Breaking News
More () »

Phoenix celebrated Thanksgiving in the spring of 1941. Water was the reason why

The ending of a 20-year drought prompted tens of thousands to celebrate Thanksgiving in the streets of downtown Phoenix in April of 1941.

PHOENIX — As Arizonans enjoy a slice of pie on Thanksgiving, here's a piece of state history that many may not know about.

Phoenix once hosted a massive Thanksgiving party... in April.

“This story does provide hope things can change quickly," said Douglas Towne, a writer, historian and hydrologist.

Towne stumbled upon the story of the unique holiday celebration while in the Arizona Room in the Burton Barr Library. He learned it had nothing to do with turkey or trimmings. It all stemmed from water.

“Going back to the start in 1911, Theodore Roosevelt Dam was finished, and the Valley thought that they had this dependable water supply and their water worries were in the background," Towne said. "Not true.”

Around 1920, Arizona was hit with a drought and by 1940, Roosevelt Lake was nearly dry.

Credit: SRP

“Water restrictions were in place. Swimming pools weren’t being filled. People were really worried," Towne said.

But then something miraculous. It was rain and a lot of it. 

“In commemoration of the heavens opening up, so to speak, Governor Osborn decided to hold a day of Thanksgiving in April 1941 and to celebrate our bountiful water supplies," Towne explained.

It was a celebration for the ages. Towne said tens of thousands of people gathered in downtown Phoenix for one of the largest celebrations in the state up to that point.

Central Avenue converted into a 500-seater chuckwagon restaurant.

Credit: Arizona Republic

“Chuckwagon dinners, dances, Phoenix's largest band up to that point with 500 members," Towne described.

Now, more than 80 years later, Arizona's water concerns are back. But this story serves as hope that history can repeat itself.

"I imagine if we got a lot of precipitation in the Colorado River watershed, something would certainly happen to start a party going here," Towne said.



Up to Speed

Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.

Before You Leave, Check This Out