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South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona is the largest municipal park in the United States, and one of the largest urban parks in North America and in the world. It has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.
The first land purchase recorded in South Phoenix occurred near what is today 15th Avenue and Broadway, where Noah Matthew Broadway, who was Maricopa County Sheriff from 1885 to 1886, purchased land in 1871 which became the 160-acre (0.65 km2) Broadway Ranch. The land was otherwise unpopulated at the time except for a few Mexican grain farmers who lived south of the Salt River between what are now 24th St. and 48th St.
In May 1873, Prescott merchant Michael Wormser made arrangements to supply the Mexican farmers, and required them to obtain legal title to their land. When they ended up falling into debt, he took possession of their land, acquiring 9,000 acres (36 km2) of land in South Phoenix and Tempe. After Wormser’s death on April 25, 1898, most of his real estate holdings were purchased on January 9, 1901, by land and cattle magnate Dwight B. Heard, who also ran The Arizona Republican (now The Arizona Republic) newspaper from 1912 until his death in 1929. This land, which includes most of the northeast part of South Phoenix, became the Bartlett-Heard Ranch, which began being subdivided and sold for homesites on March 20, 1910. Most of the land initially sold from the Ranch was between 7th Avenue and 16th Street, and between Broadway Road and Southern Ave., mostly for small farms, in an area that became known as Roosevelt Place when it was developed into residential homes on one- and 2-acre (8,100 m2) lots in the 1920s.
During 1912–1913, the Highline and Western canals were built to supply water from the Salt River to the South Mountain area, which led to further agricultural development. In addition to raising cattle, the land was used for raising alfalfa, cotton, oranges and other citrus trees, canaigre (a plant that produces tannin used for tanning leather), and even Louis Janssens’ Belgian-American Ostrich Farm, which operated on 230 acres (0.93 km2) of Bartlett-Heard subdivided land until World War I. (Two other families, the Petersons and Pickrells, also operated ostrich farms in South Phoenix; all of these ostrich farms were between 16th St. and 40th St., south of Southern Ave.)
In 1928, Kajuio Kishiyama settled in the South Mountain area to farm vegetables on land which he leased. Kishiyama leased his land because he was prohibited from owning land under the Arizona Alien Land Law of 1921 (overturned as unconstitutional by the Arizona Supreme Court in 1935) which prohibited “Orientals” from owning land in Arizona. Kishiyama successfully experimented with growing flowers near the Western Canal at 40th St. and Baseline Road, and another Japanese family, the Nakagawas, arrived in the area in the 1930s. These families were relocated to internment camps during World War II, of which there were two in Arizona, the Gila River War Relocation Center and the Poston War Relocation Center. After the war was over, the Kishiyama and Nakakama families returned to the South Mountain area and started over, again successfully raising large fields of flowers, lettuce, and other vegetables along the Baseline corridor.
There are numerous sites of historic and natural interest within the boundaries of South Phoenix, including Mystery Castle, Heard Scout Pueblo, the San Francisco Xavier Mission built in 1940 by Francisco Vasquez (open to public Saturday and Sunday, 08:00 am to 5:00 pm), The Farm at South Mountain, South Mountain Park, and several historic buildings at the entrance of the park called “Scorpion Gulch.”
Since the late 1990s (and especially since 2002), the area has undergone rapid development, especially along the Baseline Corridor, where acres of citrus groves and flower fields have been turned into housing developments and commercial properties. With its close proximity to downtown Phoenix, the housing market in South Phoenix continues to thrive.