Survey Number: HPS-229
Year Built: 1871
Theme: Irrigation - Canal / Waterway
THEME / CONTEXT
Constructed in 1871, this canal is associated with the context of Community Planning and Development. It falls under the theme of irrigation – canal / waterway.
East of Tempe Butte, the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch irrigated several farms, including the nineteenth-century homesteads of Manuel Gonzales and Winchester Miller. Gonzales grew wheat, barley, and alfalfa in the southeast quarter of Section 13 (T1N, R4E), while Miller grew wheat and maintained a 35-acre orchard that produced apples, apricots, peaches, pears, and plums in the southwest quarter of Section 14 (T1N, R4E). South of Gonzales and Miller, on the north banks of the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch, Manuela Sotelo subdivided a single-family residential neighborhood from her quarter-section homestead and distributed lots to friends and relatives. The home of Irene Elias and Ray Rodriguez (NR #84000684) was typical: “The backyard fronting on the canal was a veritable garden, filled with fruit trees—figs, apricots, pomegranates, plums, citrus, quince—along with grapes and all varieties of flowers.” South of the Sotelo Addition, farms granted to Sotelo’s children also drew water the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch: her daughter Jesús María and son-in-law Juan Soza, for example, farmed northeast of what is now the intersection of South Rural Road and East Apache Boulevard. This farm remained in the family through the 1940s; Soza’s great-grandson, Charlie Lee, recalls driving to the farm in the late 1940s and helping load the family car with potatoes, corn, squash, beans, and other produce. Lands south of and adjacent to the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch, meanwhile, remained planted in field crops—principally alfalfa—through the late 1950s.
Additionally, besides irrigating farms and gardens east of Tempe Butte, the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch served as a source of hydropower for Charles Trumbull Hayden’s flour mill on the west slope of the butte; for decades this mill served as one of the area’s largest agriculture-industrial institutions and its largest purchaser of locally grown grain (for more information see the “Developmental history/additional historic context information” discussion below).
Community Development and Planning
As East Salt River Valley communities stabilized around agricultural production, the area’s water delivery facilities became important aspects of community life in their own right. Like other canals, laterals, and ditches, the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch’s dirt-lined channel permitted seepage of water into the surrounding soil, creating riparian zones where cottonwood trees and other plant life flourished. “Where the canals or ditches have been established a few years,” noted journalist Sylvester Baxter in 1888, “long lines of trees mark their course and give beauty to the landscape.” These trees and the water delivery facilities that sustained them became marked features of the landscape. As Bureau of Reclamation historian Jim Bailey writes, “People used the canals and laterals for recreation, socializing, and to cool down during hot summer days.” The Kirkland-McKinney Ditch was no exception. William H. Windes, who grew up in Tempe during the early twentieth century, recalls stealing a trough from the Tempe Normal School farm after “contemplating that it would make a great boat for us to use in that big canal on East Eighth Street…and we had a great time floating down the canal in it.” At the Elias-Rodriguez House (NR #84000684) in the Sotelo Addition a half-mile to the west, “children used to swim in the canal and swung from a rope attached to the large trees that grew along its banks.” Others used the canal for fishing and picnicking; the Baptist Rev. Chaptin used it to immerse parishioners amidst large congregations “just east of town.” These and other uses made the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch an important aspect of local community life.
Development and Early History of the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch
The development and early history of the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch is a story of separate irrigation companies that consolidated in the winter of 1870-71. The earliest was the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch, the first modern-era water delivery facility on the south side of the Salt River. The exact date in which William H. Kirkland, James B. McKinney, and their team of Mexican laborers began excavating the canal remains uncertain, though work probably commenced in the winter of 1869-70. What seems certain is that Kirkland and McKinney sought to emulate what Jack Swilling and others had accomplished on the north side of the Salt River near Phoenix two years earlier: a canal to water fields planted in wheat, barley, alfalfa, and other crops required by Army officials stationed at Fort McDowell. Both Kirkland and McKinney (sometimes spelled “McKinnie”) had been among the earliest residents of Phoenix: Kirkland was a well-heeled Arizona pioneer who abandoned Phoenix in about 1869 to start a farm in Section 14 (T1N, R4E) east of Tempe Butte, while McKinney is credited with “selling the first whiskey ever retailed in the Salt River Valley.” From its head on the Salt River near what is now Alma School Road in Mesa, the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch extended west toward Kirkland’s farm at what is now South Rural Road. Unlike many nineteenth-century East Valley canals, the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch never exactly corresponded with an ancient Hohokam canal. Though historical documentation of its excavation remains very limited, the segment between what is now South Gary Drive and South Una Avenue in Tempe was probably completed in 1870.
