Under the Sun

Phoenix Marks a Major Anniversary This Year — But Will We Celebrate It?

Phoenix back in the day. Way, way back in the day.
Phoenix back in the day. Way, way back in the day. Library of Congress

Steve Schumacher said he wasn’t sure why people don’t know that Phoenix was founded as a townsite that will mark its 150th anniversary on the 26th.

“God, I don’t know,” he admitted. “For some reason, the last 40 or 50 years, the city has lost sight of its heritage. We’ve seen so many important old buildings get torn down. I thought there was an inclination to save our heritage, but boy!”

He figured it might help to create a collaborative organization of local museums interested in preserving our past. That group, now called the Phoenix History Consortium, meets the first Monday of every month. Members of the Arizona Historical Society, the Science Center, the Orpheum, and the Hall of Flame, among others, typically attend.

“Getting these people together is quite an accomplishment,” Schumacher said. He doesn’t have a title with the organization. “I guess I’m kind of the founder, if you had to pick a word to describe me.” He shrugged.

Lately, Schumacher has been describing himself as someone concerned about missing that Phoenix townsite birthday. The city had plans for celebrating the anniversary prior to the pandemic — so many plans that Schumacher had forgotten what some of them were.

click to enlarge Steve Schumacher wants Phoenix to celebrate its milestone properly. - STEVE SCHUMACHER
Steve Schumacher wants Phoenix to celebrate its milestone properly.
Steve Schumacher

“Oh, my gosh, I should write them down because people keep asking me what we were going to do,” he said. “I know we were going to do a two-sided coin, one side with a Phoenix bird and the other side would have been by whatever high school kid came up with the most unique design. That was really exciting.”

He’d suggested temporarily changing downtown street signs back to their original Native names — Cortez and Montezuma and Yavapai, to name a few — for the month of October. And there’d been talk about a mural at the Convention Center.

“Councilwomen Laura Pastor and Thelda Williams were going to come up with a celebratory drink of some kind,” he recalled. “At a local bar. We were putting together a traveling workshop to take around to local schools. It was all going to be amazing.”

Right now, the city has smaller plans, he admitted. A group of no more than 50 people will meet on October 26 to commemorate the townsite, but so far, Schumacher said, no location has been announced. “Thelda Williams’ assistant said there might be 150th-anniversary COVID masks given out at the event,” he said.

Schumacher acknowledged that times were tough and maybe Williams didn’t want to explain why she was spending money to temporarily rename streets during a recession. But how about just erecting some kind of permanent marker where people could stop and have their picture taken?

“We’re about 95 percent sure where the final townsite meeting was held,” Schumacher explained. “That’s the southwest corner of Ninth Street and Van Buren. That would be a great place for the marker to go.”

A plaque there might help clear up things about the location of the townsite. People who knew about it sometimes thought it was out by the airport.

“That almost happened,” Schumacher said. “They were trying to do the Phoenix settlement out there, and they were going to call it either Pumpkinville or Stonewall. Then they tried out near St. Luke’s Hospital, but they gave up because there were too many Hohokam ruins and people didn’t want to move all that adobe stuff.”

Schumacher allowed that he had selfish motives in wanting to see the Phoenix townsite commemorated.

“Oh, gosh. I have this desire to stand in a place where history happened,” he said. “It’s what I call time traveling. You can go stand on this spot and think back on guns and whiskey and people cussing at each other — things that really happened there.”

There was something else, besides.

“I’m not so young anymore,” Schumacher said with a little laugh. “I don’t know if I’ll be around for the 175th anniversary of our townsite. I’m here for the 150th, and I’d kind of like to see it happen.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela