Q&AZ: Why Is Mesa Called Mesa?

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Monday, March 4, 2019 - 6:03pm

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Park of the canals in Mesa
Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
Historian Vic Linoff, standing in Park of the Canals in Mesa, points north where early settlers would have been as they looked south for opportunities to expand.

How did Mesa get its name? A listener wanted to know and asked via Q&AZ, pointing out that the city doesn't appear to be sitting on a mesa or plateau. 

Mesa Preservation Foundation President Vic Linoff surveyed the land around him at the Park of the Canals just south of McKellips Road and North Horne in Mesa.

"All of the agriculture in the Valley started as a result of reclaiming the canals that the Hohokam had dug by hand,” he said.

In the late 1800s the Mormon settlers rebuilt those canals and used them for their own agricultural pursuits.

“The first settlement in this area was about two miles that way in Lehi,” Linoff says, pointing toward to the north.

He says as that settlement grew, the Mormons looked for another location to expand.

“In Lehi you could see there was an elevation to the south," Linoff said, "and in Spanish Mesa means table, so it was just called Mesa because it was a higher elevation."

Linoff encourages people to visit Park of the Canals, where he says you can get a sense of that higher ground the Mormons saw in the distance, and marvel at the ancient engineering feats of the Hohokam whose canals still channel the lifeblood of this community today.

“Because it’s more riparian," Linoff said "and there isn’t as much construction, you can begin to see that change in elevation."

Linoff said other names considered by the settlers included Hayden as a tribute to Charles Hayden, Mesaville, Mesa City and Zenos — after one of the prophets in the Book or Mormon.

Thanks to Kathleen Kaul for submitting this to Q&AZ. Find out more and submit your own question at qaz.kjzz.org.