In November 1870, perhaps less than a year after the Kirkland-McKinney team began their work, a Tucson-based freighter named Charles Trumbull Hayden and four others established the Hayden Milling and Farm Ditch Company downstream from the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch. The company filed claims for over 180,000 annual acre-feet of water from a canal head in the vicinity of Tempe Butte. A freighter in the business of hauling goods throughout Arizona Territory, Hayden valued Tempe Butte as a reliable Salt River crossing; undoubtedly by the fall of 1870 he had identified the area as an important transportation corridor and had probably formulated plans for a ferry service, flour mill, and general store that later became the basis of Tempe’s business district.
Also in the fall of 1870, a month after the Hayden Milling and Farm Ditch Company had organized, Jack Swilling and five associates including B. W. Hardy formed the Hardy Irrigation Canal Company. The company claimed over 360,000 annual acre-feet of water with a canal head near what is now Mesa Drive in Mesa. In January 1871 these three entities—the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch, the Hayden Milling and Farm Ditch Company, and the Hardy Irrigation Canal Company—consolidated as the Tempe Irrigating Canal Company (TICC) under the direction of Swilling and his partners. By then workers had extended the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch to Kirkland’s farm near what is now the intersection of East University Drive and South Rural Road in Tempe: this facility was quickly integrated into the larger and more elaborate TICC system.
In April 1871, Swilling and his associates offered Hayden seventeen shares, or over 700 annual acre-feet of water, on the condition he suspend the Hayden Milling and Farm Ditch Company’s earlier water claims and move forward with the construction of a flour mill at Tempe Butte. Once Hayden bought in, laborers relocated the head of the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch to a lateral off the TICC’s main Tempe Canal and extended the facility from Kirkland’s farm around the south slope of Tempe Butte to the mill site, where Hayden and his laborers located a fall for the canal. “There is an abundance of water power to be obtained,” reported a Los Angeles News dispatch in April 1872, “and the location that [Hayden] has taken the precaution to secure is, of the most desirable character.” In the summer of 1874 the mill became operational, and thereafter the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch became known colloquially as Hayden Ditch (others called it “Hayden Canal” or “Hayden Branch of the Tempe Canal,” while east of what is now South Rural Road many referred to the facility by its original name, the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch). Initially, the water that flowed through the mill’s tailrace returned to the Salt River, but in the mid-1870s farmers west of Tempe under the direction of Michael Wormser hooked the head of the San Francisco Canal to the tailrace; thereafter the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch also supplied water to fields west of Tempe.
The Kirkland-McKinney Ditch is a one-half-acre property located on the south side of East 8th Street between South Gary Drive and South Una Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. The property consists of an above-ground, dirt-lined canal shaded at its east end by a palo verde, a cottonwood, and a strand of giant reed. The entire property measures approximately 515 feet long by 40 feet wide. The canal bed measures approximately ten feet wide and four feet deep, with a storage capacity of approximately 20,600 cubic feet. Water flows intermittently in a westerly direction, entering from beneath South Una Avenue and exiting beneath South Gary Drive through a concrete headwall. At roughly 150 feet east of South Una Avenue the flow pauses at a check and turnout gate that feeds a sub-lateral ditch extending south.
The City of Tempe has zoned land near the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch for “residential”, “commercial”, and “public open space” uses, a reflection of the area’s mid-twentieth-century transformation from a rural-agricultural landscape toward extensive suburban development. Along the west end of the ditch’s south boundary extends a non-contributing five-foot-tall masonry wall with interspersed wrought iron fencing that forms the northern boundary of a 1958 multifamily residential complex called Tempe Manor. East of Tempe Manor lies a non-contributing single-family residence, part of a subdivision called B-H Homes, also built in 1958. To the north, across East 8th Street, the ditch faces the City of Tempe’s Creamery Park, built in 1999. Adjacent Creamery Park to the north, east, and west is a 1998 multifamily residential complex called Tempe Gateway. Approximately 300 feet to the west of Tempe Gateway, the historic Borden Milk Co. Creamery and Ice Factory (NR #84000171) houses commercial and industrial properties, most notably a popular restaurant-brewery that attracts considerable foot traffic to the area. East 8th Street, once the most heavily trafficked surface road between Tempe and Mesa, is now a two-lane, non-arterial street with light-to-medium duty.
