Tracing our "Roots" in Pima County

Part 2:   1900 -- 1949


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1900 Tucson's population:
Pima County's population:
Water Service population:
Active Services ("Accounts"):
Water pumped:
376 million gallons

* At this time, Tucson was the largest city in the Arizona territory.

The City of Tucson purchased the Tucson Water Company from Sylvester Watts and his partner H.A. Lawton for $110,000; including 720 acres of land in an area today bounded by I-19, Santa Cruz River, Valencia Road and a boundary 1/2 miles north of Irvington Road. The city's Water and Sewerage Department was created in August 1900.

(NOTE: Prior to their purchase by the city, the privately owned Tucson Water Company had already installed the area's first steam-driven water pumping plant.)

The first public sanitary sewers (designed as a "separate," sanitary sewage only, system) were installed in Tucson along Main Avenue between 17th Street and St. Mary's Road via public sewer Plan No. G-1. From St. Mary's Road, the sewage was conveyed via an open ditch to a small farm located about 3/4 of a mile northwest of what was then the center of the business district. There it was used for irrigation. Under the G-1 Plan, dated September 20, a total of nearly 30 miles of gravity sewer were installed, probably in phases, in the area bounded generally by Speedway on the north, 1st Avenue on the east, 22nd Street on the south and Main Avenue on the west.

The first residential sewage collector mains (G-1) were designed by the firm of Waring, Chapman and Farquhar of New York City in September. The mains were 8" internal diameter glazed clay pipe -- with manholes, lampholes and flush tanks positioned at strategic locations.

1903 The City of Tucson implemented its first speed limit... 7 mph.

The first bathtub connected to running water was installed at the home of Albert Steinfeld (300 North Main).

The five-story, 200-room Santa Rita Hotel opened.

1906 An electric streetcar system replaced the original horse (mule) drawn system.
1909 The first speeding ticket issued in Tucson was given to Steinfeld's chauffeur.

Tucson's population: 13,193.
Pima County's population: 22,818

Fishing the Santa Cruz essentially ended. Groundwater pumping and diversion for irrigation had caused surface flow in the Santa Cruz River to cease.


Arizona became the 48th state of the United States of America on February 14, 1912.

Gasoline was first offered for sale at George Martin's Drug Store on the corner of Congress and Church. Gas was priced at approximately 12¢ per quart. The first drive-through station opened later in 1912 at North 6th Avenue and 10th St.


Due to rising odor and capacity issues, the first sewer farm was abandoned and a larger one -- approximately 4.5 miles northwest of the downtown district -- was opened. The first tract was 120 acres and straddled the Santa Cruz River. A 30" diameter concrete sewer line (G-41) was installed to deliver the raw sewage to the new farm.

The University of Arizona adopted the name "Wildcats" after their football victory over Pomona College -- then the California state champion.

The first golf course opened. A primitive 9-hole, 'skins' course, it was known as the Tucson Country Club. Fifteen years later grass was added.

1915 University of Arizona students built a large "A" on the easterly face of Sentinel Peak.
1917 The 30" diameter concrete gravity main was extended across the Santa Cruz to allow the western 90 acres of the sewer farm to be irrigated with the sewage.
1919 The first municipally owned airport in the United States (a.k.a. the Tucson Municipal Flying Field) opened on land on South Sixth Street, now the site of the Rodeo Grounds. In 1928, the airport moved to what is now the site of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
1920 Tucson's population: 20,292.
Pima County's population: 34,680.

The need for additional land to dispose of sewage (via the irrigation of stock feed crops and cotton) was recognized. Nearly 750 acres of farm land comprised the city-owned "sewage farms," of which 300 were regularly irrigated with raw sewage.

As the years passed, adjacent residents complained more and more of "odors". Lawsuits were threatened. Certain of the potential litigations were resolved by the City of Tucson which purchased the involved complainant's land. The overall farm area was approximately .5 miles wide and 3 miles long. It was generally considered a profitable business by the city.

Early Sewer Maintenance Activities (Circa: 1920's)
Photo Source: Mark S. Holstad, P.E., Greiner, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico

1925 The City of Tucson acquired 1280 acres from the State of Arizona for a military field. It was named after two native Tucsonans: Sam Howard Davis and Oscar Monthan.
Mid 20's The ongoing odor complaints highlighted the need for a "sewage treatment" study. The firm of Black & Veatch of Kansas City was retained by the City of Tucson. A primary treatment plant, with an estimated construction cost of $100,000, was recommended for approval.
1928 The area's first Wastewater Treatment Facility was constructed by a contractor from Salt Lake City and placed into service. The primary goal was to reduce odors at the farm by reducing the solids content of the sewage used for irrigation. The plant was located just west of the Santa Cruz River along the alignment of what is now Fort Lowell Road. The plant was designed to serve the sewage treatment needs of a tributary population of 42,600 (the predicted service population for 1937).

Construction was started on Tucson's third courthouse at Pennington and Church (still in service today).

The 12-story Pioneer Hotel opened. It hat 250 rooms and 22 suites -- all with private baths and circulating ice water. Rates began at $3 per night. Tucson's skyline was beginning to form.

The stock market crashed October 24.

1930 Tucson's population: 32,506.
Pima County's population: 55,676
1931 Buses powered by gasoline engines replaced the electric trolleys.
1936 Tucson and Pima County applied to the United States Federal Government for funds to construct a 250-foot-high dam in Sabino Canyon -- to create a reservoir and to serve as another source of water for Tucson area.
1939 Broadway Village, Arizona's first shopping center, opened for business on the southwest corner of Broadway Boulevard and Country Club Road in Tucson.
1942 The existing primary treatment plant was expanded and improved. The primary treated effluent continued to be used for irrigation at the City of Tucson's Sewer Farm.
1947 The City of Tucson and Pima County jointly hire a consultant to conduct a study and recommend a plan for sewering and treatment for the Metropolitan Area. The construction of a wastewater treatment facility northeast of the junction of Sweetwater Drive and the Santa Cruz River was the recommended course of action.
1948 Pima County Sanitary District #1 was formed to address the sanitary sewerage needs of Pima County residents living outside the Tucson city limits. The original District encompassed 26 sq. mi. All sewage was routed to the city's Roger Road Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF). By the early 1950's, the District served 44 sq. mi.

Tucson's first dial telephone was installed.

Late 40's
Early 50's

Asbestos Cement Pipe (ACP) came into use for sanitary sewage and force mains. Because it was subject to internal corrosion, use of this material was abandoned in new sewer mains around the mid-1970's.

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