Gilbert AZ history began with a loosely-knit farming community situated about 22 miles southeast of Phoenix. The community’s beginnings were humble. The area had no paved roads and homeowners were without access to running water or electricity. What they ate, they grew on their land or obtained by trading with neighboring farms. Because Gilbert’s early residents had no means of cooling their homes, protection from Arizona’s intense desert heat was difficult. Industrious homeowners tackled the problem by building open-air sleeping porches onto their homes. Only when the town’s first school was built at the intersection of Baseline and Cooper roads in 1900 did Gilbert’s children enjoy access to formal education. What we now know as the town of Gilbert Arizona was set in motion in 1902 when local homesteader, William “Bobby” Gilbert, sold his alfalfa farm to the Phoenix and Eastern Railroad Company. This purchase allowed the company to begin construction on a spur-line that spanned between Phoenix and Kelvin, Arizona. The town’s name was unofficially established when Phoenix and Eastern built a rail siding on Gilbert’s property and named the project, “The Gilbert Spur.” The railroad continued to sink roots in the previously isolated community. With Phoenix and Eastern Railroad’s 1905 construction of Gilbert Depot, area farmers were able to ship products such as milk, eggs and cheese to outlying towns via railcar. The stage for Gilbert’s commerce was set. Gilbert’s residents began to thrive financially as a result. The town greeted its first grocery store, Ayer’s Grocery Store in 1910. The young business became a vital community hub when it also became home to Gilbert’s first US post office. By 1911, construction of the Consolidated Canal, the Eastern Canal and the Roosevelt Dam gave the community access to clean water for crop irrigation, allowing area farmers to increase their yields. Soon, Gilbert was well known for its rich soil, prime farmland and excellent cattle-grazing fields. New cotton, alfalfa, hay and dairy farms were established while existing farms grew and thrived economically. With the advent of World War l, Gilbert’s hay farmers were called on to supply the United States Army with hay to feed their horses. Soon after, the young town was officially dubbed the “Hay Shipping Capital of the World”. Until about 1920, Gilbert’s farmlands were worked by horse-drawn and human-powered farming equipment. Farm products and livestock were shipped to surrounding towns and cities by train. Gilbert was officially incorporated as a town in 1920, making its name official. The town continued to grow. In 1946 local businessmen, Bill Mastin and Joseph Wilburn, established the area’s first airport. Though tiny, the Gilbert Airport boasted a hangar, a repair shop, an administrative office and a single dirt runway. Much of the airport’s property was later sold to the Gilbert Unified School District, but Mastin continued to operate his dirt runway for crop-dusters into the 1960s. In 1970, Gilbert Arizona town leaders realized that in order to compete with the surrounding towns of Tempe, Mesa and Chandler, they’d need to acquire more land. The Gilbert Town Council moved to annex 53 square miles of acreage, enabling the town to grow beyond its rural farming community roots. In 1979, a larger post office was established on Elliot Road, bringing the town its first mail delivery. Gilbert’s population has since swelled to its current count of around 250,000 and is a vital and growing part of the Phoenix Metro Area. Town officials predict Gilbert’s population will reach 330,000 within the next decade.
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