Overview and Integrity of the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch Canalscape
The Kirkland-McKinney Ditch consists of three sections: an east end, a middle section, and a west end. The east and west ends reveal minor alterations accomplished during the 1980s in anticipation of multifamily residential development on the south side of East 8th Street, east and west of Kirkland-McKinney Ditch. Despite these alterations, however, the ditch remains above-ground, dirt-lined, and shaded by a landscape of palo verde, cottonwood, and giant reed. These aspects of integrity stand in stark contrast to other Tempe-area water delivery facilities, nearly all of which sustained improvements engineered by the canal system’s administrator, Salt River Project (SRP), after 1950. Responding to customer demand for lower costs, SRP obtained low-interest federal loans under the Rehabilitation and Betterment Act of 1949; these loans provided for the concrete lining of canals to prevent seepage, the piping of laterals and ditches to prevent evaporation, installation of replacement steel gates, and the removal of trees and other plant life. These improvements that brought SRP’s system up to “top working efficiency” but also compromised the integrity of the region’s historic rural-agricultural canalscapes.
An anomaly, Lateral 5 of the Tempe Canal (historically called the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch) between South McClintock Drive and South Rural Road in Tempe received few, if any, upgrades under Rehabilitation and Betterment. By 1980 its form and character remained unchanged from its 1870 excavation, with minor exceptions such as road culverts and check and turnout gates associated with postwar residential development to the south. Then in 1983 SRP officials formulated plans to pipe all of Lateral 5 in response to anticipated multifamily residential developments along the south side of East 8th Street. Work progressed slowly, however, as the project endured construction delays and alterations, including a shortening of the pipeline near South Una Avenue over a dispute between the City of Tempe and a property owner. This dispute may explain, in part, the decision not to pipe Lateral 5 between South Una Avenue and South Gary Drive. Here the ditch retained its original form and character: in 1989 a researcher characterized this segment as “a broad and shallow unlined ditch…not very different from that originally dug by the pioneer shareholders...”
At its east end, west of Una Avenue, water enters the canal through a non-contributing concrete culvert endwall under South Una Avenue. This structure, installed by SRP in August 1987, replaced an earlier culvert endwall that corresponded with the development of B-H Homes in 1958. East of the endwall, however, Kirkland-McKinney Ditch retains the essential form and character of its 1870 excavation; likewise its dirt-lined channel sustains a contributing landscape once typical of Tempe canalscapes: near the endwall a mature palo verde tree and mature cottonwood tree shade the area, while further west a strand of giant reed hangs over the south embankment.
Approximately 150 feet downstream from the endwall, a contributing concrete check and turnout gate with timber panels partially diverts water into a sub-lateral extending south along the quarter-section line of Section 23, a quarter-mile west of what is now South McClintock Drive. This check and turnout gate, installed by SRP in 1944, anticipated the platting and development of Borden Homes (NR #11001072), a non-contributing single-family residential subdivision located one-eighth of a mile south of Kirkland-McKinney Ditch. The check and turnout gate consists of two timber panels that lift up and down within a ten-foot by two-foot concrete setting that bridges the canal. The gate’s up-and-down action is accomplished by metal cranks of more recent installation. A second gate with a metal panel and metal crank regulates the amount of water that enters the sub-lateral to the south. Cobblestone-shotcrete lining, also installed in 1944, extends into the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch’s bed thirteen feet west of the check and turnout gate.
Beyond the 1944 check and turnout gate and cobblestone-shotcrete lining, the canal transitions into an unshaded 350-foot dirt-lined channel that terminates at South Gary Drive. Here again the dirt-lined canal retains the basic appearance of its 1870 excavation. At South Gary Drive the flow disappears into a non-contributing concrete culvert headwall with trashrack. Before 1958 there was no culvert here, nor was there a South Gary Drive. Engineers built the road in 1958 to accompany the development of Carlson Park, a non-contributing single-family residential subdivision located one-eighth of a mile south of the canalscape. In February 1984, as part of its pipeline project, SRP installed a modern replacement culvert, which includes the concrete endwall and trashrack evident today.
