The ever-evolving crossroads in Old Town Scottsdale
By Joan Fudala
Thousands of cars—as well as bikes, scooters and pedestrians—pass through the intersection of Scottsdale and Indian School roads every day, the heart of Old Town Scottsdale.
Scottsdale’s very origins emerged from these cross streets, dating back to the 1890s, when crops, cows, citrus and community camaraderie prevailed. Early businesses at the intersection foretold economic engines of the future—tourism, health care and artists’ studios.
Here’s how Scottsdale’s most historic intersection has evolved:
W.J. Murphy and his construction crews (often supervised by his wife Laura Fulwiler Murphy) finished the Arizona Canal in 1885, cutting a path through previously undeveloped desert land just north of what would become the Scottsdale settlement at Indian School and Scottsdale roads. New access to water spurred homesteading along and near the canal.
On July 2, 1888, U.S. Army Chaplain Winfield Scott and his wife Helen filed homesteading documents for 600 acres, the southwestern edge of which is this historic intersection. Their section extended from Indian School Road to the south, Scottsdale Road to the west, Chaparral Road to the north and Hayden Road to the east (although these roads were not built or named until later). They paid $2.50 an acre for the land, through which the Arizona Canal ran, providing water for irrigating the citrus and other food crops Scott successfully raised.
As Scott was still on active duty in the Army, Scott had his brother, George, initially live on and farm the land. Chaplain Scott and Helen began living on their ranch in 1893 following his retirement from the Army. Always welcoming, their home became a center for community celebrations and also a place where new residents could live until they built homes of their own. Despite these happy times, two tragedies occurred at the Scotts’ homestead—their home burned down during Christmas 1895 (they quickly rebuilt), and Scottsdale’s first murder took place when a man passing by shot two of the Scotts’ farm hands in 1901.
In 1897 the Howard Underhill family began Scottsdale’s first tourism business, Oasis Villa, when they took paying boarders into their home on the northwest corner of Scottsdale and Indian School roads. Ed and Mary Graves bought the property from the Underhills in the early 1900s, expanded it to include a number of tent-homes and renamed it Graves Guest Ranch. It accommodated seasonal visitors and health-seekers, making it Scottsdale’s first health camp. The Graves also operated a gift shop, specializing in Native American- and Arizona-produced crafts, starting a trend for authentic Southwestern craft shops that thrives today.
In 1913 a street plan for the Scottsdale settlement was filed with Maricopa County. Scottsdale Road was then called Paradise Street and Indian School Road was named Scott Avenue.
The Kimsey family from Indiana settled on Indian School just west of Graves Guest Ranch in the early 1910s. William Kimsey was a partner is several early Scottsdale businesses and served as justice of the peace. Elizabeth Kimsey led war bond sales during World War I. Their son, Mort, ran the power company and a gas station and became Scottsdale’s second mayor, serving 1958 to 1962.
The Kimseys’ daughter, Lois, was married to Thomas Marshall, governor of Indiana and vice president to Woodrow Wilson. The Marshalls built a winter home across Indian School Road from her parents in 1914 (near the southwest corner of Indian School and Scottsdale roads). Whenever they were in residence, they created quite a “buzz,” hosting patriotic rallies during World War I and attending many area civic events as honored guests. Many years later, the home became the restaurant Shutters. After it burned down, the site has housed Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor, Fuddruckers, Paradise Bakery and Panera Bread.
Artist Marguerite Wheeler lived and worked in a home studio on the southwest corner of Scottsdale and Indian School in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s, a gas station opened on the corner; today there is a Starbucks and Jimmy John’s.
During the 1910s and 1920s, an irrigation ditch on the southeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian School was used for baptisms conducted by the Scottsdale Baptist Church just east of the ditch on Indian School Road.
Scottsdale’s first artist, Marjorie Thomas, who arrived here in 1909 from Boston, had a home and studio on the southeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian School in the 1940s and 1950s. Scottsdale poet Rose Trimble also lived on the corner in the 1930s. In 1959 Valley National Bank opened a branch on the site; it is now a Chase bank branch.
After Chaplain Scott died in 1910, Charles Miller acquired the Scott ranch on the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian School. He donated land a bit farther east for construction of Scottsdale High School in 1922 (closed in 1983; razed in 1991/92). The Scott/Miller house stood on the property until 1955 when it was removed to make way for Scottsdale’s first drive-in restaurant, Bimbo’s. The site hosted several restaurants, including a Benihana. In the 1980s, a multistory office building was constructed on the “Scott” corner, with a statue honoring Winfield Scott in its courtyard.
Across Scottsdale Road, the former site of the Graves Guest Ranch (which operated through the 1950s), housed a gas station and a Bashas’ store in the 1960s/70s. A multistory office building was constructed there in the 1980s.
During the first five decades of Scottsdale, only Scottsdale road was paved (and later parts of Main Street). Huge cottonwood trees lined the sides of Scottsdale Road at Indian School, creating a shade “tunnel” that kept unairconditioned homes and businesses nearby as cool as possible during the summer.
Electricity came to Scottsdale in 1918 when Scottsdale Light and Power Company was established by Charles Miller, William Kimsey and E.O. Brown. A series of tall power poles lined Scottsdale road through the 1950s. Scottsdale was one of the first cities in Arizona to require the undergrounding of utilities (with some notable exceptions), eliminating that source of visual blight.
In the 1990s, the Parada del Sol parade staged in/around the former Scottsdale High School site on Indian School Road, and the parade made the turn south onto Scottsdale road to kick off the annual signature event.
Today the intersection of Scottsdale and Indian School roads is a major employment center, a place to eat, bank and pass through en route to all that Scottsdale has to offer. ν