate and skepticism Peoria incorporated on June 7, 1954. A seven member city council formed and held its first organizational meeting on June 14.
In 1955-56 a reliable house numbering system was established to help locate people more easily by street. In 1960 an outside development had major impacts on Peoria. Del Webb began to develop Sun City, which drew more residents to Peoria. By 1966 Peoria grew to encompass with of street. In 1968 the city passed a bond to issue securing the money to build a sewer system, which was completed in 1969. In 1970, Peoria began to transition to paid firefighting staff.
From a population of 4,792 in 1970, the city grew to 12,351 in 1980 and 50,675 in 1990. The change from 1980 to 1990 alone represented a 300 percent increase in the city’s population. In order to support its new residents or better still, keep them off the roads and working in Peoria the city turned its focus to expand its commercial and ultimately industrial development in order to maintain a balanced local economy. The Peoria Economic Development Group (PEDG) was initiated and was instrumental in bringing Peoria its first ice skating facility, modern movie theater, and “Class A” office space. Construction of the $30 million municipal complex began in 1988 at the edge of Peoria’s Old Town. The Police Department opened in 1989, the main city hall building and courts in 1991, and the library in 1993.
Spring training has a long history in Peoria. From the late 1970s to 1990, Peoria's Greenway Sports Complex served as a minor-league training facility for the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. This small facility was located at 83rd Avenue and the Greenway Road alignment, the location of the future Peoria Sports Complex. Construction of the new complex was approved in 1990. It was completed in 1994 and was the first Major League Baseball spring training facility in the county shared by two teams. The San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners utilize the complex year round for spring training and player development.
Peoria continues to grow successfully. In 1999 most of the land around Lake Pleasant Regional Park was annexed into the city. Peoria has gained a world-class educational and cultural destination, the Challenger Space Center of Arizona. Also in 2007 the city completed the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts. Today most of the city’s growth is taking place in northern and northwestern Peoria with many infill projects occurring in Old Town and southern Peoria.
Peoria is not just working on the untouched north but moving forward with some detailed plans to help revitalize the city’s historic center. The theatre was part of the project; other proactive steps for Old Town are the creation of the Façade Renovation and an Appearance Handbook to use in renovating the area. The results of some of these efforts will be seen over the course of many years, while others very soon.
"In January, 2010, four months after breaking ground, Stirling Energy partner company Tessara Solar completed the 1.5 MW Maricopa Solar power plant in Peoria, Arizona, just outside Phoenix. The power plant is 60 SES SunCatchers." The SunCatcher is described as "a large, tracking, concentrating solar power (CSP) dish collector that generates 25 kilowatts (kW) of electricity in full sun. Each of the 38-foot-diameter collectors contains over 300 curved mirrors (heliostats) that focus sunlight onto a power conversion unit, which contains the Stirling engine. The dish uses dual-axis tracking to follow the sun precisely as it moves across the sky." Placed at the focus of a parabolic mirror a Stirling engine can convert solar energy to electricity with an efficiency better than non-concentrated photovoltaic cells, and comparable to Concentrated Photo Voltaics.
Between 1990 and 2000 Peoria was the fifth fastest growing city in the United States with a population of over 100,000, increasing in population 114 percent. In 2004 Peoria was home to over 130,000 residents spread out over . Growth, however, does pay for growth. Peoria charges impact fees to developers and requires economic impact analyses on major development projects.
Peoria's identity is more related to resort and leisure living than the past, as that type of lifestyle migrates from the northeast Valley to Peoria. Peoria’s economic plan focuses on establishing the new Loop 303 freeway corridor as an industrial, commercial, mixed development use and less on traditional residential development. In July 2008 Money Magazine listed Peoria in the Top 100 Places to Live.