The photograph of Central Avenue in the 1920s shows the famous ash trees planted by pioneer William J. Murphy. Thye secord photograph is a 1903 view of the home he built on Central Avenue in the Orangewood subdivision, far north of the Phoenix city limits.
The ash trees, along with a row of olives, flanked Central Avenue from Bethany Home Road all the way to the Arizona Canal above Northern Avenue.
Mr. Murphy planted avenue trees all over the Salt River Valley, both to promote his subdivisions and for his own pleasure. His son once figured he had planted 32 miles of trees during the years he was building subdivisions.
Mr. Murphy was a visionary who saw the potential for growth in the Valley of the Sun when it was still a sparsely populated desert.
In 1882, he secured a contract to build the Arizona Canal and sought financing for the project, traveling to Chicago, New York and Europe to find investors for his canal bonds.
In 1887, he and a group of associates created the Arizona Improvement Company, which began development of five areas: Glendale, Peoria, Marinette (in the Sun City area), Orangewood and Ingleside.
The Orangewood subdivision was laid out along Central Avenue north of present-day Glendale Avenue. Ingleside was developed south of the Arizona Canal between 56th and 60th streets.
Mr. Murphy built his own home on 10 acres on the west side of Central Avenue (across from what is today Orangewood Avenue).
While awaiting completion of the canal, he and a worker irrigated the ash trees by hand from a horse-drawn water tank. The path he used between the trees gradually came to be used for pleasure riding. In 1895, he dedicated a bridle path on the east side of Central Avenue and a 100-foot right-of-way to the Central Avenue Driving Association.
William J. Murphy died in 1923, but he left a lasting legacy. In the 1940s, the Arizona Horse Lovers Club dedicated the bridle path to W.J. Murphy. Some 20 years later, the club prevailed on the city of Phoenix to maintain it and keep its unpaved character.
The home Mr. Murphy built on Central Avenue was designated a historic site by the Phoenix Historic Commission in the 1990s. The front yard where the croquet game took place has been subdivided, and new homes now block the view of the historic house from Central Avenue.
The ash trees Mr. Murphy planted along Central Avenue grew old and were finally removed in the 1970s. The city of Phoenix, after some prodding by Arizona horsemen and homeowners in the area, agreed to replace the trees, and the character of the street was maintained.
Murphy’s Maricopa Bridle Path is now a popular jogging and walking path.
This Times Past article was first published on December 21, 2001.
Photos courtesy State Library and Archives and Arizona Historical Society, Phoenix. ©Arizona Capitol Times.