Filed Under Transportation

Scottsdale Road

Scottsdale Road started out as a dusty corridor for travelling horse and wagon teams, cattle herds, and pedestrians; by World War II, it was Scottsdale's first and only fully paved road. This transition mirrored the slow but steady shift in transportation methods in American frontier towns during the first half of the twentieth century. The desert terrain, the persistence of farming and ranching activities, and the challenges of building new infrastructure ensured this uneven conversion to modernity, at least until city incorporation brought universal pavement to Scottsdale streets.

Originally called Paradise Road, Scottsdale Road formed a path along the north-south axis from the Salt River Basin to what became known as Paradise Valley. Life in the desert made the horse indispensible: nearly every early settler kept a horse. Stagecoaches and wagon trains filled with mail, goods, and people moved in and out of Scottsdale, children rode horses to school, and ranchers on horseback herded their cattle right down Scottsdale Road. Every good horse team needed a blacksmith, and Cavalliere's and Scotty's, two local blacksmith shops, provided their wares and services.

Automobiles appeared alongside horses and buggies after the turn of the century, and the Arizona Republican newspaper heralded the change. By 1907, graded dirt roads connecting Scottsdale to its neighbors accommodated riding, wheeling, and driving, and motorized tours and personal automobiles trekked across the desert along the buttes or by the orange groves lining Indian School Road. By 1919, trailblazing cotton farmers in Scottsdale saved time and money by hitching utility trailers to light automobiles and driving their crops to the local gins. In 1921, Scottsdale Road was slated for pavement as a part of the Maricopa County highway system, and by the mid-1920s, Mort Kimsey Service Company on Scottsdale Road catered to the growing number of gasoline-powered vehicles in town.

The introduction of vehicles and pavement to Scottsdale was not exactly a smooth ride. Dust was a perpetual issue, and drought conditions prevented a prompt completion of the Scottsdale Road pavement project. Parched and dusty dirt roads riddled with chuck holes several feet deep were difficult for county crews to work on. In the 1920s, cars and horses alike demanded space in downtown Scottsdale, resulting in parking regulations to allow smoother traffic flow near businesses. A newly-paved yet narrow Scottsdale Road hosted several accidents involving motorists and cotton pickers, school children, and others who walked along the road, and a 30 mph speed limit was established in 1922 to mitigate further risks.

By the end of World War II, a fully-paved Scottsdale Road extended from Curry Road to the air field on what is now Thunderbird Road, but many roads in Scottsdale were only partially paved if paved at all. Dirt roads far outnumbered paved roads in the Scottsdale area, and wagons were not mere ornaments on the farm quite yet. Resort seekers might find a horse and wagon team at the airport or train depot waiting to escort them to their destination, and the occasional cattle herd still came through town.


Sounds of Scottsdale Scottsdale not only looked different decades ago - it sounded different too. Written by Megan Keough; narrated by Paul Messinger. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of the Papago Salado Association.
Scottsdale City Scottsdale poet laureate Robert "Bob" Frost reads his poem "Old Scottsdale Town," about life in early Scottsdale. Written and narrated by Robert Frost. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of Papago Salado Association.


Rush Hour on Scottsdale Road
Rush Hour on Scottsdale Road Horses, mules, and sheep crowd the main thoroughfare on their way to work. When this photograph was taken in the 1930s or 1940s, this northern portion of Scottsdale Road was still unpaved. Image courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library.
Family with Horse-Drawn Carriage
Family with Horse-Drawn Carriage In the Scottsdale area, horse-drawn wagons remained a customary method of travel for American Indians well after the invention of the automobile. Here, surrounded by several other wagons and a bicycle, members of an Americam Indian family board a wagon. Wagons like this were frequently found under shade trees in the center of town. Source: Image courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library.
Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive The sounds and smells of the bi-annual cattle drive from Brown's Ranch to Tovrea Stockyards could be heard from Brown's Ranch at the intersection of Pima Road and Pinnacle Peak Road all the way down to Van Buren Road in Phoenix. It took two dusty days for the cowhands and local volunteers to drive the cattle herd to their final destination. Source: Image courtesy of Scottsdale Historical Society.
Scotty's Blacksmith Shop, 1930s
Scotty's Blacksmith Shop, 1930s Scotty's blacksmith and machine shop serviced horses and wagons, farm machinery, and increasingly, automobiles. The shop was on the east side of Scottsdale Road between Main Street and First Avenue where the Sugar Bowl Restaurant now stands. Source: Image courtesy of Scottsdale Historical Society.
Scottsdale Service Company, ca. 1925
Scottsdale Service Company, ca. 1925 Located on the northwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Main Street, Mort Kimsey's Scottsdale Service Company was one of the first to service automobiles. Kimsey is pictured here (center) with E. G. Scott (right), owner of Scotty's blacksmith shop. Source: Image courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library.



Stephanie McBride-Schreiner, “Scottsdale Road,” Salt River Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,