As you breeze through Scottsdale’s triple-digit summer by enjoying your air-conditioned home as well as a refrigerator full of icy treats, entertainment/technology and backyard pool, think about how we used to live here. Warning: this might cause you to break into a sweat.
- Going back about 2,000 years, archaeologists have found evidence that the Upland Hohokam People lived in brush-covered pit homes in the Pinnacle Peak area. They got their water from mountain springs which have since dried up. The Riverine Hohokam People lived near the Salt River, and hand-dug canals to water their crops. Remnants of their lifestyle were found during construction of modern-day structures in Scottsdale’s McDowell Road Corridor.
- Chaplain Winfield Scott consulted with members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community about what building materials would be best to build his home and ranch as he and his wife became the first homesteaders here in 1888. Taking their neighbors’ advice, the Scotts and other early settlers put their non-electrified kitchens in brush-covered ramadas adjacent to their houses. This kept homes cooler, and lessened the danger of fire. Fires were common, due to wood used for construction, heating and cooking. In fact, the Scotts’ home burned down on Christmas 1895, but they stoically rebuilt on the northeast corner of what is now Scottsdale and Indian School roads.
- Tent homes – wood frame cabins with large canvas flaps to allow breezes to flow through the hand-built structures – were common in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Adobe construction also became common, and ‘milking’ the walls was a regular household chore.
- With Scottsdale founded as a farming and ranching town, homes were clustered near the Arizona Canal, its laterals and ditches in order to get water for crops, livestock and living. The dirt-lined canals also served as swimming holes (and places for baptisms!) and the canal banks were popular picnic sites.
- Electricity didn’t come to Scottsdale until about 1918, so homes were lit with oil lamps, and cooking was done with wood or oil-fired stoves. Perishable food was kept in a ‘desert cooler,’ a fruit crate covered with wet burlap in which food stayed relatively cool through evaporation. On the hottest nights, people moved their beds onto sleeping porches, often wrapping themselves in wet sheets, again to benefit from the evaporative effect.
- Much of everyday life took place outdoors, from eating under shady ramadas or al fresco, to doing laundry, to children playing with their friends.
- Until Scottsdale incorporated in 1951, there were only one or two paved streets. Without air-conditioning, windows were left open. Dust was a fact of life.
- Scottsdale’s first general store opened in 1897 at what is now the southwest corner of Main Street and Brown Avenue. Although early settlers could buy staples there – and pick up their mail since the store was also our first post office – nearly every home had a garden to grow food for family consumption.
- With the invention of ‘swamp coolers’ and the arrival of electricity to town, Brown’s General Store added an ice house in the 1920s. Finally, Scottsdalians could bring home ice and cold food. Air conditioning didn’t become popular as a home feature until after World War II, responsible in part for Scottsdale’s tremendous post-war growth.
- Cattle ranchers were the first to venture into what is now northern Scottsdale. For example, E.O. Brown and partners established Brown’s/DC Ranch in 1916. Although Brown lived on Main Street in ‘downtown’ Scottsdale, ranch managers and cowboys lived at the ranches ‘off the grid,’ with no electricity, running water or other conveniences of the time.
Keep cool this month!
~ by Joan Fudala