What if everything we love – and loathe – about the Valley, from posh resorts and fragrant citrus groves to suburban sprawl, is all one man’s doing? A Civil War hero who helped burn Atlanta (and therefore the South) into submission, he later carved the canal that still waters this verdant desert oasis. Instead of money, he was paid in newly fertile farmland, which he promptly named Glendale and then sliced Grand Avenue across the street grid to attract potential buyers. And oh-by-the-way, he also founded Peoria, North Central Phoenix and Arcadia (though he called it Ingleside), where he launched the Valley’s citrus industry – and later the resort and golf industries – all on his experimental orchard in the shadows of Camelback Mountain.
But perhaps the most fitting marker of William J. Murphy’s impact may also be the most obscure. Tucked under the towering ash trees that Murphy originally planted a century earlier, Central Avenue’s “Murphy Bridle Path” is a working horse trail commemorating his 1885 founding of Phoenix’s first true suburb (Orangewood Residential Village) in the then-uncharted wilds of North Central Phoenix. The Arcadia of its time, Orangewood’s faux farmland ranchettes proved so popular it kick-started Phoenix’s first suburban housing boom, and for decades it served as the pivot connecting Phoenix’s streetcar system to Murphy’s Glendale line. Meanwhile, Murphy wouldn’t actualize the real Arcadia until 1909 when he turned a canal-side patch into the Valley’s first winter resort, the Ingleside Club (now Arizona Country Club) replete with a six-hole golf course and oiled-sand greens.
Buried beneath a simple stone marker in Phoenix’s historic Greenwood Memorial Park cemetery, it’s fair to say Murphy would be proud of how he transformed this dusty frontier into a thriving – if thirsty – desert metropolis. After all, by picking Greenwood’s grassy, tree-lined grounds for his final resting place, Murphy chose to bathe his bones in irrigation water from his beloved canal system for the end of time … or the reservoirs run dry.