DESIGN + CONSTRUCTION
The Kirkland-McKinney Ditch is a manmade channel constructed for conveying and distributing water. The earth structure varied in depth from 6 feet to 12 feet, and was approximately 20 feet wide. The length of the original canal was about 2070 feet and extended from the culvert mouth on the west side of McClintock Road westward along the south side of the Bankhead Highway [MRA, #229].
Structures appurtenant to the canal included the original concrete bridge for the Bankhead Highway crossing [near McClintock Road], two additional concrete slab bridges, two wood plank bridges approximately 8 feet in width, the ruins of the concrete and cobble bulkheads of a third wood plank bridge, and a concrete lock with two steel gates. The water in the open ditch was diverted into culverts below two road crossings, one at Una Avenue, and one at Gary Drive. Before the canal was replaced with underground conduits [c. 1990] the integrity of the canal’s location and setting, including the flora, fauna, and related structures, still conveyed its historic associations as the oldest manmade waterway in the Salt River Valley.
HISTORIC LANDSCAPE ELEMENTS
Approximately 30 to 40 mature cottonwood trees once lined the banks of the canal. Additional vegetation, sometimes growing in dense clusters, provided the setting for a small riparian community along the length of the ditch. Today, one lone cottonwood tree exists at the furthest east section [SWC Old 8th Street and Una Avenue]. This tree is considered a local landmark for the University Heights Neighborhood, as they feel a sense of pride of ownership and connection to local history through this, and other vernacular landscape elements.
William Kirkland Biography
Born: July 12, 1832, in Petersburg, Virginia
Died: January 20, 1910, in Winkelman, Arizona
William H. Kirkland was a well-known Arizona pioneer who played an important role in the founding of Tempe. He arrived in Tucson in January of 1856, just as the United States was taking possession of the area from Mexico after the Gadsden Purchase. Kirkland had a contract to supply army camps with lumber and provisions. He raised cattle in the Santa Cruz Valley for a few years, but often lost most of his herd to raiding Apaches. Kirkland left the Tucson area and traveled throughout the Southwest. He discovering gold in 1863 in the area now known as Kirkland Valley.
By 1870, he moved to Salt River Valley and joined with James B. McKinney to direct construction of the first irrigation ditch on the south side of the Salt River. He joined the original Hardy Irrigating Canal Company that was formed in 1870 to extend the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch, and then became a member of the Tempe Irrigating Canal Company, which eventually completed the job of developing a network of irrigation canals throughout the area. Kirkland built a home in the Tempe area, and started a farm just east of Tempe Butte. In 1872 he donated an 80-acre site on the south side of Tempe Butte for a new Hispanic settlement called San Pablo. He served as the local justice of the peace, and was elected to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. But two years later he resigned his posts and moved on to Silver City, New Mexico, and then on to Texas, where he went into the cattle business. Kirkland later returned to Tempe shortly before his death in 1910. He is buried in Double Butte Cemetery.
William Kirkland married Missouri Ann Bacon in 1860. He was the father of three sons and four daughters. His first daughter, Lizzie Kirkland Steele, was always considered to be the first white child born in Arizona.
The Kirkland-McKinney Ditch retains a good degree of integrity. “This canal represents a unique and rare example or early waterway construction. It is important and highly significant and should be protected and preserved.” [MRA, #232]
Aerial Photograph Showing Property Boundary
Scott Solliday, "The Journey to Rio Salado: Hispanic Migrations to Tempe, Arizona" (Master's thesis, Arizona State University, 1993).
Earl Zarbin, "Salt River Valley Canals: 1867-1875" (paper presented at the Salt River Project, Tempe, Arizona, 14 Jan 1980).
Mildred Christine Lewis, "A History of Irrigation in the Tempe Area" (Master's thesis, Arizona State University, 1963).
Related Materials at State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO):
Fred Andersen, "Tempe Canal," Historic American Building Survey, HAER No. Az-16 (1989).
Staff Report to Historic Preservation Commission :: April 7, 2005 [.pdf]
Staff Report to Development Review Commission :: April 26, 2005 [.pdf]
City Council Approval (at second public hearing) :: June 2, 2005 [.pdf]
2012 National Register Nomination: Kirkland-McKinney NRN