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Historical lithograph shows Phoenix in 1885, just 4 years after becoming a city

A lithograph from 1885 shows the tiny town as it was just picking up steam.

PHOENIX — Can you imagine it? A tiny town on the river, surrounded by mountains and farmland and not much else. It seems farfetched compared to how much Phoenix has grown, but the city really did start off small.

This lithograph, a special kind of printed image, gives us a bird's-eye view of Phoenix as it was in 1885, nearly 140 years ago.

Official Phoenix historian Steve Schumacher mapped out some of the locations that this lithograph shows us. You can see the first proper school house built in Phoenix, as well as the city cemetery. 

Tucked away just beside the river is the city's Catholic church. Although it's not the same building, the St. Mary's Roman Catholic Basilica now stands on that land -- continuing over a century of religious use of the property.

Back then, each north-south street was named after a different Native American tribe, but that was changed in the early 1890s to the numbers that we use today.

Credit: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division
Bird's eye view of Phoenix, Maricopa Co., Arizona.

You can find an interactive view of the lithograph on the Library of Congress website. Check out the references in the bottom left corner of the lithograph to see if there are any places you still recognize!

VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL: Una litografía histórica muestra a Phoenix en el año de 1885 exactamente cuatro años después de convertirse en ciudad

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What is the Valley?:

“The Valley” is what locals call the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. It is considered the largest metropolitan area in the Southwest.  

The Valley is made up of various major cities other than Phoenix, including:  

  • Mesa  

  • Chandler  

  • Scottsdale  

  • Tempe  

  • Glendale  

  • Surprise  

  • Peoria  

  • Gilbert  

  • El Mirage 

  • Avondale 

  • Litchfield Park 

  • Goodyear 

  • Buckeye 


Whether a city is in the “East Valley” or “West Valley” depends on where it is in relation to Phoenix.  

The cities of the Valley have a combined population of 4,845,832 people, according to the 2020 United States Census. This makes it the 11th largest metropolitan area in the country right behind the Boston and Atlanta areas. 

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